An exploration of grounded theory with reference to self and identity of part-time, mature learners in higher education

James, Fiona, Ph.D.

July 2013

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© 2013 PhD Fiona James. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This study explores ‘Constructivist’ Grounded Theory, a methodology advanced by Charmaz (2006) to serve as a redevelopment of Glaser and Strauss’ original version. The study’s focus is a group of mature learners on a part-time Higher Education programme in relation to ‘self’ and ‘identity’. Data from thirteen in-depth interviews are analysed, enabling the construction of a data-driven ‘Grounded Theorisation’. Commensurate with the methodology, no extant theoretical framework is applied to this analysis. The findings from the ‘Grounded Theorisation’ were that while participants encounter varying tensions relating to the accomplishment of their own particular goals, a unifying principle is ‘operating within constraints’. Expressions of how they manage the difficulties presented in these constraining circumstances are interlaced with particular ‘selves’. On an individual level, participants confront the various pressures they experience with ‘selves’ that coincide with their coping strategies. A self that resists a sense of being ‘channelled’ by the demands of the course may take precedence. Other presentations of self include one resigned to taking a patient stance as an explorer in an undulating journey. A further analytic concept developed concerns ‘containing’. This may involve monitoring the impact of studying upon one’s life; alternatively, ‘containing’ may pertain to a personal resolve to block out external impediments and remain on track. When the literature was consulted, the Grounded Theorisation resonated with the extant concepts: ‘identity work’ and ‘framing’ of self. ‘Identity work’ entails thinking of self as resistant, submitting only reluctantly. Further, to be ‘bloody minded’ and resist, rather than circumvent obstacles, might represent a student’s sense-making and their efforts to maintain a feeling of integrity amidst turbulence. Finally, participants’ collective commitment to clearing hurdles is glimpsed via particular constructs and shared phrases: participants ‘frame’, or ‘make sense of’ themselves and their actions with respect to navigating obstacles presented by the course.

Centre for Educational Studies, The University of Hull
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