'Discovering' chronic illness: using grounded theory

Soc Sci Med. 1990;30(11):1161-72. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(90)90256-r.


This paper focuses on using the grounded theory method to study social psychological themes which cut across diverse chronic illnesses. The grounded theory method is presented as a method having both phenomenological and positivistic roots, which leads to confusion and misinterpretations of the method. A social constructionist version and application of grounded theory are introduced after brief overviews of the method and of the debates it has engendered are provided. Next, phases in developing concepts and theoretical frameworks through using the grounded theory approach are discussed. These phases include: (1) developing and refining the research and data collection questions, (2) raising terms to concepts, (3) asking more conceptual questions on a generic level and (4) making further discoveries and clarifying concepts through writing and rewriting. Throughout the discussion, examples and illustrations are derived from two recent papers, 'Disclosing Illness' and 'Struggling for a Self: Identity Levels of the Chronically Ill'. Last, the merits of the method for theoretical development are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • Data Collection / methods
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Research Design*
  • Self Concept*
  • Self Disclosure
  • Sociology, Medical / methods
  • Sociology, Medical / trends
  • Writing