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Theory Construction in the Social Sciences

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Presentation on theme: "Theory Construction in the Social Sciences"— Presentation transcript:

1 Theory Construction in the Social Sciences
Alan Dennis November, 2011

2 Agenda What is Theory What is Interesting Theory
Variance Theory versus Process Theory A Process for Theory Construction Testing and Generalizing Theory

3 You say tomato, I say tomato
What is Theory You say tomato, I say tomato

4 Theory is the explanation of a relationship between two entities: why A influences B Why do people adopt new technologies? the explanation of factors underlying a specific phenomenon Why was Windows Vista not widely adopted? the explanation of a phenomenon What does it mean to adopt a technology? Abend, 2008

5 Theory is the explanation of theoretical meaning
What is Marxist theory? an overall perspective of understanding Technology can be thought of as a system of people and tools and so on For the purpose of this Workshop, I’ll use definition 1: the explanation of a relationship between two entities: why A influences B Abend, 2008

6 Components of a Theory What
the entities that comprise the relationship How the relationship(s) among the entities Why the underlying dynamics that link the entities Who, Where, When the boundary conditions to the relationship Toulmin Claim Reasons Evidence Context Qualifiers Reservations Whetten, 1989

7 Components of a Theory What How Entity A Entity B Because …….
Who, Where, When Why Boundary Conditions Whetten, 1989

8 Big T Theory versus small t theory
Big T Theories are given a name and usually have an acronym, written in capital letters Little t theories explain a phenomenon within a smaller domain, often an empirical paper Dennis and Valacich, 2001

9 What Theory is Not References Data Variables and Constructs
Boxes and Arrows Hypotheses Theory is a story with a plot that explains how and why the characters (entities) interact with each other Sutton and Staw, 1995

10 Is This Theory? The intention to adopt a new technology has often been influenced by the perceived usefulness of that technology, the extent to which the technology can enable the user to accomplish a needed task. Venkatesh et al. (2003) conducted several experiments with undergraduate students and found that perceived usefulness had a significant positive impact on the intention to adopt. As perceived usefulness increased, so did the intention to adopt. This relationship has been observed in many other studies in a variety of experimental and organization settings (Morris, et al., 2000; Taylor and Todd, 2005; Venkatesh, et al. 2000). Therefore: H1: The perceived usefulness of a technology has a direct positive relationship with the intention to adopt that technology

11 What is Interesting Theory
Don’t write to get published, Write to get read and cited

12 Upending Conventional Wisdom is Interesting
Organization Something that appears to be organized/chaotic isn’t Stability Something that appears to be stable/changing isn’t Evaluation Something that appears to be good/bad isn’t Correlation Two things that appear to be independent/related aren’t Causation The independent variable is the dependent variable Davis, 1971

13 Finding the Essence is Interesting
Starting a New Research Stream Studying the uncommon, but not the unnecessary Formal Models Translating behavior into math Simplifying the Complex The definition of a Nobel prize in physics is “Oh why didn’t I think of that.” Tesser, 2000

14 Extending Implications is Interesting
Surprising Implications of the Obvious When obvious truths leads to unexpected predictions Implications of the Bizarre When “impossible” beliefs are true Look for paradox Scientific discovery does not start with the word “Eureka”; it starts with the words “That’s funny.” Tesser, 2000

15 Which is Interesting? As perceived ease of use of a technology increases, so does the intention to adopt. As Web sites get slower, Internet users search for more information. Novice Internet users are more likely than experienced users to believe that Web sites presented first in a Google search are “better” than others in the list.

16 Variance Theory versus Process Theory
Every good variance theory has a good process theory at its core

17 Variance Theory Variance theory strives to understand “What”
What entities explain the behavior of another entity? What explains the variance in an entity’s behavior? Variables with different attributes affect other variables Often tested with quantitative data Van de Ven, 2007

18 Technology Acceptance Model is a Variance Theory
Perceived Ease of Use Intention to Adopt Perceived Usefulness

19 Process Theory Process theory strives to understand “How”
How do entities explain the behavior of another entity? How do events explain the behavior of an entity? Entities move through different stages at different times Often tested with qualitative data Van de Ven, 2007

20 Roger’s Theory of Adoption is a Process Theory
Knowledge Persuasion Decision Accept Implementation Confirmation Reject

21 A Process for Theory Construction
How to go from a blank page to a first draft

22 The Rational Model of Science
Theory is a waterfall model Method Data Analysis Conclusions Martin, 1982

23 The Garbage Can Model of Science
Theory Data Method Analysis Conclusions Mine your Garbage Can Martin, 1982

24 Get “The Idea” Prior Empirical Results Prior Theory in Methods
Other Disciplines Methods The Idea A B Prior Theory Resources Personal Experiences Martin, 1982

25 Define “The Idea” The Idea A B Title (the idea)
What is the problem or issue (why do I care)? What are the key concepts (i.e., A and B)? What is the Research Question (RQ)? What answer do you expect to the RQ? Why do you expect that answer? What are the boundary conditions? What are the methods? How will the data answer the RQ? What How Why Who, When, Where How do I know what I think until I see what I write? Van de Ven, 2007

26 Write “The Idea” The Idea A B Title (1) Introduction - Setting (7)
- Problem or Issue (2) - What this paper does (4&9: RQ and its answer) Prior Research and Theory - Prior Research - Hypothesis development - Define concepts (3) - State the relationship (5) - Explain the relationship (6) - State the hypothesis (4) Methods (8)

27 Refine “The Idea” Targeted Literature Search The Idea A B
Thought Experiments

28 Targeted Literature Search
The Idea A B Like Qualitative Research Search for evidence to support or refute your idea One hypothesis at a time Code articles (at the paragraph level) that offer evidence about your idea Both theoretical processes and data Review the codings, change the categories, iterate Multiple raters (authors) debate the evidence and change the idea

29 Thought Experiments Like Quantitative Research
Set up tests of your idea like experiments Think about the manipulations Run the experiment in your mind Multiple raters (authors) debate the evidence and change the idea The Idea A B

30 You Can Change Your “Data”
Literature searches and thought experiments guide your thinking, not dominate it. If you don’t like what the literature tells you can change your “data.”

31 Assess “The Idea” What’s New? So What? Why So? Well Done? Done Well?
Value-added contribution to current thinking So What? Will this change research or practice? Why So? Is the underlying logic solid? Well Done? Is it complete and thorough? Done Well? Is it well written and understandable? The Idea A B Whetten, 1989

32 Testing and Generalizing Theory
Every research method is critically flawed

33 Maximum Generalizability
The 3-Horned Dilemma Maximum Precision Lab Experiments Field Studies Maximum Generalizability Surveys Maximum Realism McGrath, 1982

34 Generalization Setting 1 Setting 2 X Generalize Data Data

35 Generalization Generalize Setting 1 Setting 2 Instantiate Instantiate
Theory Theory Data Draw Conclusions Data Draw Conclusions Lee and Baskerville, 2003

36 Is Science Marketing? Publishing a theory is like marketing a new product Find the message of the theory Its unique selling proposition Know the attributes that help sell a theory Who developed it (halo effect) Its origins (borrowed theory is easier to sell) Simplicity sells faster than the complex Consistency with current Zeitgeist Test market the theory With colleagues At conferences Peter and Olson, 1993

37 Questions I teach BUS S798 on Theory Development
every Spring Semester, but I’m on sabbatical this spring, so it won’t be offered.

38 References Abend, G. (2008) “The Meaning of They, Sociological Theory, 26:2, Davis, M. S. (1971) “That's Interesting: Toward a Phenomenology of Sociology and a Sociology of Phenomenonology,” Philosophy of Social Science,1, Dennis, A. R., and Valacich, J. S. (2001) “Conducting Experimental Research in Information Systems, Communications of the AIS, 7:5 Lee, Allen S.; Baskerville, Richard L.,(2003) “Generalizing Generalizability in Information Systems Research,” Information Systems Research, 14:3, Martin, J. (1982) "A Garbage Can Model of the Research Process," in J.E.McGrath (ed.) Judgment Calls in Research, Beverly Hills: Sage, pp McGrath, J.E. (1982) "Dilemmatics: The Study of Research Choices and Dilemmas," in J.E. McGrath (ed.) Judgment Calls in Research, Beverly Hills: Sage, pp Peter, J. P. and J. C. Olson, (1983) "Is Science Marketing?" Journal of Marketing, (47) pp Sutton, R. I. And Staw, B. M. (1995) "What Theory is Not," Administrative Science Quarterly, (40), pp Tesser, A. (2000) “Theories and Hypotheses,” in Sternberg, R. J. (ed) Guide to Publishing in the Psychology Journals, Cambridge University Press, Van de Ven, A. (2007) Engaged Scholarship, Oxford, Whetten, D.A. (1989) “What Constitutes a Theoretical Contribution?” Academy of Management Review, (14), pp

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