One of the most difficult paradigms in research is defining what exactly constitutes the idea of "theory." There are many different authors with many different views on this.
Harlow (2009) articulates the problem associated with defining "theory" is that there is no fixed, universal meaning for this concept. One of the guides towards identifying the components that constitute a theory could be the specific research direction at issue. In the natural science, for example, "theory" could refer to the law or system of laws. In a social sciences discipline, "theory" might suggest a construct or set to order and understand the phenomena under study.
While it is difficult to explain or define the concept of theory, Harlow also points towards the importance of understanding the concept of "theory" in terms of research, since it forms the central concept around which the research is conducted. Hence, understanding what is meant by theory within a specific research paradigm is highly important in order to conduct the research successfully. In social science, and specifically in a comparative study between two countries, theory might, therefore, constitute a construct for predicting the purchasing behavior of individual of groups.
Stam (2010) identifies three views in terms of formulating a concept around the idea of a theory in psychology. These include the fact that theories can be reducible to observables, used as instruments to do things in the world, or they can be statements about things that exist. As such, reductionism, instrumentalism, and realism form some of the most prominent theory premise to explain the idea of "theory" in research, particularly in psychological research.
Stam (2010) takes this a little further by adding that psychological explanations of phenomena could also include the concept of cause. When considering purchasing behavior, for example, culture is likely to play a relatively important role. American culture may, therefore, play a role in differentiating the purchasing behavior of the youth from this country from that among the youth in Kenya.
According to Stam (2010), theoretical approaches in the study of social psychology focus on individuals and cognition. Therefore, a person's thoughts, feelings and behavior are influenced by the "real and imagined" presence of others around them. Again this could be applied to brand loyalty among groups of people in the two countries being compared, Kenya and the United States.
Perhaps the clearest view of theory is offered by Stam (2010) who mentions that the phenomenon is a systematic representation of a genuine problem. This representation is usually offered in mathematical terms when it comes to the natural science or in logical or linguistic terms when it comes to the life and social sciences. While it is easy to identify the exact nature of theory in terms of natural science, it is not a simple for the social sciences, where the relationship between theory and observation is often a fluid one.
According to Stam (2010) functionalism came into the use in the early 20th century in the social science to account for those processes that could not precisely be explained in terms of their ontological status. Therefore, for social science, the problem remains one of how to explain and investigate phenomena in such a way that theory relates to fact rather than to undergrounded "hunches" or "feelings."
Stam (2010) notes that the social sciences and their study include a reflexive element, which means that the investigator must be part of the community being investigated in order to understand truly the human activities being accounted for in the study. The investigator for the comparative study, for example, is part of both the American community, having in this country for a number of years, as well as the Kenyan community by birth and having grown up in that country. Hence, the investigator is uniquely positioned effectively to investigate the youth of both countries for their purchasing behavior and brand loyalty.
Another challenge presented to the idea of the theory within a research paradigm is that many new theories and study paradigm have seen the light of late, including post-colonialism, culture studies, feminism, and the like. Therefore, there has been a new focus on creating paradigms of theory, with entire departments devoted to this endeavor.
Swedberg (2010) points out that the years after World War II have especially seen great advances in terms of social sciences investigations. When it comes to the specific development of concepts regarding the idea of "theory," however, such development has been uneven, especially in the social science....
Indeed, while the methods associated with social science have advanced greatly, the idea of the theory has not, both because of the reasons mentioned above, and because, as Swedberg states it, the distribution needs to be made between "theorizing" and "theory." While "theory" has received considerable attention in the social science, "theorizing" has not. Theory, in turn, is the end product of this process and by considering the process of arriving at a theory, the phenomenon of theory itself can be more clearly identified. According to Swedberg, then theorizing can be used in terms of methods such as induction, deduction, generalizing, model-building, etc. These are all methods that can be used to arrive at a particular theory.
Swedberg (2012) goes on to distinguish between the context of discovery and that of justification, using this as a point of departure for the discussion. These two phenomena then provide the context within which thinking is subjectively performed, while justification refers to how these processes are communicated to others. In other words, the discovery process is followed by a justification process by means of which information is communicated in such a way that it adheres to scientific rigor requirements.
From this departure point, Swedberg (2012) then develops several rules according to which the theorizing process can take place. The first of these is observation. For the social sciences, this means that the investigator is observing certain phenomena in society that can be investigated. Swedberg's (2012) second rule is "Name and formulate the central concept." Therefore, the observation process is followed by a process of making claims about what has been seen.
The third rule (Swedberg, 2012) is to "Build out the theory." In this way, a central concept is built further identifying structure, pattern or organization within the phenomenon being studied. In a comparative study of purchasing behavior among American and Kenyan youth, for example, this outline would likely include initially separate accounts of the youth in both countries before comparing and contrasting them.
The fourth rule requires that the investigator complete the tentative theory and include an explanation. In this stage, a model of formulation of full tentative theory is given, with particular emphasis on the explanation, which would mean the end of the theorizing process, providing a platform for actual theory.
As such, theory can be distinguished from various concepts, including hypothesis, paradigm, model, and concept. One might therefore do well to start by searching for a definition of "theory." According to Harlow (2009) however, this is a difficult thing to do, because there is no universal or fixed meaning that is associated with this concept. The author mentions several possibilities when it comes to theory; it could concern a determining law or set of laws, or a construct or set of constructs in order to enhance the ability of the researcher to understand phenomena. In either of these cases, an existing theory can be tested or a new theory can be developed. In the proposed research, theory will be tested in terms of brand loyalty among young people in developed and developing countries, with the possibility of enhancing and reinforcing existing theories while developing additions to these.
A concept is somewhat simpler than a theory (Zikmund, p. 295), in that it concerns a singular idea, such as age, sex, and education. In addition, it could also entail abstract ideas such as corporate culture, loyalty, personality, and trust. A theory, in contrast, uses these concepts to form a more complex idea about a phenomenon that has been investigated in order to formulate a theory.
A hypothesis, in turn, is not yet a theory, since it is simply a projection of what might be true in order to formulate a theory. In other words, should a hypothesis be proven, a theory can be built on its proof.
A model, in turn, can be built upon the strength of a theory. Once a theory has been built, a model can be constructed to explain or present information in a more effective way.
Relationship between Theory and Research
Ellis and Levy (2008) define research as a systematic process. During this process, data is collected and analyzed with the specific purpose of understanding the phenomenon being investigated. This relates to theory, since theory is often used to describe or explain a phenomenon. Hence, research reinforces theory by collecting and analyzing new information in order to inform existing theory. As such, research is used to enhance existing theories and/or create new ones. There are various steps that can be…
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