You ask an intriguing question, “Is there any special trick you have found in the literature to support a sharpener not only being good at coding, but also abstraction?” (Amann, 2016), to which I can only reply that my reading into grounded theory (GT) is only at the beginning. Your post, however, did present me with much to consider.
Your mention of levellers and sharpeners helps frame the issue in a nutshell. By asking how much can findings about how individuals respond to rigorous psychological tests be generalised to the real world, researchers are reminded of the very real problems of generalisation. I find Holzman and Klein’s (1954) argument interesting, but there is a vast gulf between claiming that individuals’ judgments about sizes and positions of squares and a general disposition to sharpen, or level, other aspects of human activity. In my chosen area of investigation, personal epistemology, a very similar debate centres on domain specificity or domain general epistemological beliefs. In other words, do individuals who achieve a high degree of expertise in one domain/subject simultaneously develop epistemological beliefs that can be transferred onto other domains (Hofer, 2004; Schommer, 1989)? In reference to Glaser’s (2016) attempt to keep GT free from preconceptions, I find this position to be weak as it assumes that researchers are—somehow—free from any theoretical baggage, an idea that is now widely acknowledged to be untenable (Moses & Knutsen, 2012).
As for GT, is it possible that certain types of research are logically impossible using the earlier versions of GT, that is emerging or forcing GT (Ramalho, Adams, Huggard & Hoare, 2015)? Researchers are not equipped with a tabula rasa mind-set (ibid.) They cannot undo their knowledge and preconditions, although the action of reflexive memoing may help alleviate researcher bias (ibid.). The very action of settling on a research topic is in itself value-laden and loaded with a priori assumptions about all aspects of the research process. For example, I have read a fair amount about epistemological development. I had to in order to be sure that I wanted to research this topic for my thesis. Should I now abandon the topic because Glaser (2016) maintains that researchers must approach the research value- and attitude-free? I presume that most researchers within most traditions know much about their area prior to any new research project. It is impossible to expect a non-engagement with the literature until data has been collected for the simple reason that most researchers will already have had that contact, and furthermore, the very research questions themselves need to inform how the data is to be collected prior to any data actually being collected. When Perry (1970) began the field of epistemological development, he asked respondents a single question about what was salient in their education during the previous year. This question, even, is founded on a great deal of background. Perry knew the literature on motivation and self-actualisation and dismissed these fields as being incomplete explanations of what he had already observed in student development. Although Perry never claimed to do a grounded study (his was a phenomenology), his methodology was very similar to GT in that he developed his categories of epistemological positions from what we would now call codes that emerged from the data. Charmaz’s (2006) constructivist GT approach does allow researchers “to remain clear about the antecedents of [their] constructed theory” (p. 184), and speaks to the question of logical possibility of GT.
Finally, W, please allow me to comment on your final question about where the value of GT lies. Unambiguously, the merits of any abstraction from coding depends entirely on the strengths of the codes themselves. If the codes do not represent genuine qualities in the raw data (perhaps due to misinterpretation), any resulting abstraction will be of limited value. Yet any study that is restricted to descriptions only will not be of much value, either. The quality of the abstraction process, in a sense, defines the value of the paper. We come to an impasse. Arguing for one aspect over another is a bit like the blind men touching separate parts of the elephant, or the task of deciding which part of a jug is more important. However, your question also contains another part: about selectively notating parts of any potential raw data. How long is a piece of string? If researcher A records the audio only of an interview but researcher B also has a video record, can we say that researcher B is better? If neither researcher does a full conversational analysis on the audio data but limit their analysis to the foreground text only, are they open to the challenge that their work is incomplete? If a respondent is uncomfortable in front of a camera, audio recording device, or even a note pad and pen (Blaxter, Hughes, & Tight, 2006), do researchers give up because their only recourse is to use their memory?
Amann, W. (2016, October 26). RE: Week 3 – Choosing data collection methods. Message posted to https://elearning.uol.ohecampus.com/webapps/discussionboard/do/message?
Blaxter, L., Hughes, C., & Tight, M. (2006). How to Research.
Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. London: Sage.
Glaser, B. G. (2016). The Grounded Theory Perspective: Its Origins and Growth. Grounded Theory Review, 15(1), 4-9.
Hofer, B. K. (2004). Exploring the dimensions of personal epistemology in differing classroom contexts: Student interpretations during the first year of college. Contemporary Educational Psychology (Vol. 29). http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2004.01.002
Holzman,, P., & Klein, G. (1954). Cognitive System-Principles of Leveling and Sharpening: Individual Differences in Assimilation Effects in Visual Time-Error. The Journal of Psychology, 37(1). 105-122.
Moses, J. W., & Knutsen, T. L. (2012). Ways of knowing: Competing methodologies in social and political research (2nd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Perry, W. G. (1970). Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Ramalho, Rodrigo; Adams, Peter; Huggard, Peter & Hoare, Karen (2015). Literature Review and Constructivist Grounded Theory Methodology [24 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung /Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 16(3), Art. 19, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1503199.
Schommer, M. A. (1989). The effects of beliefs about the mature of knowledge on comprehension. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Ph.D. Dissertation.