Aligning Critical Realism and Classic Grounded Theory

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Sandra Carless-Kane
Lorelli Nowell


Viewing research designs from a methodological standpoint and a philosophical lens or worldview can amplify how the doing of research may elicit meaning from people’s experiences. Notably, doing research is more than a stepped approach or formal plan, as research questions are invariably tied to various philosophical perspectives and their underlying assumptions. For researchers looking to utilize classic grounded theory methodology, a critical realist lens offers a useful perspective to understand experiences in the social world and gain a more comprehensive understanding of the complexities and dynamics at play. This approach allows researchers to move beyond simply describing the observed social experiences and delve into the causal mechanisms that underpin them. As a result, the theories developed may be more robust and insightful in explaining the social experiences being investigated. To achieve robust theory development, it is important to consider the alignment between the philosophical perspective and the research methodology. Critical realism and classic grounded theory complement each other in the following ways: 1) seeking a clear understanding of reality, 2) appreciating the subjective experience of individuals and the objective reality of the world around them, 3) developing insight into underlying causal mechanisms and processes, and 4) using multiple perspectives to shape a comprehensive understanding of reality. In this paper we highlight challenges and benefits that are inherent within this philosophical-methodological complement as a helpful guide for researchers conducting classic grounded theory research underpinned by a critical realism lens.

Keywords: Classic Grounded Theory, Critical Realism, Research Paradigms, Worldview


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How to Cite
Carless-Kane, S., & Nowell, L. (2024). Aligning Critical Realism and Classic Grounded Theory. Grounded Theory Review, 23(1), 92–121. Retrieved from
Author Biographies

Sandra Carless-Kane, a:1:{s:5:"en_US";s:21:"University of Calgary";}

Sandra Carless-Kane is a doctoral candidate with the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. Sandra has over 10 years of clinical experience in rural acute care and community-based nursing practice. Her teaching experience includes over 20 years of classroom, nursing lab, and clinical instruction in practical nurse and undergraduate nursing programs. Sandra’s research focuses on nursing students' learning experiences, with a special interest in student learning transfer between classroom and clinical practice.

Lorelli Nowell, University of Calgary

Dr. Lorelli Nowell is an Associate Professor and Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary. Her research interests are inspired by her years of teaching and learning in higher education, her passion to improve student learning experiences, and her desire to positively impact the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities through quality education. She provides leadership and commitment to nursing education through active engagement in program development and delivery, significant involvement in educational organizations, and influential scholarship in teaching and learning.


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