Situational analysis: Grounded theory after the postmodern turn

Clarke, A. E. (2005). Situational analysis: Grounded theory after the postmodern turn. Sage Publications, Inc.

Chapter 1: Pushing and Being Pulled Around the Postmodern Turn

This chapter focuses on explaining the epistemology and methodology of grounded theory and then how situational analysis builds on it. Clarke argues that grounded theory is grounded in symbolic interactionist theory - "a framework for building theory that sees society as the product of everyday interactions of individuals" (Macionis). The focus is on understanding how people's social interactions create symbolic worlds and how those worlds then shape behaviors and interactions. She argues that GT is a theory/methods package - epistemological and ontological assumptions that are accompanied by concrete practices. She argues that GT is analytic, in that it the goal is not to re-represent data as truth expressed through narrative, but to showcase how heterogeneus perspectives can be creatively grasped. "The goal is critically analyzing to produce "a truth" or possible "truths"-distinctive analytic understandings, interpretations, and representations of a particular social phenomenon" (pg. 9).

In focusing on pushing GT even further beyond the postmodern turn and embracing feminisms, antiracism, and equity, Clarke wishes to develop empirical research approaches that address silences in data, silences of resistance, protection, cooptation, and collusion. She highlights some shortcomings of GT in addressing these (pg. 11-12). To push grounded theory forward, Clarke focuses on:

  1. Acknowledging the situatedness of knowledge producers and assuming multiple truths.
  2. Using the situation of the research phenomenon as the site of inquiry. The situation can be defined as a setting with defined roles and expectations, where people use the situation to understand their status and relationships.
  3. Shifting from simplifying and homogeneity to complexity, difference, and heterogeneity.
  4. Asserting analytic sufficiency in sensitizing conceps and theoretically integrated analytics rather than the pursuit of formal theory. A sensitizing concept lacks specification and suggest directions to explore. It is opposite a definitive subject which provide a clear definition and fixed attributes and provide prescriptions of what to see. "Analytics are unlike theory in that they do not presuppose a transcendent origin or cause of phenomena" (pg. 29). The goal is a thick analysis rather than focusing on commonalities.
  5. Doing situated analyses throughout the research process. Using situational maps are visual and thus provoke new ways of seeing and allow for one to move around more fluidly and quickly than with narrative text.
  6. Expanding the domains of social life to include discourses (narrative, visual, historical).

Chapter 2: Doing Situational Maps and Analysis

Maps are not necessarily meant to be final analytic products but used for interrogating data in fresh ways - they are analytic exercises. These methods can be used with coded data in the traditional GT sense or uncoded but carefully read undigested data. Maps can also be done alongside memoing, for relational modes of analaysis that provoke new insights. Researchers should use their own experiences of conducting research to guide doing these maps. Research does not start from nowhere; even as we begin a project, we have mental models and images in our minds about it. Situational maps are meant to help bring some of the implicit background processes and assumptions forth. Similarly, trained researchers might notice invisible concepts that are not appearing in the data. Maps can help articulate "sites of silence" in the data - what might be present but unarticulated, how might we pursue them, and why might they be silent? Maps can help answer questions like: Where in the world is this project? Why is it important? What is going on in the situation?

The three types of situational maps and analyses are:

  1. Situational maps - articulating elements in the situation and examining relations among them
  2. Social worlds/arena maps - collective commitments, relations, sites of action
  3. Positional maps - simplification strategy for plotting positions both articulated/not articulated in discourses
Maps may be created non-linearly and examined together. They can also be fluid rather than fixed. They may be used across different data sources.

Doing Situational Maps

The situation is the focus. The goal is to lay out all human and non-human elements. Who and what are in the situation? Who and what matters? What elements make a difference? The map can then be used to take each element and compare it to other elements.

There are different types of situational maps:

  • Abstract Situational Maps (Messy/Working Maps): Analytically important human (individuals, groups, insitutions, subcultures, etc.), non-human, material, symbolic, discursive elements. Not all elements need be present. They are specific to the research project. Memoing after creating a map can help with new insights and detail future directions for theoretical sampling.
Once the situational maps are done, one can begin to ask questions based on it and memo answers, especially those focused on relations. Take each element on the map and think about its relation to other elements on the map. One does this systematically between each element on the map. One can map these as well, drawing lines between elements and describing their relationship. Relational maps help the analyst decide which stories to pursue. Early state memos can be questions rather than answers.