Theory Building

There are different ways in which one can build a theory. However, a few things must be kept in mind:

  1. Completeness
    • Are all relevant factors included?
  2. Parsimony
    • Should some factors be deleted because they provide little value?
  3. Relationships
    • Why are you selecting the various factors and why do they relate?
    • Gets at assumptions of author and why people should care (underlying economic, social dynamics, etc.).

Christensen (2001) suggested a synthesized model of theory building throughout a range of fields. The model consists of four stages that repeat. This cycle of theory building includes both deductive and inductive modes.

  1. Observing phenomena, and carefully describing and recording those observations
  2. Classifying the phenomena into categories of similar things: The aim is to simplify and organize the world in ways that highlight the most meaningful differences amongst phenomena
  3. Building theories that explain the behavior of the phenomena (describing what causes what, why, and under what circumstances)
  4. Using theory to predict what they will observe when they go out and observe more phenomena under various conditions for more accurate description, revising a classification scheme and/or articulating a new statement of what causes what under what circumstances
  5. Once researchers have defined a set of categories that are collectively exhaustive and mutually exclusive, then the theory built becomes a paradigm.
Christensen also talks about the discovery of anomalous phenomena is the pivotal element in the process of building improved theory because the anomaly observation creates reliable mechanism in classification. Furthermore, the anomalies may lead to a toppling of a reigning paradigm.
(Adapted from group and course notes)
(Flashcards and other resources here)
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