Jan 16Linking Theory and research.docx

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30 Mar 2012

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Linking Theory and Research- Jan 16th
Theory in social research
The backbone of the social sciences
Researchers combine a way of thinking about the operation of the social
world (theory) with what they observe about it (data)
How Social Theories work
They explain recurring patterns, not unique to one time events
They are explanations for aggregates, not or specific individuals
They state a probability, chance, or tendency for something to occur not an
absolute (causal) relationship
What is theory
A system of interconnected abstractions ot ideas that condenses and
organizes knowledge about the social world
Social theorist create explanations about the workings of society and the
interactions b/w members of social groups
The classical theorists provided the foundation got our understandings of the
social world
The Value of theorists
Almost all research involves some theory
o Not whether you use theory, but how you use it
Even outsie of research many people use theories without making the
o However often less systematic, less well formulated, and more
difficult to test with empirical evidence
Parts of a Theory
o Ideas expressed as symbols or in words
o Social theory requires concepts to be well defined, which helps link
theory with research
o Conceptclusters- interconnected groups of concepts that share
common assumptions
o Variables- concepts that take on a range of values, quantities or
o Classifications can be used to organize concepts
o Concepts are rarely used in isolation
o Un-observable and un-testable statements about the nature of things
o Often hidden or unstated
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o Theories should specify how concepts relate to one another or if they
are related at all and why this relationship exists or not
o A hypothesis is when a researchers empirically tests or evaluates a
o Confirmed hypothesis= propositions
Aspects of a theory
To simplify our understanding of a theory, we can categorize it by:
1. The direction of its reasoning
2. The level of social reality that it explains
3. The forms of explanations it employs
4. The overall framework of assumptions and concepts in which it is
Direction of theorizing
Begin with detailed observations of the world
Work toward developing more abstract generalizations and ideas
Involves refining concepts, developing empirical generalizations and
identifying preliminary relationships
Often use grounded theory
Grounded theory
Researcher builds ideas and theoretical generalizations based on a close and
creative examination of the relationship in a creative way of thinking about
the data
Purpose: to develop a theory that is very faithful to the evidence
Begin with an abstract, logical relationship among concepts
Work toward finding concrete, empirical evidence
Involves testing theories with statistical data
Direction of theorizing
Theory generalizations observations
Observations predictions hypothesis theory
Range of theory
Empirical generalizations
o Least abstract theoretical statement, narrow range
o Simple statement about a pattern or generalization among 2 or more
concrete examples that are close to empirical reality
o Easy to test
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o Operates across many periods and social contexts
Range of theory
Middle-range theories (Robert Merton)
o Slightly more abstract than empirical generalizations
o Focused on a specific substantive topic
o Includes a multiple empirical generalization
o Builds a theoretical explanation
o Middle-range theory is principally used in sociology to guide
empirical inquiry
Range of theory
Theoretical framework (aka paradigm or theoretical system)
o More abstract than a middle range theory
o Orientations looking at the social world that provide collections of
assumptions, concepts and forms of explanation (eg. Functionalism)
o Include many formal substantive theories
o Rarely directly used in empirical research- often test one small part of
the theoretical framework
Levels of theory
Micro-level theory
o Examine concrete issues, such as face-to- face interactions in small
o The level that most people think about most of the time
Macro-level theory
o Concerns the operations of larger aggregates such as social
institutions, entire cultural systems and whole societies
o Usually very abstract
o Example: elder care may be understood as an overarching system of
obligations that require family members to care for again parent
Meso-level theory
o Links micro and macro and operates at an intermediate level
o Includes such things as theories of organizations, social movements
and communities
o Example: the development of recent social movements in the middle
A theory’s primary purpose is to explain
Theoretical explanation is a logical argument that tells why something occurs
and how concepts are connected
o This is the focus of researchers
Ordinary explanation makes something clear or describes something in a
way that makes it understandable
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