For PhD Researchers 01 July 2011 Dr Palitha Edirisingha University of Leicester, UK. Theory in a PhD study
Gilbert, N. (2008) Researching Social Life , 3rd Edn. London: Sage. Bryman, A. (2008) Social Research Methods, 3rd Edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Punch, K. F. (2006) Developing Effective Research Proposals , 2nd Edn . London: Sage. White, P. (2009) Developing Research Questions: A guide for social scientists : Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. References Carey, M. (2009) The Social Work Dissertation: Using Small-Scale Qualitative Methodology. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill and Open University Press.
What form of theory?Whether the purpose of data is
to test or
to build theories
Bryman, 2008, p. 6
Types of theory Grand theories Middle range theories (Merton 1967) Literature acting as proxy for theory (Bryman, 2008)
(Bryman, 2008, p. 6-7) Grand theories Middle range theories
cultural capitalsymbolic interactionismcritical theory
labour process theory
Approaches to learning?
too abstract and general
offer few indications to researchers as to how they might guide or influence the collection of empirical evidence.
between grand theories and empirical findings
represent an attempt to understand and explain a limited aspect of social life
Theory testing - 'with the research questions relating to their ability to help us understand a particular aspect of the social world.' (White, 2009, p. 24-25) Linking theory with research Theory generation - Identifying gaps in existing theories - research 'to generate theory in order to make up for this absence' (White, 2009, p. 24-25) Theory-first Theory-after
The term theory is frequently used in a manner that means little more than the background literature in an area of social inquiry' (Bryman, 2008, p. 8)
To resolve an inconsistency between different findings/ interpretations of findings
To address a neglected area of a topic
To provide an alternative approach to that in literature
Literature acting as proxy for theory Can be critiqued as 'naive empiricism' (Bryman, 2008) '"theory" may be little more than the literature on a certain topic in the form of accumulated knowledge gleaned from books and articles' (Bryman, 2008, p. 8)
How do you characterise the use of theory in your PhD study?
Deduce a hypothesis Empirical study Concepts researchable entities questions Theory Operational terms specifying how data can be collected in relation to the concepts that make up the hypothesis Middle-range theory ‘to guide empirical inquiry’ (Merton, 1967, p. 39) based on what is known in the domain and theoretical consideration translated into Findings fed back into the stock of theory and knowledge in the domain [revision of] Theory (adapted from Bryman, 2008)
Drawing generalisable inferences out of observations.
Iterative. ‘once the phase of theoretical reflection on a set of data has been carried out, the researcher ..collect[s] further data in order to establish the conditions in which a theory will and will not hold’ (p. 12)
... ‘weaving back and forth between data and theory. ... particularly evident in grounded theory (p. 12).
Evident in the way theoretical ideas being derived from data, rather than formed before-hand.
Use of the 'ground theory approach' to the analysis of data and to the generation of theory.
... ‘very often what one ends up with can often be little more than empirical generalisations (p. 12).
Inductive theory (Bryman, 2008)
And what about you? Inductive? Deductive? Mix and match?
Grounded theory Glaser and Strauss (1967) The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research
Grounded theory An strategy of qualitative data analysis An approach to data collection 'not a theory - ... an approach to the generation of theory out of data' (Bryman 2008, p. 541) An iterative process of data collection and analysis
For the analysis of data and to the generation of theory
Useful for generating theory out of data
...grounded theory is honoured more in breach than in the observance, .... claims are often made that grounded theory has been used but ... Evidence of this being the case is at best uncertain (Brayman, 1988: 85, 91; Locke 1996; Charmaz, 2000, in Brayman, 2008: p. 541)
'Before applying this label to a research project, however, you should be aware that grounded theory entails a specific set of procedures and strategies for the achievement of such empirically embedded forms of understanding' (Hodkinson 2008)
'The tendency for dissertation and research students to claim the use of grounded theory in their methodology chapters, without any details or reflection on the way in which they used these procedures and strategies, does not go down at all well with examiners ' (Hodkinson 2008, p. 83)
'When describing your methodology, provide detail and reflection on the approach you took to the collection and analysis of data - don't use a label like grounded theory without elaborating ' (Hodkinson 2008, p. 83).
'a common criterion among universities for the award of the doctorate centres on the "substantial and original contribution to knowledge" the study makes, and the "substantial" part of the criterion is often interpreted in terms of substantive theory'.
learning theories and personal construct theory (psychology)
reference group theory and social stratification theory (sociology)
theories of children’s moral development and of teachers career styles (education)
leadership theories (management and administration)
The relationship of the study to the literature
Where does the study fit in relation to literature?
What is its connection to that literature?
How will the research move beyond previous work / beyond what we already know?
What contributions will this study make to the literature?
The relationship of the study to the literature
Fills a gap in the literatureSits in line with the main trends in the literatureSeeks to extend these trendsTakes a different direction from those in the literatureConfirms, challenges or disconfirms other findings (a replication study)Tests / extends a theory from the literatureUses a theoretical framework or model from the literature
(Bryman, 2008) Quantitative Qualitative Role of theory deductive, testing theory inductive, generation of theory Epistemological orientation practices and norms of the natural science model (positivism) preference for an emphasis on how people interpret their world (interpretivism) Ontological orientation social reality as an external, objective reality (objectivism) social reality as constantly shifting emergent property of individuals creation (constructionism) quantification in the collection and analysis of data words rather than quantification in the collection and analysis of data
(Bryman, 2008) Theory and research deductive (theory guides research) inductive (theory as an outcomes of research) Epistemological considerations positivism (a natural science epistemology)interpretivism Ontological considerations objectivismconstructivism Research strategy quantitative and qualitative Influences on the conduct values practical considerations