What is the coding paradigm?

Explanation of the coding paradigm in grounded theory research according to Corbin and Strauss

For more best practices see our method overview

What is the coding paradigm?

In qualitative research, the process of coding serves as a fundamental tool for organizing and making sense of data. Grounded Theory, a qualitative research methodology developed by Barney G. Glaser and Anselm L. Strauss in the 1960s, has been influential in shaping the approach to coding in qualitative data analysis. The two founders of the methodology later diverged in their interpretation of grounded theory, and it was Strauss' later collaboration with Juliet Corbin that defined the coding paradigm within grounded theory. In this article, we describe the coding paradigm according to Corbin and Strauss, exploring its principles, techniques, and significance in qualitative research.
The coding paradigm of Strauss and Corbin is a structured process that guides researchers through the complex task of data analysis. It is a part of the axial coding phase, one of the several steps in grounded theory that also includes open coding and selective coding. The coding paradigm helps in identifying the relationships between categories and subcategories of data, thereby facilitating the development of a well-rounded theory.

Elements of the coding paradigm

According to Strauss and Corbin, the coding paradigm consists of the following elements.
  • The phenomenon under study: This is the central idea or event that is being examined.
  • Causal conditions: These are the events or incidents that lead to the occurrence of the phenomenon.
  • Contextual conditions: These refer to the specific set of circumstances or situations that pertain to the phenomenon.
  • Intervening conditions: These are broader structural factors that can influence the strategies or actions taken in relation to the phenomenon.
  • Action/interactional strategies: These are the responses or tactics employed by individuals or groups concerning the phenomenon.
  • Consequences: These are the outcomes or results of employing those strategies.
The six elements are illustrated in the following graphic which shows the different dimensions with examples from a study about working from home during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Theory building using the coding paradigm

Using the coding paradigm assumes that social realities are complex and multifaceted, requiring a nuanced approach to understanding. By systematically breaking down data into these constituent elements, researchers can construct a grounded theory that is deeply rooted in empirical evidence.
Using the coding paradigm gives grounded theory a more systematic aproach to theory development. It can also guide your theoretical sampling. If, after an iteration of data collection and analysis, you come to the conclusion that the phenomenon you study has been described in much detail regarding context, intervening and interaction strategies as well as consequences, but is missing explicit conditions which could be described as a causal condition, or trigger, for the phenomenon, then in your next iteration of data gathering you might want to pursue an interview with parts of the population that can shed more light on specifically this area.

Conclusion on the coding paradigm

The coding paradigm of Corbin and Strauss represents a cornerstone of grounded theory methodology. It provides a rigorous and structured approach to qualitative data analysis, enabling researchers to uncover the intricate relationships that form the fabric of social life. As qualitative research continues to evolve, the contributions of Strauss and Corbin's coding paradigm remain a testament to their enduring impact on the field of social science research.

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