The Aesthetics of Codes in Grounded Theory Research

A Scientific-Literary Essay

  • Maya Halatcheva-Trapp TU Dortmund
Keywords: qualitative social research, Grounded Theory, coding process, affective and bodily-sensory subjectivity, the aesthetics of social research, collaborative interpretation, digitality


The essay approaches research as an aesthetic practice that involves not only rational-cognitive experiences but also bodily-sensory and affective ones. I outline this assumption using the example of interpretation processes in Grounded Theory research. Here, the analysis of empirical data takes place in the circular process of elaborating codes and categories and aims to develop an empirically based theory. Codes in Grounded Theory research are both analytically condensed and condensing constructs themselves, as they are produced in a co-constructive process that takes place between the researchers and the data. The process of coding thus also implies a relational level—the relationship between the researchers and the field of research, represented by the data—and is characterized by emotions, feelings and bodily-sensory perceptions that shape the production of knowledge about this very field. The codes condense aesthetic experiences, making them available on a discursive and a (self-)reflexive level all at once. Therefore, the article applies the question ‘What do we do with codes?’ to the practice of qualitative social research and seeks to answer it from an aestheticizing perspective, focusing on subjectivity and its epistemological potential.