Difference Between Grounded Theory and Phenomenology

Grounded Theory vs Phenomenology

Grounded Theory and Phenomenology are two methodologies used in the social sciences, between which some differences can be identified. Grounded theory and phenomenology are both methodologies used in the social sciences. Grounded theory specifically refers to a methodology used by many researchers. Phenomenology, on the other hand, is not merely a methodology but also a philosophy that pays attention to the subjective realities of people and their interpretations. Through this article let us examine the differences between Grounded Theory and Phenomenology.

What is Grounded Theory?

Grounded theory is a methodology developed by Barney Glaser and Anslem Strauss. The specialty in this theory is that the theory emerges from within the data. In many of the research methodologies, the researcher creates a research problem and investigates with a prevailing theoretical framework in mind. However, in the grounded theory, it is not the case. The researcher enters the field with an open mind and allows the data to guide him. Once the data has been collected, he identifies the patterns in data. A researcher needs to develop theoretical sensitivity to understand the variables, relationships in data. Once these have been identified the researcher can create codes, concepts, and categories. The foundation for new theories lies in these categories.

Sampling in grounded theory is a bit different to the conventional methods. Unlike in most cases where the researcher has a specific sample, in grounded theory, this is not the case. The researcher begins with a single sample where he tries to gather information. Once he realizes that he has collected all the data, and no new data exists within the sample, he moves on to a new sample. This awareness that no new data exists is referred to as theoretical saturation.

In grounded theory, coding plays a significant role. First, the researcher engages in open coding. At this stage, he merely identifies the varied data and try to understand it. Then he moves on axial coding. In this stage, the researcher tries to relate codes to one another. He can even attempt to find relationships. Finally, he engages in selective coding. By this point, the researcher has a profound understanding of the data. He tries to connect all the data to a core element or phenomenon so that the data can relate a story. Before writing the final report on the findings, the researcher makes theoretical memos, which allow him to record important information.

Difference Between Grounded Theory and Phenomenology

Barney Glaser – Father of Grounded Theory

What is Phenomenology?

Phenomenology can be viewed upon as a research methodology as well as a philosophy. Just as grounded theory, phenomenology was able to influence a number of social sciences such as sociology, psychology, etc. This was developed by Alfred Schutz, Peter Burger, and Luckmann. Through phenomenology, Schutz pointed out that meanings are produced and also sustained by individuals in the society. He also believed that the taken for granted everyday realities should be analyzed.

According to Schutz, human beings do not comprehend the world around them in an objective manner. The world is composed of objects and relations that are meaningful. Understanding this reality of the world then, is understanding the meaning of structures through which people experience the world. Hence, phenomenology focuses on understanding the subjective meanings that people allocate to the world.

Grounded Theory vs Phenomenology

Alfred Schutz – Father of Phenomenology

What is the Difference Between Grounded Theory and Phenomenology?

Definitions of Grounded Theory and Phenomenology:

Grounded Theory: Grounded theory is a qualitative research methodology where the theory emerges from within the data.

Phenomenology: Phenomenology is a philosophy as well as a methodology used to understand the subjective human experiences.

Characteristics of Grounded Theory and Phenomenology:


Grounded Theory: Grounded theory is used to explain the phenomenon.

Phenomenology: Phenomenology is used to understand  life experiences.

Research Approach:

Grounded Theory: Grounded Theory is a qualitative research approach.

Phenomenology: Phenomenology is also a qualitative research approach.


Grounded Theory: Grounded theory can use a variety of methods for data collection.

Phenomenology: Phenomenology mostly uses interviews.


Image Courtesy:

1.”Glasr75” by Thulesius at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia by Ronhjones. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

2. Alfred Schutz [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons