Grounded Theory and Ethnography Approach

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Qualitative research is a method to gather non-numerical data. It is usually used to discover trends in views, opinions and try to further investigate into the problems. There is no one qualitative method, but five different approaches including research and methods from multiple fields, especially academic field. The objective of this paper is to discuss two types of research, grounded theory and ethnography. The paper will provide insight into benefits and challenges of using both types of research. It will also provide information on what type of problem is being researched, research questions based on the type of research and what can be understood by conducting the research.

Grounded Theory and Ethnography Approach

Grounded theory is a type of qualitative research that is intended towards the purpose of building theory through data analysis. It's believed to be a good design to use when not much of the theory is available to researchers. There are several phases for grounded theory, such as, data collecting, note taking, coding, memoing, sorting and writing. The two common types of grounded theory are systematic approach and constructivist approach. In systematic approach, a system is developed by explaining process, action and communication on a study topic. As opposed to systematic approach, constructivist approach focuses on multiple realities and the complexity it comes with a specific worlds view and activities with flexible guidelines.

In contrast, ethnography research is based on study of people and culture and is not based on theories. The study is planned to study different cultures by observing their society and behaviors by taking in views and opinions from the study subjects itself. There are several types of ethnographies. For example, ethnographic novels, confessional ethnography, life history, autoethnography, feminist ethnography and visual ethnography (Creswell & Poth, 2018). Out of these, realistic and critical ethnography are more popular amongst the researchers. Realistic ethnography is written and reported by third persons point of view after gathering information from the participants, where as critical ethnography studies are focused on groups, to speak out against inequality and injustice, for example.


There are numerous challenges related to grounded theory. One of them being the research is confusing as the researches need to understand how to apply the theory to studies with open mind. If not well educated on the application process, this can create a controversy on if the correct method was applied leading to accurate data collected. Also, researchers should not bring in their own opinion, experiences and prior knowledge which can impact and affect their observations during data collection and analysis. In addition, the researchers should understand that this is a systematic approach with specific data analysis steps, therefore, should not complicate the study by adding in extra unnecessary steps. The researcher should be wary that the important outcome of the study is theory based supported by detailed information. (Creswell & Poth, 2018).

Another challenge related to grounded theory could be that researchers face difficulty when determining if categories are saturated enough or not, therefore not able to produce a practical theory. This method if not understood in details, also gives new researchers a lot of nervousness, as they fail to comprehend the method and process and misunderstand languages used in the study. For instance, theoretical sampling and saturation are widely misinterpreted. Moreover, the study can often produce large amount of data difficult to manage or the data collection process can be complex as not having enough participants due to restrictions by social community groups. Researchers can also be under pressure to complete studies within a specific amount of time, therefore not allowing the researchers sufficient time needed for a comprehensive theory (Timonen et all, 2018)

Similar to grounded theory, ethnography also comes with its share of challenges. To be successful in ethnography research, the researcher must understand cultural anthropology, social cultural system and concepts (Creswell & Poth, 2018). Furthermore, because ethnography is a study where there are participant observations and interview conducting, it can be complicated and difficult to write journal articles. The orientation of researcher can be a challenge too, as researchers learn from observing people, which means the researcher must be focused and very observant, leading to successful results. This method is also very time consuming, spending many hours and days collecting data.

With the evolution of ethnography, the challenges increase as the fieldwork evolves, thus making it very unclear how studies were conducted, what data comes from what part of the study and what important elements are captured or not (Rashid et all, 2015). Since in ethnography study narratives are written as storytelling, the researchers can experience audience limitations which also can lead to incomplete study by comprising the results.

The challenges can also be faced by having access to participants personal details about feelings and behaviors which requires participants to trust the researcher, but which may not be disclosed during the data collecting process. According to an article by university of Bath, UK, the most common seven problems with this type of studies are variability, comparability, complexity, resources, metrics, subjectivity and context. These problems can hinder communication, make researchers reuse data and negatively impact the study application (Cash et all, 2009).

Problem Statement

The problem is that many female students often face difficulties completing doctoral degree and because they are still the primary caregivers for the family, it is not clear if that's what affects the doctoral persistence. Is it their main role as caregivers in the household, is it the culture and background they come from or its it their behavior towards school due to the school and family pressure? Although female students now make up more than half of higher education students, the distribution of women across in school is still low compared to male students (Mastekaasa & Smeby, 2005).

In this study, the problem to be addressed pertaining to doctoral persistence of business students is how does women's culture and background affect doctoral persistence? The under-representation of women as doctoral students has been an issue, however not much research has been done, therefore it is not clear what factors contribute to female student's doctoral persistence compared to men. It is important to identify and understand factors that lead toward women's failure rate in higher degrees (Duncan & Zeng, 2005)

The problem can be addressed by focusing on female student's social and cultural background and behavior and surrounding environment, trying to identify the reasons for women's persistence. These questions can be answered by interviewing the female candidates and analyzing their opinions, thoughts and feelings based on their gender, social and cultural behavior and hindrance towards the program completion.

Research Questions

Specific questions related to female student's persistence are:

Grounded theory question:

1) What are the issues that women face due to social and cultural norms and how can that be resolved?

Ethnography Question:

2) How do female students from different cultural and social background describe doctoral persistence compared to men?

Purpose Statement

The purpose of this ethnography study is to understand how social and cultural behaviors and life experience affect the female student's doctoral persistence or failure rate. Even though the number of female students has increased across the world and academic fields, female students are usually under pressure to multitask, thus decreasing their chances of being successful in degree completion. Number of studies have studied gender differences in dropout and many has reported higher dropout rates for female students (Mastekaasa & Smeby, 2005).

Unfortunately, education persistence does exit, and mostly seen in different cultures. A student's ability to adopt and adjust to college with various backgrounds and lack of experience in academic field can be always be challenging as many colleges are made up of groups and communities that like to adhere to itself. Hence, the lack of isolation and the inability to assimilate can be very intimidating. These social communities and groups are often based on their shared characteristics, such as race, age, or gender and not being able to be compatible with other student these can be a critical contributor towards the doctoral persistence (Bailey-Iddrisu, 2010)

The study will offer insight into what and how different factors, cultures, behaviors and experience in women students influence doctoral persistence, such as what are their cultural experiences that impacts the academic performance and persistence. It's important to interview the women candidates from different cultures to study and analyze their views and concerns depending on the social culture they come from as different cultures and subgroups have different complications and challenges of being a woman.


Grounded theory is a type of qualitative research that is intended towards the purpose of building theory through data analysis, whereas ethnography research is based on study of people and culture and is not based on theories. While both studies have their advantages, they come with challenges as well. However, if followed the process and methods correctly, both types of research can lead to an informative and educational study.

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Grounded Theory and Ethnography Approach. (2019, Jun 24). Retrieved June 18, 2024 , from

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