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Qualitative Family Research

A Newsletter of the Qualitative Family Research Network

National Council on Family Relations

Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2 November 1993

Dimensional Analysis and Grounded Theory:

Interviews with Leonard Schatzman

By Jane F. Gilgun University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, USA

“In the history of qualitative research, most professors couldn't articulate the method. A
student would ask a prof, ‘Where did you get that concept?’ The prof would mumble something
and then add, ‘Hang around a few years, and you'll see.’ Sure enough, the student would hang
around for a couple of years and would see. The student becomes a professor and her student
asks, ‘Where did you get that concept?’ The prof mumbles something and then says, ‘Hang
around a few years. You'll see.’”

The speaker is Leonard Schatzman, with whom I talked several times by phone in order
to understand his place in the development of grounded theory analysis. Schatzman's story
evokes the difficulty and complexity of teaching and learning qualitative methods, a difficulty
which can extend over generations. In our conversations, Schatzman spoke on a wide range of
topics, such as grounded theory analysis and the challenges it poses to students, dimensional
analysis, the history of his relationship to Anselm Strauss, and methods of teaching and learning
grounded theory.

In this article, I will attempt to give a flavor of a man who taught qualitative methods to
generations of sociology and nursing students and whose writings have helped many others to
become qualitative researchers (Schatzman & Strauss, 1973).

Taught Field Methods for Almost 30 Years

For 28 years Schatzman taught the field methods course which preceded grounded theory
sequence at the University of California, San Francisco. Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss
(1967), widely recognized as the originators of grounded theory analysis, taught courses on data
analysis and interpretation, following the field work course. All three were faculty members in
the sociology department, and their courses also were part of the School of Nursing curriculum.

“Glaser and Strauss made a contribution in articulating method and challenged others to
articulate theirs,” Schatzman said. “Their great contribution was to push us into making
methodological commitments which historically we did not do.”

The Emergence of Dimensional Analysis

Schatzman responded to this challenge and articulated dimensional analysis, a style of

doing grounded theory, whose purpose is to make explicit some of the tacit processes involved in
analysis (Schatzman, 1991; Schatzman & Bowers, in preparation). “An analysis cannot have

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occurred without having dimensionalized some complex phenomenon and brought those
dimensions into some kind of configuration,” Schatzman explained. The configuration of
research findings depends on the selection of one of the dimensions to order all the others.
Schatzman suggested that students analyze their data using several different dimensions until
they settle on one or more organizing dimensions. Then, “You at least have made a
commitment, a public commitment to which of the dimensions will be most telling of all that is
involved in understanding a situation--indeed, creating the very situation being analyzed. Nature
doesn't provide situations; situations are constructed.” Perhaps the single most important premise
of dimensional analysis is that all human beings do it naturally, though not necessarily
systematically,” he said.

Feminism and African-American Scholarship as Forms of Dimensional Analysis

African-American and feminist scholars provide examples of the unwitting, use of

dimensional analysis. These scholars--without naming their analytic processes as dimensional
analysis--have transformed our understanding of history through using race and gender as central
dimensions of their analyses, Schatzman pointed out.

“What do black scholars do?” he asked. They use race as a central dimension. It gives
them a perspective through which they look at the processes of history. Through race, history
comes out differently.” He continued, “Contemporary feminism has reconstituted history--its
construction. Feminism took gender as a basic perspective,” he said. “We're going to make
gender central to the configuration of all the dimensions we're going to examine. Everyone of
them will be examined against the dimension of gender--like leadership, freedom, whatever you
want to bring in.”

Dimensional analysis, therefore, provides a lens through which to view the various
aspects of a situation, and it fits well with Strauss and Corbin's (l990) style of doing grounded
theory analysis whose focus is on the identification of core concepts of social processes, the
conditions under which they exist, and the associated outcomes or consequences of these
processes. This conceptualization of grounded theory often was experienced as abstract and
difficult by students.

In applying these ideas of dimensional analysis to students' research, Schatzman points

out that “Every code really stems from or is rooted in some kind of dimension that you have
constructed.” He said, “I insist my students gather all the flowers [dimensions] and tell which
one of these dimensions ended up as a central perspective and then aligned all the other
dimensions.” Dimensional analysis, therefore, guides researchers toward choosing one or more
central concepts that can organize their findings.

Schatzman began formulating dimensional analysis in the early 1970s, in response to

students' difficulty in doing grounded theory analysis. “The method Strauss teaches and Glaser
teaches is very, very difficult," he said. "It simply is not easy to grasp.” Many students
experience grounded theory analysis as not providing any anchors and feel uneasy with the
apparent vagueness of allowing the ideas to emerge and to discover social processes, the
conditions under which they occur, and their consequences or outcomes. Schatzman has been
teaching dimensional analysis for many years and several student dissertations were based on
this approach (Bowers, 1983; Droes, 1989; Fisher, 1989; McCarthy, 1991).

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Recently, Strauss, in collaboration with Juliet Corbin (Corbin, 1991; Strauss, 1987;
Strauss & Corbin, 1990), has suggested the use of matrices to organize the elements of the
analysis. They, too, recognized the advantages of articulating some of the tacit processes of
doing grounded theory analysis.

Some Pitfalls of Working Within the Grounded Theory Tradition

In his advising of students on their dissertation research, Schatzman found several types
of misapplication of grounded theory analysis. Some imposed “received” theories on data rather
than fostering the gradual emergence of ideas. Others technically followed the procedures of
grounded theory but developed results which did not add to theoretical understandings.

Some made premature commitments to codes (concepts) which had unexamined levels of
abstraction and little integration among them, and still others appeared to be responding
intuitively to their field experiences and did not make convincing links between procedures, data,
and theory. Finally, some students gave up.

Students Who Do Well with Procedures of Grounded Theory Analysis

Students do a superior piece of work “when it is relevant to theoretical constructions in

their fields,” Schatzman said. Relevance means “you can order an existing theory, refute it, or
force its modification. One of the three is your fate.” If the theory can't do this, “you've failed.”
Mainly students who are “accepting of indeterminate realities and plural perspectives” do well
with processes of grounded theory analysis, Schatzman (l991, p. 306) wrote in a chapter in a
book honoring Strauss.

Strauss was Schatzman's Teacher and Then his Colleague

Leonard Schatzman was Strauss's first graduate student. After receiving his Ph.D. at the
University of Chicago in 1945, with Ernest Burgess as his advisor, Strauss was an assistant
professor at Indiana University. Schatzman had received his bachelor's degree in history at
Indiana and, while still in uniform after being demobilized from the U.S. Army, he went to visit
his history profs. Edwin Sutherland, a sociological criminologist, noticed him as he “was
wandering through the halls of sociology thinking of going to California to study psychiatric
social work.” Sutherland asked to interview him about G.I.'s and the black market. After three
hours of conversation, Sutherland offered him an assistantship in sociology.

Schatzman turned him down and went to California, but he could not get into school
there because of residency requirements. So, he took Sutherland up on his offer. He learned
sociology mainly from Strauss. “I read and talked to Strauss about it,” he said. “I was never
intrigued with sociology until I bought the pragmatic-interactionism that Strauss brought to me.”
Strauss and Schatzman parted for a time, Schatzman to teach at Coe College in Cedar Rapids,
Iowa, and Strauss to the University of Chicago. Several years passed and Strauss asked
Schatzman to join him in Chicago on a three-year study of psychiatric institutions.

Developing the Theory of Negotiated Order

“The theory of negotiated order (Strauss, Schatzman, Bucher, Ehrlich, & Sabshin, 1962)

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grew out of our Chicago psychiatric study,” he said. “We applied sensitizing concepts, the usual
stuff of the social organization of a hospital, having to do with rule and norms. Strauss, in
discussion with Schatzman, Rue Bucher, and other members of the research team, was saying,
‘Yeah, yeah, there are rules and norms in this hospital. What else is going on here?’ We came
up with the negotiation concept. There are rules, but rules are negotiated, rules are bent, broken,
ignored, argued over, all within the negotiation process.

“We literally declared that modern organizations are better regarded as negotiated
processes where rules are constantly being negotiated and re-negotiated. It isn't that the rules are
not there or not fair--it is rather that rules and norms are in flux.”

We looked at each other, and we gasped and said, ‘Gee, that's a theory.’ Put in your
thumb and pull out a plum and say what a good boy am I. We dared publish it that way, and it
rang a bell. Terrific. I know there are rules. We set that aside and said rules are not central.
What is central is how these people deal with each other and negotiate problems day to day.”

An Early Unwitting Dimensional Analysis

“We went back over the data,” Schatzman continued, “and found negotiation coming out
of our ears. How did I know this was theoretically powerful? I don't know. You make a
declaration of it. Your colleagues may say this is crap.” The concept of negotiated order helped
organize the massive amounts of material the research team had gathered. This is another
example of unwitting dimensional analysis, since neither grounded theory nor dimensional
analysis had been formulated at that time--1958-1961.

Within this concept of dimensional analysis is thinking that Schatzman would say is
interactionist, but which also could be post-modern--the idea of multiple constructions. His
many references to indeterminacy, multiple perspectives, the helpfulness of choosing a
dimension which configures the rest, and other such points suggests post-modern thinking.

His discussion of why the concept of negotiated order was so widely well-received also is
within post-modernism. He said, “I can't really say what tells you one concept is better than
another.” Soon afterward, however, he was making a stab at it. “Superiority is finally
demonstrated--if at all--in a kind of pragmatic notion that something works better than other
things.” A good concept helps us “understand multiple social worlds and multiple ways of
thinking, and all of these are in constant flux with other ways of thinking and other ways of
constructing social worlds.”

From Chicago to San Francisco

Strauss moved from Chicago to the University of California at San Francisco in 1960 to
add strength to research training at the School of Nursing (See Strauss, 1991). Schatzman stayed
in Chicago to finish the psychiatric hospital study, and then he joined Strauss at UC-SF. Strauss
attracted other researchers--Barney Glaser, Fred Davis, Virginia Oleson, and a host of nursing
and sociology graduate students who have had distinguished careers, such as Shizuko
Fagerhaugh, Barbara Suzek, Carolyn Weiner, Kathy Charmaz, Juliet Corbin, Lyn Lofland,
Barbara Bowers, Jean Quint Benoliel, Phyllis Stern, and many others.

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The nursing graduates have had an enormous influence on the development of nursing
research, and may be, as a discipline, more advanced than in any discipline in doing a wide range
of types of qualitative research (Gilgun, 1992)

The Transmission of Grounded Theory Analysis

Schatzman has been a key figure in the development of grounded theory methods, as a
teacher, adviser, raconteur, and writer. His style of teaching dimensional analysis and field
methods is very much in the mode of the Chicago School, which involves sending students into
the field to collect data and to come back and discuss what they have found.

Besides interacting with professors, students have a great role to play in each other's
education. They commonly read each other's fieldnotes and write memos. Back they go to the
field, creating a continual interaction between field experiences and individual and group

Marianne McCarthy, now an assistant professor at the College of Nursing, Ohio State
University, studied extensively with Strauss and did a group independent study over several
quarters with Schatzman. “The group independent study was wonderful,” she said. “We worked
as a group, critiqued each others' fieldnotes and each others memos.” She worked primarily with
Schatzman and found dimensional analysis gave “a structural anchor” as she went through her

Ellen Olshansky, another student of Schatzman's and recently tenured at the School of
Nursing, University of Washington, said he often asks her whether in her role as professor, “Do
you have any colleagues, and do you have shared meanings?” McCarthy, said this is a serious
issue once students graduate from UC-SF. Describing her experience when she was a new
professor, she said, “Doing the analysis is an interactive process, and I didn't have anyone to
interact with.”

Difficulties in Finding Teachers and Colleagues

So many students in the San Francisco Bay area wanted to enroll in the grounded theory
sequence at the University of California, that the courses eventually were closed to all but UC-SF
students. Classes were small at UC-SF because of the heavy workload of teaching grounded
theory. Places where students had the opportunity to learn how to do qualitative research were--
and are--few. With a dearth of professors to teach a difficult method that was not well
articulated, many now doing qualitative research had to learn the best we could, often by reading
and trying out the ideas, with a little direction and support from colleagues.

Ralph LaRossa, a well-known qualitative family researcher, tells a story which stands for
the experiences of many contemporary qualitative researchers. He described how he learned
how to do his analysis when he was a Ph.D. student in sociology: “I did what Richard Gelles had
done two years before me. I had my interviews transcribed. I read them several times. I cut
them up into strips. I wrote memos. Then I got to the point where I wanted to know what to do
next. I put all the piles on the floor next to me and I read the chapter in Glaser and Strauss (l967)
on the constant comparative method. They told me I was supposed to look for concepts.”

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Schatzman wonders how anyone could learn to do this analysis by a book. He said,
“Quarter after quarter our students worked with Strauss, Glaser, and me, and after all that some
of them still struggled. How can anyone learn to do this from a book?”

Schatzman, without realizing it, has had the rare opportunity to be with colleagues and
students who do have some shared meanings. There are few equivalents of UC-SF. Yet, there is
an answer to Schatzman's question. Many qualitative researchers who didn't study with the
originators had the academic backgrounds and personal styles to understand qualitative research,
although our paths might have been more smooth, had we had intense mentorships.

Ideas Like Winged Seeds Falling on New Soil

The ideas of the faculty at UC-SF have taken wing--like the seeds of a maple tree--and
they are now growing in new soils throughout North America and other continents as well. The
most up-to-date version of grounded theory analysis is a book by Barney Glaser (l992), who has
taken issue with recent writings on grounded theory (e.g., Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

In combination with the ideas of post-modernism, feminism, critical theory,

interpretivism, and narrative analysis, and other contemporary intellectual currents, the ideas
embedded in grounded theory analysis will be influential for generations to come. Leonard
Schatzman, teacher, advisor, and writer, has made a unique contribution to the development of
grounde d theory analysis. A wonderful story teller, Schatzman--known as Lenny to his students
and colleagues--has brought to life much of the history of the development of grounded theory
and dimensional analysis.

Bowers, Barbara (l983). Intergenerational caretaking: Processes and consequences of

creating knowledge. University of California, San Francisco, D.N.S.
Corbin, Juliet (l991) Anselm Strauss: An intellectual biography. In David R. Maines
(Ed.). Social organizations and social process: Essays in honor of Anselm Strauss (pp. 17-42).
New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Droes, Nelly S. (l981). An exploration of the nature and problems in nursing practice
and correctional settings. University of California, San Francisco, D.N.S.
Fisher, Anastacia A. (l989). The process of definition and action: The case of
dangerousness. University of California, San Francisco, D.N.S.
Gilgun, Jane F. (l992) Grounded theory analysis and its influence on family scholarship.
Paper presented at the Symposium on Grounded Theory Methodoogy: Historical, Theoretical,
and Clincial Per- spectives, National Council on Family Relations Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL,
Nov. 7, 1992.
Glaser, Barney (l992). Basics of grounded theory analysis. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology
Press.Glaser, Barney & Anselm Strauss (l967). The discovery of grounded theory. New York:
McCarthy, Marianne (l991). The lack of detection of acute confusion among the aged:
Limitations in clinical judgment. University of California, San Francisco.
Schatzman, Leonard (l991). Dimensional analysis: Notes on an alternative appraoch to
the grounding of theory in qualitative research. In David R. Maines (Ed.). Social organizations
and social process: Essays in honor of Anselm Strauss (pp. 303-314). New York: Aldine de

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Leonard & Barbara Bowers (in preparation). Dimensional analysis.
Schatzman, Leonard & Anselm Strauss (l973). Field research: Strategies for a natural
sociology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Strauss, Anselm (l991). A personal history of the development of grounded theory.
Qualitative Family Research, 5(2), 1-2.
Strauss, Anselm (l987). Qualitative analysis for social scientists. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Strauss, Anselm & Juliet Corbin (l990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory
procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

About the Author

Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW, is a professor, School of Social Work, University of Minnesota,
Twin Cities. Professor Gilgun writes children’s books, articles, and books available on, Amazon Kindle, and She edited Qualitative Family
Research for five years.

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