Sunday, September 22, 2013
Why Theories Are Important
Theories are needed:
"to satisfy a very human 'need' to order the experienced world. The only instrument employed in the ordering process is the human mind and the 'magic' of human perception and thought" (Dubin, 1978, p. 7)
A theory purpose is to either predict or explain the phenomenon being studied (Dubin, 1978; Creswell, 2014). Theories are conceptual models identifying the relationships between concepts, constructs, variables, and events, structured around a predefined set of boundaries (limitations). Jaccard and Jacoby (2010) reflect this in their definition of a theory: "an explanation of relationships among concepts or events within a set of boundary conditions" (p. 112).
A theory remains a conceptual model up to the point that the researcher tests the theoretical model, at this point the theoretical model becomes a scientific model (Dubin, 1978). It is through testing theoretical models that the model is either accepted or rejected. Theoretical models are accepted when theories have been subjected to empirical testing and have been shown to be useful (Jaccard & Jacoby, 2010). Likewise, theoretical models are not accepted when theories have been subjected to empirical testing and have not been shown to be useful. A theoretical model is deemed as being valid through empirical testing, and is deemed as being useful or not useful (utility) by your peers in academia and by those in practice (consensual evaluation; Jaccard & Jacoby, 2010). To be considered scientific, Jaccard and Jacoby (2010) identified that theoretical models must achieve empirical verification or falsification. This is done through testing the theoretical model.
Additionally, empirical research requires theoretical or conceptual models to identify the connections and relatedness of the variables being tested. The theoretical model provides the foundation for the hypothesis that are being tested in empirical research. The theoretical model also makes it easier for other scientist to replicate a study.
Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Dubin, R. (1978). Theory building (Revised ed.). New York, NY: The Free Press.
Jaccard, J., & Jacoby, J. (2010). Theory construction and model-building skills: A practical guide for social scientists [Kindle]. Retrieved from Amazon.com