The Importance of Ethnographic Observation in Grounded Theory Research




grounded theory research, ethnography, qualitative research, observation, research design, reflexivity


Even though observational data have contributed to grounded theory research since the method's inception, it is interview data that is most often analyzed. In this article we argue for the greater inclusion of ethnographic observational data in grounded theory research, as this practice offers several benefits. By witnessing and experiencing for oneself the various social processes experienced by and impacting on participants, ethnographic observational data represent both a unique source of data and a way to enhance one's theoretical sensitivity. Additional benefits relate to sampling and recruitment, the development of interview guides, coding, and analysis. As such, conducting ethnographic observations supports grounded theory methods and can enhance the use of interview data to improve the quality of final theory. The writing of observational field notes overlays with traditional grounded theory memoing, compounding the analytical benefits to researchers, while providing an audit trail of the research process, and supporting reflexive practice.


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Author Biographies

Jarrah FitzGerald, La Trobe University

Jarrah FITZGERALD is a PhD candidate at the Australian Institute of Primary Care and Ageing, School of Nursing and Midwifery, La Trobe University, Australia. His research interests include qualitative research methods, aged care, and the experience of aging.

Jane Mills, La Trobe University

Jane MILLS is one of Australia's most experienced primary health care academics having led and managed teams in both government and tertiary sectors and is currently the dean of La Trobe Rural Health School. An internationally recognized grounded theorist, in the past decade she co-authored with Professor Melanie BIRKS the popular text "Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide," which has furthered the development of fundamental grounded theory methods of theoretical coding and storyline analysis. The original text has over 3,000 citations and has been reprinted several times since its publication in 2011.




How to Cite

FitzGerald, J., & Mills, J. (2022). The Importance of Ethnographic Observation in Grounded Theory Research. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 23(2).



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