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Throughout March we will explore research design, with a focus on theory and conceptual frameworks. Find the unfolding series here

Theory and Design: Generating new Theories and Constructs

The focus for March is on theory and research design. While some studies are designed to generate insights and solutions to problems in the world, other studies are designed with the intention of making a theoretical contribution. In this post, find articles about theorizing in qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods that you can freely access through the provided links.

Bouzanis, C. (2017). For reflexivity as an epistemic criterion of ontological coherence and virtuous social theorizing. History of the Human Sciences, 30(5), 125–146.

Abstract. This article offers an approach that combines, on the one hand, the philosophical notion of reflexivity, which is related to the ideas of self-reference and paradox, and, on the other hand, the sociological discussion of epistemic reflexivity as a problem of coherence, which was mainly initiated by certain branches of ethnomethodology and social constructionism. This combinatory approach argues for reflexivity as an epistemic criterion of ontological coherence, which suggests that social ontologies should account for the possibility of self-reflective subjectivity – for otherwise they result in a paradoxical conclusion according to which a social scientist reflects on her or his ontological commitments even though these commitments deny her or him the capacity for self-reflection. This analysis presupposes that all human sciences are categorically premised on social ontologies; and it argues for an analytical distinction between self-reflection, which refers to the agential capacity for reflecting on one’s own commitments, and the epistemic criterion of reflexivity hereby proposed. These two analytically distinct though interdependent socio-theoretical concepts are frequently conflated in the literature; thus, this article also aims at a ‘clearing of the ground’ that can be of categorical use to the human sciences.

Cloutier, C., & Langley, A. (2020). What Makes a Process Theoretical Contribution? Organization Theory.

In recent years, there have been many calls for scholars to innovate in their styles of conceptual work, and in particular to develop process theoretical contributions that consider the dynamic unfolding of phenomena over time. Yet, while there are templates for constructing conceptual contributions structured in the form variance theories, approaches to developing process models, especially in the absence of formal empirical data, have received less attention. To fill this gap, we build on a review of conceptual articles that develop process theoretical contributions published in two major journals (Academy of Management Review and Organization Studies) to propose a typology of four process theorizing styles that we label linear, parallel, recursive and conjunctive. As we move from linear to parallel to recursive to conjunctive styles, conceptual reasoning becomes more deeply embedded in process ontology, while the standard structuring devices such as diagrams, tables and propositions traditionally employed in conceptual articles appear less useful. We offer recommendations that may be helpful in enriching and deepening process theoretical contributions of all types.

Collinge, C. (2019). Theorizing, Deleuzian-style. Cultural Geographies.

Abstract. There is a difference between theory and theorizing. One way or another, theory is central to organization of most academic disciplines: for example, as a framework of concepts that expresses preoccupations, that codifies linkages, that relates discoveries, that raises questions. But theorizing is the becoming of theory: for example, running into problems, feeling perplexity, creating space, forming concepts, finding time, condensing frameworks, forcing conclusions – a living reality that is (for reasons explored below) neglected as a topic of inquiry. I address this deficiency here by engaging with theorizing as a legitimate, perhaps inescapable theme, albeit one that remains elusive and that must as far as possible be grasped directly as it occurs. In developing this engagement, I suggest that the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari offers an appropriate point of departure and – through a reading of Difference and Repetition and What is Philosophy?, and through a synthesis of this with the experience of theorizing – I draw out the components of a Deleuzian theory of theorizing.

Glaser, B. G. (2002). Conceptualization: On Theory and Theorizing Using Grounded Theory. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 23–38. 

Abstract. This article explores the use of grounded theory to generate conceptualizations of emergent social patterns in research data. The naming of patterns and their abstraction across time, place and people, are discussed. The constant comparative method employed in grounded data analysis is offered as a developmental tool for enhancing researchers’ abilities to conceptualize and form emergent theories. Conceptual levels, descriptions, power and flawed approaches to analysis are explored at length.

Hammond, M. (2018). ‘An interesting paper but not sufficiently theoretical’: What does theorising in social research look like? Methodological Innovations.

Abstract. This article explores the concept of theorising in social research: what is theorising; how does theorising look to those doing it and how can it be explained as a practice. The article draws on different sources, including accounts of theory and theorising in the literature as well as first-hand reporting by academics. A view is reached of theorising as a personal undertaking involving a commitment to comprehend the world. It is argued that theorising is driven by the identification of interesting problems (practical or theoretical or both) and a motivation to solve them. Theorising involves a shift of awareness from subsidiary to focal and such a shift allows a more abstract level of understanding. Theorising tends to be an individual undertaking which draws on personal knowledge, but it is only made possible by psychological tools which have been handed down from the past, ones which need to be accessed, understood and adapted. Theorising requires a disciplined creativity in which the imagination is channelled into finding solutions that are compatible with observed data.

Lawy, J. R. (2017). Theorizing voice: Performativity, politics and listening. Anthropological Theory, 17(2), 192–215.

Abstract. The aim of this article is to develop a theory of voice. I claim that it is productive to use ‘voice’ as a theoretical tool that encompasses a speaker’s performance and body gestures. At the same time, this paper argues that it is insufficient to focus on the speaker. While there is recognition that voice(s) are a necessary part of a functioning political, democratic structure, this article reveals that any research on voice needs to also consider the politics involved in listening. Listening not only nuances the study of voice, but also includes those in positions of dominance whose power can be forgotten if discussion focuses exclusively on the political and social struggles that the disempowered undertake in order to make themselves heard. I draw on ethnographic research that was carried out in 2011 and 2012 in Botswana with indigenous Ncoakhoe (also known in literature as ‘San’) to show how voice was used (performativity) but also how the audience was often restricted. This reduced the political effects of even Ncoakhoe who are educated and employed Christians, i.e. Ncoakhoe who have subscribed to the dominant moral code. My research suggests that a theory of voice is not only about speaking, participating or making yourself heard but also must consider the implications of using a voice that relies upon dominant structures to legitimize it. When Ncoakhoe speak, who listens?

Swedberg, R. (2016). Can You Visualize Theory? On the Use of Visual Thinking in Theory Pictures, Theorizing Diagrams, and Visual Sketches. Sociological Theory, 34(3), 250–275.

Abstract. Although the visualization of data is on the agenda for sociologists today, thanks to big data, the author raises the question of whether it may not also be possible to visualize theory and, especially, to improve it through visual thinking. The main purpose of this article, more precisely, is to open up a discussion of how visualization and visual thinking can be used as a tool for theorizing in sociology and thereby help produce new and creative theories. Three different types of visualization are discussed: theory pictures, visual sketches, and theorizing diagrams. Theory pictures summarize a theory that has already been developed. Visual sketches are used for early attempts to theorize; they are then typically discarded and replaced by new sketches. Theorizing diagrams draw on ideas from Charles Sanders Peirce and can be described as visual representations that are used to generate new theories. Examples are supplied.

Tracey, T. J. G., & Glidden-Tracey, C. E. (1999). Integration of Theory, Research Design, Measurement, and Analysis: Toward a Reasoned Argument. The Counseling Psychologist, 27(3), 299–324.

Abstract. The authors advocate using a reasoned argument to approach the research conceptualization process, wherein the different aspects of any study logically relate to each other. Specific focus is placed on the integration of four separate research components including substantive theory, research design, measurement, and analysis. A model of an iterative, logical choice process for making decisions about each of these components in relation to the other components is presented. Finally, the authors discuss several common aspects of each of the four research components that are often ignored and thus result in discrepancies across the components and a poor study.

Turner, S. F., Cardinal, L. B., & Burton, R. M. (2017). Research Design for Mixed Methods: A Triangulation-based Framework and Roadmap. Organizational Research Methods, 20(2), 243–267.

Abstract. All methods individually are flawed, but these limitations can be mitigated through mixed methods research, which combines methodologies to provide better answers to our research questions. In this study, we develop a research design framework for mixed methods work that is based on the principles of triangulation. Core elements for the research design framework include theoretical purpose, i.e., theory development and/or theory testing; and methodological purpose, i.e., prioritizing generalizability, precision in control and measurement, and authenticity of context. From this foundation, we consider how the multiple methodologies are linked together to accomplish the theoretical purpose, focusing on three types of linking processes: convergent triangulation, holistic triangulation, and convergent and holistic triangulation. We then consider the implications of these linking processes for the theory at hand, taking into account the following theoretical attributes: generality/specificity, simplicity/complexity, and accuracy/inaccuracy. Based on this research design framework, we develop a roadmap that can serve as a design guide for organizational scholars conducting mixed methods research studies.

Zundel, M., & Kokkalis, P. (2010). Theorizing as Engaged Practice. Organization Studies, 31(9–10), 1209–1227.

Abstract. This paper examines the relationship between theory and practice and suggests that organization studies remain largely preoccupied with a notion of ‘theory’ as an abstract, generalized concept. This preoccupation ignores the essentially engaged character of all practices, including those of academic theorizing. Drawing on the premises of practice theory, we outline a view of theorizing as engaged practice. In doing so, we are faced with two key implications. First, this view emphasizes the activities that make up the practice of ‘theorizing’, thus shifting the focus from reifying separations of distinct realms of ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ towards an appreciation of the myriad of overlaps between academic and organizational practices. Second, the practice perspective forwarded in this paper illuminates the problems experienced in attempts to transfer academic work to organizational practice. We suggest that this perspective invites us to more fundamentally revise our understanding of the possibilities of relevance for organization and management studies towards ‘lighting up’ new ways of seeing, instead of attempting to offer solutions to immediate ‘practical’ concerns.


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