• Rey

Taxonomy of Farts: An Introduction to Grounded Theory*

Have you ever thought how many types of farts are out there in the world? What are their differences? What makes each fart a unique snowflake? The research method that could help you answer these questions could be the grounded theory method.

Usually, in a quantitative research method, you have a hypothesis, e.g. farts smell worse than rotten egg rolls.  To do so, you need to recruit participants and divide them into 3 groups: the fart group, the egg rolls group, and the control group. The fart group will be exposed to fart, the second group will be exposed to rotten egg rolls and the control group will be exposed to some neutral gas. Then they are all asked to evaluate the smell of the gass. At the end, you compare the answers to see what smell is significantly worse than the others. Now you have tested your hypothesis, and let’s say, it seems that farts ARE smellier than rotten egg rolls.

In the grounded theory method, however, you come up with theories to test in future. To begin with, you have a general subject area. Let’s say, I am interested in Farts. You start by spending time in your field site, observing the phenomena you’re studying, i.e. farts.

In this case, you pick a pencil and a notebook, sit amongst other people and wait, for days, weeks, months and in some cases years. You listen carefully and observe (and smell). What do you see? Who is farting? Why did they fart? What happened before and after they farted? How did people react? How did the fart smell? How did that make you feel?

Take notes of your field.

You take notes and write memos which might be thoughts you’d have about those observations. You might even interview some people to learn more about their motivation and consequences of farting.

After collecting the first round of data, you do initial coding and start finding patterns that might be interesting to you. For example, when people laugh too hard, they fart. At this point, you can start shaping your main theories for further investigation. “There are different types of fart, elicited by different triggers”. This is my theory, and now I want to find those different types of farts and come up with a taxonomy.

A good way to progress is to come up with a codebook. You are taking note of all the things that you are observing. Now you want to code them in order to build a solid argument. Let’s say my codes are:

Trigger: Any situation that triggers the fart

Noise: A fart that you can hear

Smelly: A fart that you can smell

Facial expression:

Sad, Happy, Angry, Surprised, Content, Etc.

After coding your content you run through them and try to analyze them and come up with different types of farts, put them into categories and introduce the properties of each category. For example:

Stress fart, triggered by stress

Pleasure fart, inducing pleasure after release

Threat fart, intended to threaten someone to do something

Identify the properties of each category.

Meanwhile, you keep collecting data knowing what exactly you’re looking for. The triggers and the outcomes. You try to find some evidence for each of your fart styles and when you write your paper you make sure to describe why you think this is a certain fart style, providing your observations. Sometimes further along the analysis, you add more codes to your codebook if you see interesting or useful information. For example, you see an important role in the smell of farts, so you add the codes, broccoli, spoiled egg, Cheetos mixed with banana, and unicorn and rainbows (yes, some people are too good to be true).

Sample Fart Taxonomy.

If you want to do a better job with generalizing, comparing could play an important role. For example, if you collect your data in an office, a mall, and a house, you can see if all the patterns are the same in different places, but you can see certain differences between another comparison groups, e.g. comparing farts of the youth and adults and how there is a fundamental difference between the noises caused by farts.

However, as a general rule, grounded theory is not necessarily trying to come up with a substantive amount of evidence to “prove” something exists, but tries to suggest an existing relationship for future research to examine.

So remember, sometimes you can just enter the wild, and look for the patterns that have not been noticed before. Explore them and grant humanity the new knowledge of taxonomy of farts, or whatever your heart (and brain) desires.  

To learn more about Grounded Theory take a look at the Discovery of Grounded Theory by Glaser and Strauss and Constructing Grounded Theory by Charmaz.

*Disclaimer: I am still learning about grounded theory and am not an expert of this methodology so please feel free to point out anything I might have gotten wrong.

#qualitativemethods #taxonomy #fart #ScienceCommunication #groundedtheory


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