Much Ado About Theories: Part 2


In the first part of this series, we discussed how to select an actual theory, the resources available to you for selecting said theory, and how you need to structure your theory around your study and not the other way around. In this installment, we will discuss the benefits of leaving yourself a little wiggle room when selecting a theory as well as the importance of expansion in the theoretical underpinnings of your study. Feel free to reference Part 1 before you begin reading.

Now, when we talk about wiggle room with a theory, we mean it in the sense of finding a theory that can be used within a broad range of applications. However, this can become a Goldilocks problem if not monitored, wherein one broad theory (i.e., feminist theory) can actually consist of and can lead to multiple highly specific theories (e.g., feminist theory of economics, feminist theory of care, feminist theory of identity, etc.) The last thing you want is a theory that is so broad in scope that you do not know where to begin, or a theory so narrow in focus that you will not be able to provide any new information. You should choose a theory that is not occupation or field-specific. You can apply Bandura’s social cognitive theory across a wide variety of institutions, much like you can Rogers’ diffusion of innovations theory. However, if you use something like Bronfenbrenner’s ecological framework, your study better be related to children and the environment in which they exist. This is where research comes into play. In the first installment, we spoke about the necessity of scouring databases for a theory that fits your study; this is no different.

Additionally, when choosing a theory, you need to think about expansion. Most dissertation requirements include a section on how your study will expand the theoretical understanding of your topic. This is especially important in the final chapter of your dissertation where you will report the theoretical implications of your findings. If you chose a theory that cannot possibly be expanded, the college and your committee are going to have a hard time pushing you through. This goes back to the point about research – dig through journal articles and old dissertations. What did previous authors find? How did they expand the theory? If you can find a theory that needs expansion and provides you with the necessary wiggle room for your study, stick with it.

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