Remembering Kathy Charmaz

Kathy Charmaz (1939-2020), who died this past July, is well-known for her prolific publications on constructivist grounded theory as well as her research on chronic illness. She will be greatly missed by the qualitative research community. Over the years I have used many of her chapters and texts in teaching, and I have no doubt that qualitative researchers all over the world refer to the two editions of her text on constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006, 2014) along with the co-edited The SAGE Handbook of Grounded Theory (Bryant & Charmaz, 2007).

I have always found Charmaz’s writing to be accessible and reader-friendly, and her explanations of how to go about conducting qualitative research using grounded theory are always well-illustrated with examples. Charmaz studied with both Anselm Strauss and Barney Glaser, the founders of grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Yet her own work took grounded theory in new directions that did not always align with those of her mentors.

Just this past week, I found myself reading an article by Charmaz that focused on teaching qualitative inquiry (Charmaz, 2015). Charmaz described a methodical and student-friendly approach to teaching as she pursued three goals. These were to engage students in:

  1. Active learning and hands on skills building;
  2. Raising the level of conceptual development in research; and
  3. Activities to examine their researcher roles, epistemology, methodology, theory and reflexivity in research (p. 1611).

Charmaz (2015) wrote she worked to achieve these goals by following:

a graduated approach to skill-building and theory construction in each class: (a) introduction to the specific method such as interviewing or coding, (b) discussion of focused readings, (c) demonstration of the method, (d) exercises with sample materials and discussion of them, (e) student application of the method, (e) small group exchange of each student’s work, and (f) revisions to hand-in or use in preparation of a completed project. (p. 1611)

This article provides a useful guide to anyone who teaches qualitative methods, irrespective of whether a grounded theory approach is a central topic. I found myself thinking about my own teaching in an effort to see how it aligned with Charmaz’s description.

In 2018, Dr. Charmaz’ exemplary contribution the field of qualitative inquiry was honored by the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry. This was but one of many awards that she received over her lifetime of scholarship. To learn more about Dr. Charmaz’s life and work, be sure to read Janice Morse’s (2020) touching tribute in the most recent issue of Qualitative Health Research.

Kathy Roulston

References

Bryant, A., & Charmaz, K. (Eds.). (2007). The Sage handbook of grounded theory. Sage.

Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Sage.

Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing grounded theory (2nd ed.). Sage.

Charmaz, K. (2015). Teaching theory construction with initial grounded theory tools: A reflection on lessons and learning. Qualitative Health Research, 25(12), 1610-1622. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732315613982

Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Aldine de Gruyter.

Morse, J. (2020). A moment of silence. Qualitative Health Research, 30(13), 1985-1988. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732320958713

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