A substantive grounded theory

A substantive grounded theory

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A good formal theory ought to be at least the equivalent ought of a ton of ethnographies and perhaps half a gross of substantive theories (Strauss 1987, p.248). A substantive grounded theory is a tailor-made theory while a formal grounded theory is a ready-made theory (Kearney 1998). Substantive theory may limit its application to other contexts if a constant comparative method of modifying a theory is neglected. Nevertheless, it may have important general implications and relevance to other areas. It is for this imperative that, the emergent substantive grounded theory generated from data, is moved to a formal theory. Formal theory allows more generalization, and transferability of research results, which may be adapted to other different scenarios.
While it is possible to generate formal theory directly from data (Glaser and Strauss 1967; Strauss 1987), it is better to start with a substantive grounded theory of which a formal theory can be developed (Glaser and Strauss 1967). Both the substantive and formal theory can inform each other on the development of a formal theory. On moving substantive grounded theory to formal theory, Glaser and Strauss (1967) suggests using someone else’s formal theory as an important starting strategy. Through discussion of substantive theory with formal theory, findings from other substantive areas are constantly compared in a generation of a grounded formal theory. A substantive grounded theory is a one area theory developed for a substantive/empirical area while a grounded formal theory is a ‘multi-area’ theory developed for a formal/conceptual area (Glaser and Strauss 1967; Strauss 1987). A formal theory cannot fit or work well when written from only one area (Glaser and Strauss 1967). Therefore, a discussion of substantive grounded theory with a formal theory incorporates other substantive areas to make a formal theory adequate. The best building materials for grounded formal theory are the findings of other substantive theories (Glaser and Strauss 1967). Moreover, avoidance of prevalent mode of formal theory will be achieved as Strauss (1987) noted:
[…]The prevalent mode of formulating formal theory is to move directly from substantive to formal theory, without grounding the latter in any additional data. The theorist, for example, suggest that his her substantive findings and perhaps theory about say physician-patient relationship have implications for general theory of professional-client relationship but does not do the further work of studying the latter relationship comparatively […] (Strauss 1987, p. 243)
A core phenomenon in a substantive study has clear implications for a formal grounded theory (Strauss 1987).

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