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Post-Positivist Perspectives on Theory Development

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Presentation on theme: "Post-Positivist Perspectives on Theory Development"— Presentation transcript:

1 Post-Positivist Perspectives on Theory Development
Chapter Three Post-Positivist Perspectives on Theory Development

2 Philosophical Roots of Post-Positivism:
Classical Positivism Philosophy developed by Auguste Comte in 19th century Classical positivism argues that knowledge must pass through theological and metaphysical stages before reaching scientific or positive stage Foundation of knowledge is in observable phenomena and formal logic

3 Logical Positivism Vienna Circle scholars in 1920s-1930s Distinction between science and metaphysics through verifiability (analytic or empirical) principle Science meaningful; metaphysics meaningless Searched for ideal language for science Considered falsifiability of theories (Popper) Theory = axioms, postulates, definitions, and theorems

4 The Demise of Positivism
Logical positivism largely rejected by the 1960s: Why? Verifiability principle came under serious question Observation seen as theory-laden rather than value-free Logical positivists seen as detached from workings of actual scientists who were trying to build actual theories

5 Post-Positivist Theory: Metatheoretical Commitments
Ontology Post-positivists are modified realists who also recognize social construction Beliefs about reality can be “real” to some people/groups Social constructions yield shared patterns of (predictable) behavior amenable to scientific investigation Social constructions are reified and treated as objective by actors

6 Epistemology Look for causal explanations for regularities in behavior But feel it is difficult to separate the knower and the known Recognize fallabilities of scientific method Use critiques of other scholars on evidence and logic Axiology Attempt to be objective as possible

7 Structure of Post-Positivist Theory
Note: Miller uses Dubin. I put more common terms in parentheses. Units: Constructs that make up the theory (conceptual definition of variables) Laws of interaction: Relationships among the constructs Boundaries: Who, when, and where the theory applies Propositions: Logic deductions about how model works (conceptual explanation of hypotheses) Empirical Indicators: Operational definitions of units (variables) Hypotheses: Propositions that can be empirically tested (operationalization of hypotheses)

8 Functions of Post-Positivist Theory
Explanation: Answering questions of why empirical phenomena occur Prediction: Using explanation to predict what might happen in a similar situation Control: Influencing empirical phenomena given theoretical knowledge In sum: explain, predict, control

9 Criteria for Evaluating the Worth of a Theory
A theory should be accurate. In determining accuracy, a theory must also be testable. A theory should be consistent, both internally and with other theories. A theory should have relatively broad scope. A theory should be relatively parsimonious. A theory should be heuristic.

10 Theory Development Post-positivists rely on scientific method in the development of theory: Why? Scientific method maximizes objectivity and the separation between knower and known (epistemology). Scientific method allows for causal explanation by (1) establishing temporal order, (2) establishing covariation, and (3) ruling out alternative explanations. (experiments)

11 Why are experiments preferred design by Post-positivists?
Features of experiments— Random selection of sample from larger population Rule out volunteer or contextual bias (e.g. college students who are all majoring in communication and want to get extra credit by volunteering) Manipulation of the Independent Variable Control group and experimental group for comparison (often several experimental groups) Random assignment of subjects to groups (control and experimental)

12 Theory Development (cont.)
Theory Verification No theory covers all aspects or circumstances of a phenomenon so we can’t say it’s “true” But a good theory lends itself to tests of verification Falsifiability Method of “conjecture and refutation” seen as ideal for science

13 Growth of Post-Positivist Research
Growth of theories can be viewed as an evolutionary process ( systematic and cumulative) as a revolutionary process See Notes on Kuhn—do recall that he is talking about paradigm shifts rather than specific theories within a paradigm. Is communication discipline in a pre-paradigmatic state? What do you think and why?

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