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Explanatory Theories

  1. Theory 2
  2. Classificatory Theories
  3. Explanatory Theories
  4. Building A Classification Theory
  5. Building An Explanatory Theory
  6. Step 2: Identify causal factors
  7. Step 3: Trace interactions among variables
  8. Step 4: Propose a scheme for evaluating causal variables
  9. Adapting And Revising Theories

Explanatory Theories

In a similar manner, you may be dissatisfied with the causal explanation that a theory offers to account for a phenomenon. This is likely to occur when you have observed an event, either directly or vicariously in a newspaper or book or television newscast, and then hope to explain the outcome by means of a theory; but you find the explanation some theorist has proposed is unconvincing. To illustrate, assume that you have read about a pair of students who brought automatic pistols to their high school and shot nearly two dozen classmates. A theory proposed by a criminologist traces the cause to the interaction of three variables: (a) a lack of teachers’ awareness of danger signs in students’ behavior, (b) inadequate communication among school personnel, and (c) inadequate cooperation between school personnel and law enforcement bodies. However, you consider this analysis too simple, for it fails to address a variety of other causal factors that you think are relevant, such as parents’ supervision over their children’s activities, the patterns of social relationships among students, and more. Thus, as a thesis problem, you choose to propose a theory that includes more variables and envisions a more complex pattern of interrelationships among variables to explain such events as the school shooting.

Your dissatisfaction might also come in the midst of a study you are conducting. Imagine that you have collected 40 interviews with elderly residents of retirement communities. Your purpose has been to learn retirees’ opinions about proposed changes to the U.S. government’s social security provisions. With the tape-recorded results of your interviews in hand, you now need a theory that will explain why retirees didn’t all agree in their judgments about the suggested changes. However, your hunt through the professional literature fails to reveal a theory that suits your need, so you decide to create your own model.

A third condition that motivates researchers to design explanatory theories is the researchers’ simply wondering why something happens as it does.

“I’m wondering what caused him to lose the election, when he looked like a sure winner”” (political science)

“Why do some people consistently save money, while others spend every cent they get their hands on”” (economics, psychology)

“Under what conditions are children likely to tease or abuse their peers”” (psychology)

“What are games intended to accomplish in different cultures”” (anthropology)

“Why do some disadvantaged people go on welfare while others don’t”” (social work)

If such events motivate researchers to create or revise theories, then how can they go about that task”The following paragraphs suggest a solution.

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