The Co-current Grounded Theory Iterations


Grounded theory (GT) is one of the most well-known and relevant approaches to generating meaningful hypotheses in qualitative research. This method allows to inducement of ideas directly from the collected data, and experts have perceived it as a central qualitative methodology since the 1960s. However, as Carlin and Kim (2019) note, the modern iterations of GT have significantly deviated from its original definition, creating multiple co-current versions of the theory. The authors argue that this approach is detrimental to the primary principles of qualitative research and examine several fundamental causes to prove their perspective (Carlin & Kim, 2019). Ultimately, the current review thoroughly examines the article by Carlin and Kim on the co-current versions of GT and proposes a personal position on the topic.

Article Overview and Main Considerations

Qualitative research comprises a vast diversity of methodologies, emphasizing unique aspects of data collection and analysis. Within this framework, GT refers to the induction of theories directly from data to mitigate any potential bias from the existing literature or researchers’ perspectives (Carlin & Kim, 2019). This definition was the core understanding of GT proposed by its original authors – Glasser and Strauss – in the 1960s (Carlin & Kim, 2019). However, the primary point of the examined article transparently emphasizes that the understanding of GT has deviated from its original definition and that it can no longer be perceived as GT. Thus, this development has created a large number of the co-current GT versions that, in theory, derive from the 1960s’ theory but do not adhere to its primary principles. To prove this point, the authors discuss three issues – “the cumulation problem, theoretical imperialism, and the tutorial” (Carlin & Kim, 2019, p. 30). They primarily examine the existing literature on GT deviations in various interdisciplinary studies to understand the topic and identify the associated problems.

The first fundamental cause of the emerging co-current GT versions is the cumulation problem. It generally refers to the existing body of knowledge on various subjects and the inability of the researchers to benefit from it in a meaningful manner (Carlin & Kim, 2019). Based on the reviewed example in dentistry and information science, the authors claim that modern GT versions do not add cumulative value to the existing literature. As a result, these iterations lose the fundamental aspect of GT by pursuing original ideas instead of inducing theories from data.

Consequently, the authors address the problem of theoretical imperialism and the neglect of data categories. Generally, this idea refers to the methodological approach to utilizing external classifications that are not directly related to the current research (Carlin & Kim, 2019). In other words, researchers use additional instruments and category sets to classify their data instead of inducing theories and ideas directly from the acquired information. According to the authors, it is a fundamental problem that separates the co-current GT versions from the original definition.

Lastly, the authors discuss the issue of “tutorial” and the overall deviation from the 1960s GT concept. In their early works, Glasser and Strauss emphasized the utmost significance of unbiased review to analyze data and the credibility of GT itself (Carlin & Kim, 2019). However, with time, the modern GT variations have applied the 1960s principles without doubting the framework, which, in itself, contradicts the original GT’s premise. Moreover, the co-current iterations sacrifice credibility and meaningful contribution to emphasize “flexibility” as the new most significant value of GT (Carlin & Kim, 2019, p. 36). Ultimately, these issues are the most pressing concerns in the modern GT variations, which might lead to data bias, lack of meaningful contribution, and the betrayal of the initial GT principles.

Reflection and Personal Position

After reviewing the article, I have realized that I agree with most of the authors’ theses. Yet, I find the evidence lacking to prove that it is a “worrisome” and “concerning” trend. Reviewing each premise in greater detail, I believe that the examined issues are natural continuations of GT theory with insignificant drawbacks. For instance, I understand that theoretical imperialism violates the original definition of GT since it derives information from external sources instead of acquired data. Therefore, I agree that some of the co-current GT variations do not adhere to the original definition and should probably be renamed. Yet, I am not entirely convinced how this argument relates to concerns of data validity, reliability, and credibility.

At the same time, I wholly agree that the cumulative problem and the “tutorial” issue are pressing concerns in qualitative research and GT, in particular. Nevertheless, I believe they are more related to general concerns that diminish the research quality than to GT legacy. In other words, these problems can be summarized as the failure to meaningfully incorporate the existing literature and eliminate research bias. For instance, according to Charmaz and Thornberg (2021) and Birks et al. (2019), these are general concerns for qualitative research. I believe that these problems relate more to GT precisely because GT is a relevant methodology with a large number of followers. Therefore, since many aspiring researchers utilize GT in their works, multiple mistakes in literature review and deviations from the original theory inevitably occur. However, I believe that it is a natural evolution of the research method, and while I appreciate the authors’ message, I do not think it is a worrisome trend.

I believe that such derivations are a logical continuation of a relevant theory, which is more likely beneficial for qualitative research. A large number of contemporary studies propose new approaches within the GT framework and outline their differences from the classic theory. For instance, Nelson (2020) examines the computational grounded theory and its potential in qualitative research, even though Carlin and Kim (2019) exposed their distaste for software methods and researcher inputs. Similarly, Singh and Estefan (2018) discuss the similarities and differences between the original GT theory and postpositivist/constructivist methodologies. These works demonstrate that the GT iterations and the diversity of approaches are not exclusively negative trends. Ultimately, concerning my position, I believe that the co-current GT versions are not a negative sign for qualitative research or GT legacy but rather a logical and natural continuation of the theory.


The article by Carlin and Kim has thoroughly evaluated the co-current GT iterations and their primary problems, including theoretical imperialism, the cumulative problem, “tutorial,” and the betrayal of the original principles. According to the authors, these issues are worrisome trends for the understanding of GT and qualitative research in the academic community. In my opinion, all of their discussed points are credible arguments, indicating that the co-current GT versions differ significantly from the original definition. However, I do not entirely agree with the authors concerning the negative aspect of this evolution. In my opinion, some of the stated points relate more to the general research concerns and should be perceived as such. Nevertheless, the review of the article by Carlin and Kim and the consequent reflection on the topic has significantly deepened my understanding of GT and qualitative research, and I have enjoyed writing this critical review.


Birks, M., Hoare, K., & Mills, J. (2019). Grounded theory: the FAQs. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 18.

Carlin, A. P., & Kim, Y. H. (2019). Teaching qualitative research: Versions of grounded theory. The Grounded Theory Review, 18(1), 29-43.

Charmaz, K., & Thornberg, R. (2021). The pursuit of quality in grounded theory. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 18(3), 305-327.

Nelson, L. K. (2020). Computational grounded theory: A methodological framework. Sociological Methods & Research, 49(1), 3-42.

Singh, S., & Estefan, A. (2018). Selecting a grounded theory approach for nursing research. Global Qualitative Nursing Research, 5.