Theory Development Nature and Use of Theory Essay

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Theory Development

Nature and Use of Theory in Academic Research

Corley and Gioia (2001) call theory the, "currency of our scholarly realm" (p. 12). The authors further explain that theoretical contribution is a requirement for a manuscript to be considered for publication. It appears that all scholarly writing hinges on the theoretical worthiness of the material. Corley and Gioia defined theory as a statement of concepts and their interrelationships that together, demonstrate how or why something occurs (p. 12). This analysis establishes theory as a necessity of empirical research. However, as these authors point out, it is not enough simply to have a theory. The idea or concept must be original and have utility, alluding to the idea that it must serve some function. Originality and utility are necessary elements for the historical progression of theory in a field of study.

Originality and Utility

The advancement of knowledge in a certain field of study depends on the development of new theories that are both original and that serve a purpose. Let us examine why Corley and Gioia considers these theoretical constructs to be of such importance. A theory is simply a concept that attempts to explain a phenomenon. One could have many different theories on a particular topic. However, if all of them simply stated the same thing, only perhaps in a different manner, then in essence only one theory would exist. No further knowledge would be gained in that field of interest. A lack of originality in theories leads to stagnation within the given field. Originality is necessary for the advancement of a field of study. New insights and practices cannot develop if theories are not original.

Corley and Gioia consider utility to be an important construct in the development of theories for many reasons. If theories were developed that did not lead to actions or the development of solutions to problems, then they would be nothing more than a collection of words. In order to be useful theories must have a purpose. A collection of theories that is not designed to produce an end result will be little more than reading material. From Corley and Goioa's emphasis on originality and utility, and one can gain a sense that theories are developed to resolve a problem. The problem resolution can lead to the development of further theories in the field or it can lead to some type of action that is a result of the theory.

Construction Clarity

One of the most common reasons for rejection of a manuscript is that it lacks construct clarity. However, defining construct clarity often eludes even the reviewers. Suddaby (2010) considers four criteria necessary for construct clarity. These are (1) definitions, (2) scope conditions, (3) semantic relationships among those three constructs, and (4) coherence or the "logical consistency of the construct in relation to the overall theoretical argument" (p. 347). Suddaby defined a construct as a conceptual abstraction of a phenomenon they cannot be observed directly. They further defined as abstract statements of observations, which form the foundation of theory.

The first criteria for construct clarity is definition. Under this construct a uses language to create a precise categorical distinction between concepts. Suddaby further explains that a good definition must capture the essential properties and characteristics of the concept. A definition that does not accomplish this basic task fails the test of utility, as addressed by Corley and Gioia. If a construct cannot be clearly defined, then its usefulness cannot be defined either. If a construct does not capture the essential properties and characteristics of the concept, then it cannot result in an actionable solution to an existing problem.

The definition of a construct also affects its originality and ability to advance the field. Suddaby states that a good definition must try to capture the characteristics of a phenomenon as concisely as possible. Suddaby also states that it is possible to become so concise that it lacks relevance and cannot be generalized. The definition of the construct must set apart its originality from other constructs that have been developed in a particular field. As one can see the definition of the construct plays an important role in delineating the usefulness and originality of the construct. The definition can help to determine if the construct will be a useful addition to knowledge already existing in the field.

Delineating the scope conditions are another important criteria for construct clarity. This means delineating the contextual circumstances to which a construct will or will not apply. Scope conditions affect the ability to apply the theory to circumstances that may be different from the precise conditions in the empirical setting of the study. Scope conditions also have a limiting affect, creating a limited ability to apply the theory to other settings and environments. Scope conditions have a direct effect on the utility of the construct. Scope conditions define the utility of the construct in precise terms. They determine under what conditions the construct will be useful and under which ones it cannot be applied. Therefore, the theoretical conditions of Suddaby, as well as Corley and Gioia are inherently linked.

The third criteria for construct clarity is the ability to demonstrate semantic relationships to other related concepts. This is a necessary step for the theory to be considered original. By defining the relationships to other related concepts, evidence can be presented that the construct is original and has not been previously addressed. Finally, Suddaby finds that the construct must show logical consistency in relation to the overall argument that is being made. If this condition is not met, the construct will not be useful in solving the problem, a condition of Corley and Gioia.

Sutton and Straw (1995) consider theory to be a form of reasoning and logical arguments, in a form that goes back to the days of the ancient philosophers such as Aristotle. Early forms of theoretical argument did not have to undergo the rigors of empirical thought. They needed clarity and definition, but did not need to be tested or proven. By comparison, the theories of Corley and Gioia would not embrace the definition of theory put forth by Sutton and Straw to be of use in the formulation of theories. Sutton and Straw do not require comparison with other theories to be certain that they are original. It is also possible for theories to exist for the sake of theories, as defined by Sutton and Straw.

Weick (1995) finds that organizations and people try to make sense of the world around them through theory. Corley and Gioia do not explicitly address the question of "why." However, this concept is inherent within the concept of utility. If one does not ask the question "why?," a theory cannot advance beyond a simple observation. Corley and Gioia's concept of a theoretical contribution is focused on the end product and its ability to further knowledge in the field or to provide actionable solutions to a problem. Sutton and Straw consider theories to be a set of interlaced arguments, whereas Corley and Gioia considered theories to stand alone and be original, rather than basing the merit of the theory on those around it.

Throughout this exploration of the theory of theories, it is been found that several different viewpoints exist on the purpose and definition of a theory. Corley and Gioia focus on the utility and function of the theory too advanced knowledge. Sutton and Straw focus on theory and its interconnection to knowledge that already exists in the field. Originality is not a key concerned of Sutton and Straw, but is a concept upon which Corley and Gioia are dependent. Sutton and Straw carefully draw a distinct and between a hypothesis, or predictions, and strong theory. Predictions without logic are not considered theory. Corley and Gioia would agree on this point.

Inner Logic of the Corley and Gioia Article

As Jordan and Zanna note, though it is difficult to remember a series of seemingly disjointed facts, when these facts are joined together in a logical, narrative structure, they become easier to comprehend and recall. Thus, always remember that a research report tells a story. It will help you to organize the information you read, and remember it later. The purpose of an article is to convey the information a way that is useful in can be applied to situations in daily life. This overlaps with Corley and Gioia's concept that theories must advance practice in knowledge in their field.

The overarching idea of Corley and Gioia's article is that theory and practice must intersect. Theory and practice cannot be separated into two separate components. Data and analysis support theory but their emphasis on utility emphasizes its ability to transform theory into practice. Theory must be able to be adapted to situations that occur in organizational settings.

From this broad idea the authors develop a narrower set of questions. The first of these questions is how to define theory and what constitutes a theoretical contribution. The authors then address the…[continue]

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