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In thinking and working with a topic, the scholar eventually will identify a problem that requires investigation. The problem is always more than a simple theme. It is a puzzle, an unanswered question, or a difFiculty that cannot be resolved without further investigation. Sometimes problems emerge from the careful examination of information or data.
In studying a number of texts, for example, a scholar may experience a puzzle of some type, which leads to a research problem for more systematic study. Some times scholars see a problem in the difference between how people actually com municate and how various theories say that they should communicate.
Frequently, scholars look for anomalies, differences, and contradictions among various accounts of what is happening or what should happen in a communication situa tion.
Why Pragmatics and Theory of Mind Do Not (Completely) Overlap
Also, scholars sometimes create problems by questioning predominant forms of thought and social relationships, showing how these common ways of defining things create damaging consequences that demand careful examination. All of these instances can serve as starting points for fiirther research. While scholars are motivated to investigate interesting problems because they genuinely care about the topic, their professional advancement may depend on it as well.
They must develop their scholarly curiosity into research problems for their doctoral dissertations. They often cannot get pay raises, tenure, or promotion with out engaging in research and theory building. Many other incentives exist as well, including the ability to get grant money, travel, be recognized as a leader in the field, earn awards, and so forth. While the theory-making process begins, then, with an individuals curiosity about a topic, it does not end there.
The results o f reading, observing, and think ingof scholarly investigationmust be shared with others. On the most informal level, scholars share their work with students. They may bring some of their latest work into the classroom as a lecture or basis for discussion, which can be helpful in refining ideas. Graduate students are aware of this, but undergraduates often do not realize that their professors test their theoretical ideas in classes.
In the pro cess of preparing a lecture on a topic, the strengths of the conceptualizationas well as the weaknesses of the argumentbecome apparent. Ultimately, a scholars work must go out for peer review.
One of the first for mal tests of a theory is the convention paper. The researcher writes a paper and submits it to a professional association to be presented at a regional or national meeting. Most of these convention submissions are reviewed by a panel of peers. This peer review can help a scholar determine if he or she is on the right track. Uni versities usually encourage professors to submit papers by agreeing to pay their travel expenses if they have a paper accepted. When a paper is given at a convention, the presentation permits at least two other forms of peer assessment.
Often a designated critic delivers comments about several papers to the audience right after the papers are presented; this is the most formal kind of critique. Less formal feedback consists of the corrmients that colleagues make after hearing the presentationduring the question-and-answer session following the paper presentation, in the hallway after the session, later that evening in the hotel bar, or at the airport. Colleagues may continue the conversation about something presented at a convention via the phone or through e-mail exchange after the convention is over.
Conventions are very valuable for scholars as an initial testing ground for ideas. Not only do convention attendees have the opportunity to hear the most.
Often a group of researchers will present various iterations of their work several times at conventions before they submit the work for publication. Two forms of publication are most valued in the academic community. The first is a journal article, and the second is a monograph, or book. Literally thou sands of academic journals are published around the world. Every field, no matter how small, has at least one and usually several journals.
A glance through the bib liography of this book will reveal several of the most important journals in the com munication field see also note One of the most important publications in terms of introducing theories to the field of communication theory is a journal of the same name. Communication Theory. Indeed, if you scan the notes of each chapter of this book, you will see just how important this journal has become. But many other journals are also highly recognized, including, for example.
Members of the communication field subscribe to these journals, use their con tents as background for their own research, and learn about the latest and best developments in the field. Usually, the articles in a journal are refereed, meaning that they are formally reviewed and judged by a panel of peers for quality. Since only the best articles are published, the majority of papers submitted to journals do not appear in print. This rigorous form of review is the primary force establishing what is taken seriously within an academic community.
Evaluation is always a matter of judgment, and consensus about the value of a piece of scholarship is rare. Just as a group of students might disagree about whether their professor is a good or bad teacher, scholars also dis agree about the merits of particular research and theory.
Regardless of how a par ticular journal article is received by reviewers and ultimately the readers of that journal, the essay is valuable for showing the history of research and theory in that areas, so the references and footnotes in essays are an excellent place to gain a sense of a particular area of the discipline you wish to research and what ideas are especially valued in that area.
Through this process of convention presentation and journal publication, the scholarship considered most interesting, profound, useful, or progressive bubbles up and forms the corpus of recognized work within the community of scholars. As this work develops, various scholars begin to develop more formal explanations that tie the work together.
Initially, these explanations may be mere interpretations of research findings, but as theorists give more convention papers and publish more articles on their work, the explanations offered by the other scholars involved in this line of research become more formal and codified.
Furthermore, critiques of the work emerge, prompting ongoing dialogues among scholars who offer varying perspectives on the body of work. After a group of scholars develops a line of research and theory in some detail by presenting numerous convention presentations and publishing journal articles, the scholars may publish a book that discusses the theory and its various permuta tions.
In contrast to textbooks written primarily to help students learn the content of certain courses, scholarly treatises are published for the benefit of other scholars; such volumes serve as convenient ways to make available the results of a major research program.
And once a theoryor emerging theoryis identified and cod. One final level of publication forther elaborates a theory. After a group of scholars has established a name for itself, the scholars often are invited to write about and summarize their work in edited volumesbooks of essays written by a group of scholars about a particular subject. This form of publication is very useful because it helps students and professors access the current state of theory in a par ticular area of the field.
In the end, then, theories are made. Scholars label the concepts in the theory, decide what connections or relationships to feature, determine how to organize the theory, and give the theory a name. They then use the theory to talk about what they experience. The creation and development of a theory is a human social activ ity: People create it, test it, and evaluate it. As a social activity, theory making is done within scholarly communities that share a way of knowing and a set of com mon practices.
Ultimately, the community of scholars or practitioners decides what works for them and what theories prevail. Because the communities vary tremen dously, they differ in what they consider to be valid and valuable.
A theory widely adopted by one community may be rejected entirely by another. So creating a the ory is largely a question of persuading some community that the theory fits and has utility for its purposes. A body of theory is really just a snapshot in time. It provides a brief glance at a moment in the evolving history of ideas within a community of scholars. The body of theory that evolves helps members of the community to identify their primary areas of interest and work; it pulls them together as a community and provides a set of standards for how scholarly work should proceed.
The body metaphor is good because it captures the qualities of growth, change, development, aging, and renewal that characterize theory. The theories a scholar comes to respect and use in graduate school, for example, will not be the same set of theories she uses in mid career, and probably will not resemble very closely what is valued later in her career. In chapter 2, we will define theory more specifically and discuss the particu lar processes at the heart of theory construction.
University o f Chicago Press. For an overview o f m any theories o f com m unication, see Stephen W. Foss eds. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, For the im por tance o f the study o f diverse theories, see Robert T. D ance and Carl E. Larson, The Functions o f Human Communication: A Theoretical Approach New York: Theodore Clevenger, Jr. Random House, , Miller, "O n Defining Communication: Another Slab," Journal o f Communication 16 Cummings, John B.
Hoben, English Com munication at Colgate Re-examined. Dance, The C oncept o f Com m unication," Peter A. See, for example, David Beard ed. Barnett Pearce and Karen A. Theory and Research, ed.
G ordon L. D ahnke and G len W. Clatterbuck Belm ont, CA: Hayden, Southern Illinois University Press, This brief history is based on Jesse G. Delia, "Com m unication Research: A History, in Handbook of Communication Science, ed. Charles R. Berger and Steven H. Sage, , See also D onald G. Ellis, Crafting Society: Lawrence Erlbaum , , ; Gustav W. Friedrich and D on M. The Com munication Discipline, in Teaching Communication, ed. A nita L. Vangelisti, John A.
Lawrence Erlbaum , , ; John D urham Peters, ed. Rogers, A History o f Com munication Study: A Biographical Approach New York: Free Press, The m ultidisciplinary nature o f the study o f comm unication is exam ined by Craig, Com munication Theory as a Field"; see also Stephen W. Comparative Essays, ed. Dance New York: T hom as W. H oughton Mifflin, , v.
The disciplinary status o f the field is addressed by Susan Herbst, Disciplines, Intersections, and the Future o f C om m unication Research," Journal o f Communication 58 For m ore about distinctions between com m unication theory in the U.
Fred L. C asm ir Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Lit tlejohn and K aren A. Foss Thousand Oaks, CA: See D. Lawrence Kincaid, ed. Communication Theory: Eastern and Western Perspectives San Diego: Aca demic, ; Peter R. Vietvsfivm the Helm for the 21st Century, ed. Judith S. Trent Boston: The Asian Perspective Singapore: Asian M ass Com m uni.
Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Crass-Ciiliural Relations, cd. Virginia H. M ilhousc, Molefi K. Asantc, and Peter O. N w osu Thousand Oaks, CA: For sum m aries o f A santes work, see MoIefi K. Asantc, Afixxentricity: Africa World Press, ; and Molefi K. A Reader, cd. John L. Lucaites, Celeste M. Condit, and Sally Caudill New York: Guilford Press, , For M iikes theory o f Asiacentricity.
Asiacentric Critiques and Contributions, Human Communication 7 Craig, Com munication T heory as a Field. A nderson, Com munication Theory: Epistetnohgical Foundations New York: G uilford, , Craig, Com m unication T heory as a Field, Craig, Com m unication T heory as a Field, The process o f inquiry is described in Gerald R. Addison-Wesley, Miller and Nicholson, Commum'cation Ittguiry, ix. See also D on W. Stacks and M ichael B.
Salwcn, Integrating Tlieory and Research: M ichael B. Salwen and D on W.
Stacks M ahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum , , A n excellent discussion ofscholfirship can be found in Ernest G. Tlte Needfor Ceneml Educa tion, ed. Prometheus, , ; Jam es L. The Need for General Education, ed. Pro metheus, , See, for example, C. Cambridge University. Press, Jam es A. See also Kevin J. I, cd.
Sec, for example, Charles R. Chaffee Newbury Park, CA: For an interesting discussion o f the scientific nature o f comm unication research, see G lenn G. Sparks, W. Communication Theory 5 See, for example, Robert T.
Fiske and Richard A. Shweder, Introduction: Pluralisms and Subjec tivities, ed. D onald W. Shweder Chicago: University o f Chicago Press, , ; Kenneth J. Springer-Verlag, This position is developed in T hom as B. Farrell, Beyond Scicncc: C harles R. Craig cd. Publishing in journals is not an unbiased process. Based on the p eer review process, the editors over all judgm ent, disciplinary trends and interests, and the like, som etim es very good essays are over looked and som e o f lesser quality are accepted.
For an interesting discussion o f this process, see Carole Blair, Julie R. Brown, and Leslie A. Because theories arrange and synthesize knowledge, we do not need to start over again with each investigation. The theories or organized knowledge of a field, developed by generations of previous scholars, provide a starting point for under standing that field. The term communication theory can refer to a single theory, or it can be used to designate the collective wisdom found in the entire body of theories related to communication.
Much disagreement exists about what constitutes an adequate theory of com munication. The theories included in this book vary in terms of how they were gen erated, the kind of research used, the style in which they are presented, and the aspect of communication they address.
This diversity serves as a rich resource for developing a more thorough and complex understanding o f the communication experience. Each theory looks at the process ft'om a different angle, inviting you to consider what communication means and how it fiinctions from that vantage point. We encourage you, then, to appreciate the multi-theoretical orientation that is the nature of communication theory. We have been talking around the term without really defining it.
Uses of the term range from your theory about why Hurt Locker won an Oscar for best picture in to Einsteins theory of relativity. Even scientists, writers, and philosophers use the term in a variety of ways. The purpose of this book is to represent a wide range of thoughtor theoriesabout the communication pro cess. Therefore, we use the term theory in its broadest sense as any organized set o f concepts, explanations, and principles that depicts some aspect of human experience?
Ste phen Littlejohn defined theory more technically as a unified, or coherent, body of propositions that provide a philosophically consistent picture of a subject. They reduce experience to a set of categories and, as a result, always leave something out.
A theory focuses our attention on certain thingspatterns, relationships, variablesand ignores others. This aspect of theory is important because it reveals the basic inadequacy of any one theory. In the field of physics, scientists seek one basic set of propositions that can explain all phenom ena in the universethe theory of everything.
Although physicists have not yet achieved this goal, most are optimistic that they will someday get there. This view of theory is unrealistic in the social sciences.
In matters of human life, no single the ory will ever reveal the whole truth or be able to address the subject of investiga tion totally. Theories are also constructions. Theories are created by people, not ordained by some higher power. When scholars examine something in the worid, they make.
Thus, theo ries represent various ways observers see their environments; theories do not capture reality. Abraham Kaplan writes, The formation of a theory is not just the discovery of a hidden fact; the theory is a way of looking at the facts, of organizing and representing them. As such it is better seen as the lens one uses in observation than as a mirror of nature.
One observer sees a onecelled animal; the other sees an organism without cells. The first viewer stresses the properties of an amoeba that resemble all other cellsthe wall, the nucleus, the cyto plasm.
The second observer compares the amoeba to other whole animals, including ingestion, excretion, reproduction, and mobility. Neither observer is wrong. Their theoretical frameworks simply stress different aspects of the observed object. Any given truth can be represented in a variety of ways, depending on the theorists orientation.
The teacher presents four boxes. In cach there is a pictureo f a tree, cat, dog, and squirrel, respectively. The child is asked which one is difTercnt. A child wor thy o f second grade immediately picks the tree.
The squirrel as easily could have been picked if the child had distinguished on the basis o f domesticity o r things we bought at the store.
O r the dog could have been picked because the cat, squirrel, and tree relate in a playful, interactive way.
Theories of the development of human communication
O r the child could have picked the cat since the other three are in the yard. A theory offers one way to capture the truth of a phenomenon; it is never the only way to view it. Finally, theories are intimately tied to action. How we thinkour theories guide how we act; and how we actour practicesguide how we think. In the world of scholarship, formal theories and intellectual practices are inseparable. D i m e n si o n s o f T h e o r y In this section, we describe four dimensions of theory: Although some theoriesusually referred to as quasi theo riesinclude only the first two, most scholars believe that a theory worthy of the name must have at least the first three dimensionsassumptions, concepts, and explanations.
Not all theories include the final piece; in fact, as we will see later, the inclusion of principles is somewhat controversial. Philosophi c al Assu m p tio ns The starting point for any theory is the philosophical assumptions that underlie it.
The assumptions to which a theorist subscribes determine how a particular the ory will play out. Knowing the assumptions behind a theory, then, is the first step to understanding that theory. Philosophical assumptions often are divided into three major types: Every theory, explicitly or implicitly, includes assumptions about the nature of knowledge and how it is obtained, what constitutes existence, and what is valuable.
Looking for these assumptions provides a foundation for under standing how a given theory positions itself in relation to other theories. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies knowl edge, or how people know what they claim to know. Any good discussion of the ory will inevitably come back to epistemological issues. The following questions are among the most common questions of epistemological concern to communica tion scholars. Many believe that all knowl edge arises from experience.
We observe the world and thereby come to know about it. But perhaps there is something in our basic nature that provides a kind of knowledge even before we experience the world.
The capacity to think and to per ceive is cited as evidence for such inherent mechanisms. For example, strong evi dence exists that children do not learn language entirely from hearing it spoken. Rather, they may acquire language by using innate models to test what they hear.
In other words, a capacity for language exists in the brain a priori, before a child begins to know the world through experiencing it. To what extent can knowledge be certain? Does knowledge exist in the world as an absolutethere for the taking by whoever can discover it? Or is knowledge relative and changing? The debate over this issue has persisted for hundreds of years among philosophers, and communication theorists position themselves in various places on this continuum as well.
Those who take a universal stancewho believe they are seeking absolute and unchangeable knowledgewill admit to errors in their theo ries, but they believe that these errors are merely a result of not yet having discov ered the complete truth. Relativists believe that knowledge will never be certain because universal reality simply does not exist.
Instead, what we can know is filtered through our experiences and perceptions; thus, theories evolve and change as well. To this point, Anatol Rapoport presents the following amusing anecdote about three baseball umpires. The first umpire, w ho was a realist, remarked, Some is strikes and some is balls, and 1 calls them as they is.
Another, with less faith in the infallibility of the professional, countered with, "Some is strikes and some is balls, and I calls them as I sees them. But the wisest umpire said, Some is strikes and som e is balls, but they aint nothing till 1 calls them. The first case represents knowledge as certain or absolute awaiting discovery. The third umpire suggests the relativist positionnothing is certain until it is labeled; the label plays a large part in determining what that something is.
The second umpire represents a kind of middle ground in terms of the nature of knowledge, a. By what process does knowledge arise? This question is at the heart of epistemology because the kind of process selected for discovering knowledge determines the kind of knowledge that develops from that process. There are at least four positions on the issue. Rationalism suggests that knowledge arises out of the sheer power of the human mind to know the truth I calls them as they is.
This position places ultimate faith in human reasoning to ascertain truth. Empiricism states that knowl edge arises in perception.
Toward a Psychological Theory of Human Communication
We experience the world and literally see what is going on 1 calls them as I sees them. Constructivism holds that people create knowl edge in order to function pragmatically in the worldthat phenomena can be fruitftilly understood many different waysand that knowledge is what the person has made of the world They aint nothing till I calls them. Finally, taking construc tivism one step further, social construction teaches that knowledge is a product of symbolic interaction within social groups.
In other words, reality is socially con structed, a product of group and cultural life. Is knowledge best conceived in parts or wholes? Those who take a holistic approach believe that phenomena are highly interrelated and operate as a system. True knowledge, in other words, cannot be divided into parts but consists of general, indivisible, gestalt understandings.
Analysts, on the other hand, believe that knowl edge consists of understanding how parts operate separately. They are interested in isolating, categorizing, and analyzing the various components that together com prise what can be considered knowledge. To what extent is knowledge explicit? Many philosophers and scholars believe that you cannot know something unless you can state it.
Within this view, knowledge is that which can be articulated explicitly. Others claim that much of knowledge is hiddenthat people operate on the basis of sensibilities that are not conscious and that they may be unable to express. Such knowledge is said to be tacit. The way scholars conduct inquiry and construct theories depends largely on their epistemological assumptions because what they think knowledge is and how they think it is obtained determines what they find. The same holds for the next type of philosophical assumptionsassumptions of ontology.
Ontology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of being. Epistemology and ontology go hand in hand because our ideas about knowledge depend in large part on our ideas about who is doing the knowing.
In the social sciences, ontology deals largely with the nature of human existence; in communication, ontology centers on the nature of human social interaction because the way a theorist conceptualizes interaction depends in large measure on how the communicator is viewed.
At least four issues are important. Although all investigators prob ably would agree that people perceive choice, there is a long-standing philosophical debate on whether real choice is possible.
On one side of the issue are the determinists who state that behavior is caused by a multitude of prior conditions that largely determine human behavior. Humans, according to this view, are basically reactive. On the other side of the debate are the pragmatists, who claim that peo ple plan their behavior to meet future goals.
This group sees people as active, decision-making beings who affect their own destinies.
Middle positions also exist, suggesting either that people make choices within a restricted range or that some behaviors are determined whereas others are a matter o f free will. A second ontological issue is whether human behavior is best understood in terms of states or traits. The state view argues that humans are dynamic and go through numerous states in the course of a day, year, and lifetime. The trait view believes that people are mostly prediaable because they display more or less consistent characteristics across time.
Traits, then, do not change easily; this perspective sees humans as static. There is, of course, an in-between position, and many theorists believe that both traits and states characterize human behavior. Is human experience primarily individual or social? This ontological question deals with whether the individual or the group carries the most weight in terms of deter mining human action.
The unit of analysis for scholars with an individualistic per spective is the human psyche. Scholars who focus on the group use social life as the primary unit of analysis. These social scientists believe that humans cannot be understood apart from their relationships with others in groups and cultures. The ontological question of individual or social is especially important to communica tion scholars because of their focus on interaction.
The focus of this question is whether behavior is governed by universal principles or whether it depends on situational factors. Some philosophers believe that human life and action are best understood by looking at universal factors; others believe that behavior is richly contextual and cannot be generalized beyond the immediate situation.
Communication scholars frequently take, the middle ground, believing that behavior is affected by both gen eral and situational factors. Axiology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the study of values. What values guide research, and what are the implications of those values for the outcome of the research process?
For the communication scholar, three axiological issues are especially important. Classical science answers this first axiological concern in the affirmativetheories and research are value free, scholarship is neutral, and scholars attempt to uncover the facts as they are. According to this view, when a scientists values intrude, the result is bad science. Government and private organizational values determine what research is fiinded; political and economic ideologies both feed and are fed by particular ways o f viewing the world embodied by different forms of theory and research.
A second value issue centers on the question of whether scholars intrude on and thereby affect the process being studied. In other words, to what extent does the process o f inquiry itself affect what is being seen? To what degree does the researcher. The tra ditional scientific viewpoint is that scientists must observe carefully without inter ference so that accuracy can be achieved.
Critics doubt this is possible, believing that no method of observation is completely free of distortion. Even when you look at planets through a telescope, you are automatically distorting distance because of the properties of lenses. When the doctor puts a stethoscope on your chest, your nervous system reacts, and sometimes your heart rate is affected.
If you bring par ticipants into a laboratory and ask them to talk to one another as part of an experi mentas communication researchers often doindividuals do not communicate exaaly the same way as they would outside the laboratory. Not only does inquiry potentially affect what is observed, it also can affect life outside of the study its e lf.
T h is means the scholar, by virtue of scholarly work, becomes an agent of change because studying human life changes that life. For example, if you interview a married couple about their relationship, the interview itself will affect some aspect of that relationship. This is a role that the scholar must actively understand and take into consider ation. At a minimum, scholars must consider the ethical issues raised by the research they are conducting.
A third issue of axiology concerns the ends for which scholarship is conducted. Should scholarship be designed to achieve change, or is itsJunaion simply to generate knowl edge? Tradiuona] scientists claim that they are not responsible for the ways scientific knowledge is usedthat it can be used for good or ill. The discovery of nuclear fis sion was in and of itself an important scientific discovery; that it was used to make atomic bombs is not the scientists concern.
Critics objea, saying that scientific knowledge is, by its very nature, instrumentalist. It is control oriented and necessar ily reinforces certain power arrangements in society. Therefore, scholars have a responsibility to make conscious efforts to help society change in positive ways. The first position is value-free scholarship in which researchers believe they can seek objectiv ity without personal values affecting the scholarship.
The second position is valuecotiscious scholarship in which researchers recognize the importance of values to research and theory, are careful to acknowledge their particular standpoints, and make concerted efforts to direct those values in positive ways.
Co n c e p ts Conceptsterms and definitionstell us what the theorist is looking at and what is considered important.
Theories of Human Communication_Littlejohn(1)
In our everyday world, some things are considered to be trees, some houses, some cars. Humans are by nature conceptual beings. Thomas Kuhn writes that we do not learn to see the world piecemeal or item by item: To determine concepts, the communication theorist observes many variables in human interaction and classi fies and labels them according to perceived patterns.
The set of conceptual terms identified becomes an integral part of the theoryoften unique to that theory. Lets take one theory you will encounter later in this book chapter 6 as an example expectancy-violation theory.
Some of the most impor tant concepts of this theory are; Expectancy Violation Nonverbal behavior Enacted behavior Heightened arousal Reward valence Interpretation Evaluation Reciprocity Credibility Attitude change Context These concepts are essential to this particular theory. Although they do appear in other theories, no other theory combines them in exactly the same way. Those theories that stop at the conceptual leveltheories in which the goal is to provide a list of categories for something without explaining how they relate to one anotherare known as taxonomies.
Because they do not provide an under standing of how things work, many theorists are reluctant to label them theories. The best theories, then, go beyond taxonomies to provide explanations sm em ents about how the variables relate to one anotherto show how concepts arc con nected. Notice, for example, that the concepts of expectancy violations theory listed above do not have much meaning in isolation.
In order to highlight their rele vance, the theory must show how one concept is related to or causes others. Explanations An explanation is the next dimension of a theory, and here the theorist identi fies regularities or patterns in the relationships among variables. Put simply, expla nation answers the question: An explanation identifies a logical force among variables that connect them in some way. A theorist might hypothesize, for example, that if children see a lot of television violence, they will develop violent tendencies.
In the social sciences, the connection is rarely taken as absolute. Instead, we can say that one thing is often or usually associated with another and that there is a probable relationship: If children see a lot of television violence, they probably will develop violent tendencies.
In the theory of expectancy viola tion, one important proposition is that violation causes arousal, which accentuates how communicators are evaluated. There are many types of explanations, but two of the most common are causal and p ra c tic a l.
In causal explanation, events are connected as causal relationships, with one variable seen as an outcome or result of the other. Practical explanation, on the other hand, explains actions as goal related, with the action designed to achieve a future state. In causal explanation, the consequent event is determined by some antecedent event.
In practical explanation, outcomes are made to happen by. Using a causal explanation, you might say; My teachers in high school did not provide enough background, so I couldnt learn enough to pass the test.
On the other hand, if you did well on the test, you would probably use practical explanation: I needed to increase my grade-point average, so I studied hard. The distinction between causal and praaical explanation is important in the debate about what a theory should do. Many traditional theorists say that theories should stop at the level of explanation. These scholars believe that theories depict things as they are by identifying and explaining the causal mechanisms of events.
Other scholars maintain that theories should go beyond depiction to guide practical action, an approach that makes practical explanation central. For these theorists, practical explanation leads to a third element of theorythe element of principle. Prin c iples A principle is a guideline that enables you to interpret an event, make judg ments about what is happening, and then decide how to act in the situation.
A principle has three parts: For example, you might say: Prin ciples permit a researcher to reflect on the quality of actions observed and to pro vide guidelines for practice as well, not unlike the use of principles in everyday life. For example, you may see grades as an important indicator of success your princi ple and, valuing success, study hard to improve your grade your action.
There is no consensus, at least in the social sciences, about whether theories should include principles for judgment and action. Some theorists are content to sim ply offer concepts and explanations without making recommendations on the basis of their theorizing. For other theorists, generating principles that can be used as the basis of action in the world is the whole purpose for engaging the theoretical enterprise. The various dimensions of theory just describedassumptions, concepts, explanations, and principlescombine in different ways to construct different kinds of theories.
To further clarify how different combinations of theoretical ele ments produce different kinds of theories, we will use two examplesnomothetic theory and practical theory. Chapter 3 provides even more exam ples of theoretical approaches. N o m o t h e t ic T h e o r y Nomothetic theory is defined as that which seeks universal or general laws. This approach, dominant in the experimental natural sciences, has been the model for.
Theories in the nomothetic tradition do not make judgments or offer advice. Scientists simply paint a picture of how something is and leave it up to others to decide how to use this knowledge. Traditional science is based on four processes: This approach is known as the hypothetico-deductive method, and it is based on the assumption that we can best understand complex things by analyzing the various parts or elements that comprise it.
Thus, this approach is also sometimes called the variable-analytic tradition? First, the researcher forms a hypothesis, or well-formed guess about a relationship between variables.
Ideally, the hypothesis emerges from previous research. The researcher undertakes an inductive process of generalizing from numerous observations.
A hypothesis must be testable and framed in such a way that potential rejection is possibleit must be falsifiahle. If it is not, any test will yield cither a positive result or an equivo cal one, and it will be impossible to discover whether the hypothesis is wrong. Hypothesis testing, then, is really a process of looking for exceptions. Hypothesis testing is a painstakingly slow procedure in which theories are fine tuned by numer ous tests. The four stepsquestioning, hypothesizing, testing, and theorizingare repeated in incremental building blocks.
Suppose, for example, that you think that people do things they find personally rewarding, suggesting the following hypothesis: People are more likely to do what they find ravarding than what they do not find rewarding. While you could certainly find instances of people doing things becausc they like to do them, you also could find instances of people doing things they do not like.
Some people may even do certain things because, in some perverse way, they find punishment itself rewarding. Because virtually anything could be intrinsically rewarding to someone, no action could be ruled out.
This hypothesis, then, is poorly stated because you could never disprove itit is not falsifiable. Only through control and manipulation in research can causality be tested.
If one set of variables is held constant controlled and another set systematically varied manipulated , the researcher can detect the effect of the manipulated variables without worrying about whether other variables had hidden effects. Control and manipulation can be exercised directly, as in experiments, or through certain kinds of statistics.
Lets return to the intrinsic-rewards hypothesis. Assume that you have devel oped a measurement for reward, a scale to weigh how rewarding something is to a person.
You have done studies and found this scale valid and reliable. How would you then test your hypothesis? Would you give a list of activities to a group of sub jects and have them rate each in terms of intrinsic rewards? That would tell you how rewarding the subjects found each activity, but it would not tell you whether they would actually do the things they say are rewarding.
You might consider having the subjects rate each item twiceonce on reward value and once on how frequently they actually do it. That would give you an idea of the correlation between reward and activity, but it would not be sufficient to say that behavior is caused by reward. To really test your hypothesis, you would need to set up an experiment in which you actually tested rewarding activities against unrewarding ones, to see if.
You might do this by having one group of people do a rewarding set of tasks, such as watching a movie, and another an unrewarding one, such as studying for an exam, to see if the first group spends more time at their task than the second. As we look at nomothetic theories as examples of the scientific tradition, we will focus on philosophical assumptions, concepts, and explanations.
Notice that we do not include the fourth aspectprinciplesin our discussion of scientific the ory. As we will see, possessing principles is one of the important distinctions between nomothetic and practical theories.
Philosophi c al Assu m p tio ns Nomothetic theories take a particular position on questions of epistemology, ontology, and axiology. In epistemology, these theories tend to espouse empiricist and rationalist ideas, treating reality as distinct from the human being.
Reality, in other words, is something that people discover outside themselves. Researchers in this tradition assume a physical, knowable reality that is self-evident to the trained observer. Because knowledge is viewed as something acquired from outside oneself, nomothetic theories seek to discover what is called the received view.
Objectivity is all-important, with investigators being required to define the exact operations to be used in observing events. In terms of axiology, such theories take a value-neutral stance, believing that science is above value issues; they do not play a role in science. In terms of ontology, scientific theories tend to assume that behav ior is basically determined by and responsive to biology and the environment. Nomothetic theories, then, aim to make lawful statements about phenomena, developing generalizations that hold true across situations and over time.
Scholars in this tradition try to reveal how things appear and work. In so doing, the scholar is highly analytical, attempting to define each part and subpart of the object of interest.
Co n c e p ts Because of the need in scientific research to be precise in observation, concepts are typically operationalized. This means that all variables in a hypothesis should be stated in ways that explain exactly how to observe them. When you specify a con cept in terms of how it is to be observed, you have an operational definition. One operational definition of intelligence, for example, is the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. An operational definition of dominattce might be a particular set of observer ratings on dominant versus submissive messages.
Lets take the example of the intrinsic-reward hypothesis again. You could improve this hypothesis by specifying more precisely what you mean by highly rewarding and what you mean by an intrinsic reward. Thus, you could hypothesize that a person will repeat an action rated as highly rewarding on an intrinsicrewards test. Here, intrinsic reward is operationally defined as a rating on an intrinsic-rewards scale.
Notice that this wording makes the hypothesis falsifiable because you measure the difference between high intrinsic reward and low intrinsic reward. As you can see from this example, an operational definition relies on measure ment, or the use of precise, usually numerical, indications. Measurement enables the detection of differences that might otherwise be hard to specify. For example, you. With this scale you could measure the difference between an activity that is moderately rewarding and one that is only mildly rewarding.
You could also measure the difference between one person who found a particular aaivity highly rewarding and another who found the same activity unrewarding. Measurement is evaluated in terms of two criteriavalidity and reliability.
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