Grounded Theory Carnival

This is a group exercise. “Carnival in Rio” (also known as “Homogenous Rhythms”), a game developed by theatre artist Augusto Boal, is a movement and sound exercise that, serendipitously, parallels the processes for developing grounded theory (GT). I facilitate the game in my research methods workshops to demonstrate how GT “works.”

A large group of people first divides into smaller groups of three. Each of the individual small group members creates a simple gesture (such as a hand wave or head tilt) that can be replicated and repeated easily by the other two in the small group, accompanied with a nonsensical sound (such as “beep” or “woop”) that others can imitate. Then, the other two small group members each offer their own unique gesture/sound combinations to their partners for replication and repetition. (Analogy: Think of each person in the small group as a datum; their unique gestures are process codes, and their unique sounds in vivo codes. The preliminary sharing is a form of open coding.)

After each small group member shares a gesture and sound, they then simultaneously enact their unique sounds and gestures repeatedly. Through the processes of individual negotiation and non-verbal communication, the small group of three “morphs” or synthesizes their individual gestures and sounds so that all three evolve toward making the exact same gesture and sound repeatedly. The final small group sequence might consist of one person’s gesture combined with another person’s sound, or a new composite movement that integrates two gestures with one person’s sound, and so on. (Analogy: Think of the process above as focused coding to develop an initial category. Whatever thoughts run through an individual’s mind is an analytic memo.)

Each small group of three, now enacting its newly collective gesture and sound, joins another group of three doing its own unique gesture and sound. The process of morphing/synthesizing continues so that ever-increasing groups of six, nine, twelve, and so on, evolve into more and more people gesturing and sounding the exact same way. Sometimes one gesture will dominate because it is easy to replicate; perhaps a sound will dominate because it is the loudest; perhaps a particular gesture/sound combination will dominate simply because most group members are doing it and the minority acquiesces to the majority; or a whimsical gesture/sound combination will prevail because its qualities appeal to the group. (Analogy: Think of the processes above as GT’s axial and selective coding.)

The whole group eventually assembles standing in a circle as all participants continue to evolve their gestures and sounds. The goal or culminating product (ideally) is everyone making the exact same gesture and sound. (Analogy: The process above represents theoretical coding, resulting in the core category.)

The group stops and reflects on the process. I clarify how each stage of game playing simulates the analytic stages of GT. We share our thought processes (the analytic memos) as we played to discover how we arrived at our “core category” and what the final gesture/sound combination might mean—our grounded theory. (Birks & Mills, 2015, pp. 122-3)