School of Communication, Information and Library Studies

THEORY CONSTRUCTION

Methods of Inquiry Syllabus:514

Gustav W. Friedrich

1. SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH: is systematic, controlled, empirical, and critical investigation of hypothetical propositions about the presumed relationships among phenomena.


2. THEORY: is a set of interrelated constructs (concepts), definitions, and propositions that presents a systematic view of phenomena by specifying relations among variables, with the purpose of explaining, predicting, and controlling the phenomena.


3. FUNCTIONS OF THEORY:

a. EXPLANATION: provides an answer to the question "why is the fact what it is?" that is intellectually satisfying. Formal explanation: subsuming a proposition under a broader proposition which needs no explanation. It consists of a universal generalization that is assumed to be true, a particular set of circumstances, and a conclusion which asserts that an event had to occur because it was deducible from the logic of the propositions of the theory. Such explanations are deterministic/causal/nomic. Law: (x) <If Px then Qx>; Antecedent Condition: Px; Conclusion: Qx.

b. PREDICTION: proposing the occurrence of a future event given some awareness of a past or present relationship which may or may not be understood (e.g., astronomy). One can predict without explanation, but the reverse is not true. Thus explanation, rather than prediction, is the end of science.

c. CONTROL: ability to intervene in a particular case or to alter the case of a particular relationship. In the pure case it implies complete understanding of elements and their relationships as well as a closed system. Less purely, it implies knowledge of the principles along which the phenomena vary.

4. PHENOMENA

a. CONCEPTS or CONSTRUCTS: the level of theory. Ary: a concept is an abstraction from observed events; it is a word that represents the similarities or common aspects of objects or events that are otherwise quite different from one another (words such as chair, dog, tree, liquid, etc.). Constructs are higher-level abstractions produced by combining concepts and less complex constructs. Words such as motivation, justice, and problem-solving are constructs.

b. VARIABLES: the level of observation
A variable is a symbol to which numerals or values are assigned.
1) Independent (predicted from) versus dependent (predicted to)
2) Active (manipulated) and attribute (characteristics of subjects such as sex, age, intelligence)
3) Continuous (ordinal, interval, ratio) and categorical (nominal)

c. DEFINITIONS: bridging the gap
1) Constitutive definition: a definition that defines a construct with other constructs.
2) Operational definition:
a) Measured: one that describes how a variable will be measured.
b) Experimental: spells out the details (operations) of the investigator's manipulations of a variable.

5. RELATIONSHIPS

a. LAW: describes a nomic, universal relationship in which scientists have so much confidence they consider it an absolute "truth."
b. AXIOM/POSTULATE: one of a basic set of statements from which all other statements of a theory may be logically derived.
c. PROPOSITION: derived from axioms.
d. HYPOTHESIS: a statement proposing a relationship between two or more different aggregates of facts (research, null, statistical).
e. EMPIRICAL GENERALIZATION: the same pattern of events found in a number of different empirical studies.
f. FACT: a statement, not deduced from another statement, applying to a particular time and place whose concepts are observable.

6. METATHEORETICAL ASSUMPTIONS:

a. EPISTEMOLOGY: How do we know what we claim to know?
1) To what extent can knowledge exist before experience?
2) To what extent is knowledge universal?
3) By what process does knowledge arise?
a) Rationalism: knowledge arises out of the sheer power of the human mind.
b) Empiricism: knowledge arises in perception.
c) Constructivism: people create knowledge to function in life.
4) Is knowledge best conceived in parts or wholes?
5) To what extent is knowledge explicit?

b. ONTOLOGY: What is the nature of the phenomena we seek to know?
1) To what extent do humans make real choices?
a) Determinists (motion theory): humans are basically reactive and passive; behavior is determined by and responsive to past pressures.
b) Teleologists (action theory): people plan their behavior to meet goals; individuals create meanings, they have intentions, they make real choices.
2) To what extent are humans best understood in terms of states versus traits?
3) To what extent is human experience basically individual versus social?

c. AXIOLOGY: What is the role of values in inquiry (value-conscious versus value-neutral scholarship).
1) Can theory be value-free?
2) To what extent does inquiry influence what is studied?
3) To what extent should scholarship attempt to achieve social change?

7. CRITERIA FOR EVALUATING THEORIES:

a. SCOPE: a measure of how many of the basic problems in the discipline or specialty are handled by the same theory. It takes two forms: coverage of a broad domain or explanation of a large number of situations within a narrow range of events.

b. PRECISION OF PREDICTION: a property of both single equations and a theory.

c. ACCURACY OF EXPLANATION: while the equations might precisely predict communication effectiveness, for example, the question remains whether the premises are accurate ones.

d. PARSIMONY: a property of the theoretical statements. We are interested in explaining as much as we can with as little as possible. A powerful theory is one that makes few assumptions.

e. HEURISTIC VALUE: potential for generating research and additional theory.

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