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Mike Fortun (barely) remembers Anselm Strauss


Grounded theory


It’s only on reading about grounded theory, again, that I remember, again, my actual experience in being “trained” in it.  Including once by Anselm Strauss, no less. 


In history of science at Harvard, we didn’t have a methods course.  Basically, the method in history (of science) was: read historians and write like a historian.  In the history department, I think, they offered a historiography course, but my sense was no one really took it as all that crucial or definitional.  It was only when I started taking classes with Joan Fujimura, which involved going to William James Hall and the sociology department, that I was really exposed to methods talk.  So Joan must have offered a course in – methods? Grounded theory? Quakitative analysis? Symbolic interactionism more broadly? I’m not sure… --that only had like three grad students in it: me from history of science, Amber somebody, and at least a third person if not more but all of whom are a complete blur if they even existed.  But it was small for sure.  I had just started on my dissertation research then, so it would have been 1989 or 1990; I know it because the “data” (and that’s how Joan talked about it) was articles from Science and such about the Human Genome Project, which I was in the very early stages of researching.  We were all reading Corbin and Strauss, and going through our data and coding it, etc. etc. – all the things that Timmermans provides a one-sentence summary for, but which I don’t retain even at that low level of detail.  It IS an elaborate – well, compared to historians, anyway – structure of methods and different kinds of coding and analysis.  Anselm was visiting Joan, and she had him lead one of the classes.  I only retain general impressions: super nice guy, really great teacher, really skilled analyst/thinker. [[as an aside: it may have been to Anselm that Joan made the joke about me being the anti-Merton, coming from history of science to sociology rather than the reverse as he did]].  (Reminiscences and materials here: Each of the students gave a brief intro to our research and our data, which we had coded and brought with us; Anselm spent time with each, going through our data and generally showing what a pathetic job of coding we had done, and how a genuine master would go at it.  Which he did, and it was a real pleasure and inspiration to watch and be part of.  It must have shaped my project at some level, but again, I only retain a general sense of that.  I certainly did not code all of my interviews that way, or the other writings I continued to collect, that I do remember.  “Grounded theory” may have been in my head, but it was not in my practice, not a part of my methodological “toolkit”.  So the dedication to it remains foreign to me still, although I can readily understand it and even empathize.  But I never thought of myself as doing it.


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Created date

August 13, 2019

Critical Commentary

sparked by reading about grounded theory for the ab-using coding essay...