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

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Presentation on theme: "Theory Construction in the Social Sciences Alan Dennis November, 2011."— 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

4 Theory is 1.the explanation of a relationship between two entities: why A influences B –Why do people adopt new technologies? 2.the explanation of factors underlying a specific phenomenon –Why was Windows Vista not widely adopted? 3.the explanation of a phenomenon –What does it mean to adopt a technology? Abend, 2008

5 Theory is 4.the explanation of theoretical meaning –What is Marxist theory? 5.an overall perspective of understanding –Technology can be thought of as a system of people and tools 6.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 Whetten, 1989 Toulmin Claim Reasons Evidence Context Qualifiers Reservations

7 Components of a Theory Entity AEntity B Because ……. Boundary Conditions What How Why Who, Where, When 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 Sutton and Staw, 1995 Theory is a story with a plot that explains how and why the characters (entities) interact with each other

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

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? 1.As perceived ease of use of a technology increases, so does the intention to adopt. 2.As Web sites get slower, Internet users search for more information. 3.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 Every good variance theory has a good process theory at its core Variance Theory versus Process Theory

17 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 Variance Theory Van de Ven, 2007

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

19 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 Process Theory Van de Ven, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

25 Define “The Idea” The Idea A B The Idea A B 1.Title (the idea) 2.What is the problem or issue (why do I care)? 3.What are the key concepts (i.e., A and B)? 4.What is the Research Question (RQ)? 5.What answer do you expect to the RQ? 6.Why do you expect that answer? 7.What are the boundary conditions? 8.What are the methods? 9.How will the data answer the RQ? How do I know what I think until I see what I write? Van de Ven, 2007 What How Why Who, When, Where

26 Write “The Idea” The Idea A B 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” The Idea A B The Idea A B Targeted Literature Search Thought Experiments

28 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 Targeted Literature Search The Idea A B The Idea A B

29 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 Thought Experiments The Idea A B The Idea A B

30 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.” You Can Change Your “Data”

31 Assess “The Idea” What’s New? 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? Whetten, 1989 The Idea A B The Idea A B

32 Every research method is critically flawed Testing and Generalizing Theory

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

34 Generalization Data Generalize Data Setting 1Setting 2 X

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

36 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 Is Science Marketing? 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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