School of Business and Industrial and Organizational Psychology
Using Gelso (2006), Harlow (2009), Stam, H. (2007), 2010), Wacker (1999), and five additional
peer reviewed articles from your specialization, discuss scholarly views on the nature and types f
theory. Compare and contrast at least three views of what constitutes a theory, including the
view you will use in Part 3 of this question. Be sure to distinguish theory from related concepts,
such as hypothesis, paradigm, model, and concept.
Comprehending theory and how it relates to research is undoubtedly a challenging task
and has literally rendered some doctoral candidates to feel confused and incompetent.
Contrasting definitions of theory may be at the center of the confusion and the difficulty in
distinguishing theory from research (Kiley, 2015). Despite the confusion, many scholars agree
that theory has a place in research while others contend that theory is useless in the real world
(Wacker, 1998). Through this paper an examination will be provided of the role of theory in
research through identification and exploration of scholarly views. In addition, the paper will
provide a discussion of the contribution of research to theory, and provide tangible examples of
contributions of theory to the field of business administration. In scholarly research, theory
forms an integral part since it provides both guidelines and enables the researcher to explore the
relationships between the phenomena. However, irrespective of the recognizable imperativeness
of theory in research, there is no universal agreement among scholars concerning what
constitutes a theory (Harlow, 2009).
What Constitutes Theory
Derivation of the word theory is entrenched in a Greek verb that means to contemplate
(Fischer, Winter & Wortmann, 2010). Despite the fact that there may be disagreements among
scholars concerning theoretical finer points, they all universally agree on the basic constitution of
a theory by reiterating that, a theory describes a phenomenon and the subsequent interactions of
the phenomenon variables that are used in an attempt to provide an explanation or prediction.
However, in striving for finer clarifications of a theory, views of scholars are varied on the basics
that constitute a theory, purpose of the theory, as well as what a good theory should necessitate
(Gelso, 2006; Harlow, 2009; Stam, 2007, 2010).
According to Galtung (1985), a theory can also be considered to be a group of
generalizations that are related and indicating observations that are new, which can be subjected
to empirical testing in order to provide an explanation or prediction. Littlejohn (1989) claimed
that any attempt towards explaining or creating an aspect’s representation of reality should be
considered a theory. Further, a theory can be considered as the organization of knowledge in a
systematic way, with potential applications in solving real life problems (Fendt & Sachs, 2008;
Ng & Hase, 2008). Fendt & Sachs (2008) and Ng & Hase (2008) also assert that grounded
theory is imperative research methodology in providing a qualitative approach for theory
development in business management and/or administration. Considering the complexity of a
theory, there has been confusion between a theory and its components, constructs or the
theorizing process by some people (Gay & Weaver, 2011). However, it is crucial to ensure that a
theory is differentiated from the terms related to it such as paradigm, hypothesis, concept as well
as a model.
According to Malmi and Granlund (2009), a framework of worldview or beliefs is
referred to as a paradigm that is utilized in the definition of values and boundaries or methods for
research. Paradigms can be used in defining what is imperative or not and the possibilities or
impossibilities in a research, meaning that they are comparable to overarching philosophies and
present a significant theoretical view of a phenomenon (Gay & Weaver, 2011). Fischer, Winter
& Wortmann (2010) stated that, an educated guess with its corresponding predictive value(s)
concerning the working outcome of something based on observation or existing knowledge is
what is known as hypothesis. In contrast, National Academy of Sciences (1999) outlined that a
theory is a strongly unified and substantiated explanation for a set of hypotheses that are proven.
In addition, a hypothesis must be able to be specifically tested and representing a single
component, while a theory is not. Gelso (2006) stated that theory provides extensive explanation
of a phenomenon while a hypothesis has a narrow focus. For example, a theory is used as the
basis to hypothesize a phenomenon, while a hypothesis delves in specific testing of a particular
assertion concerning the phenomenon.
Furthermore, Malmi and Granlund (2009) emphasized that a model is a tool utilized to
enable construction of a theory, and is typically a graphic or written representation of the theory
either partially or as a whole. This means that a model does not elucidate components of a
theory, but only provides a method or approach through which a theory can be explored (Malmi
and Granlund, 2009). For example, when research involves working on a theory with regards to
nuclear fusion, a molecular model may be constructed as a method to facilitate the research. As
a result, the constructed model can be helpful to investigate the positioning and interactions of
atoms, however using the model singly is not capable of providing explanations (Gelso, 2009).
According to Malmi and Granlund (2009) a building block within which construction of
theory is based, is called a theoretical concept. Concept explains descriptions or interpretations
of data, literally comparison of the items under study, or associations to one another are
examined (Malmi and Granlund, 2009). An example is when education is a concept describing
the overall learning experience of a person. Gelso (2006) states that concepts are broad and
tested ideas within the theory that facilitates in developing the theory, particularly in the context
of the conceptual framework.
Nevertheless, considerations when attempting to answer the question on what constitutes
a theory is not straightforward and simple as various scholars have penned (Gelso, 2006; Harlow,
2009). Scholars have provided varied views concerning what defines a theory, especially when
the discussions are more detailed concerning what constitutes a theory. For instance, Gelso
(2008) describes a theory as combinations of varied constructs including explanatory power,
descriptive ability, heuristic value, integration, testability, parsimony, comprehensiveness,
clarity, as well as delimitation. His believe was that actual refinement of a theory is through
research and succinct understanding of its constructs (Gelso, 2008). In contrast, Harlow (2009)
suggested that theory may be used to determine a law or a set of laws. Harlow (2009) provided
four distinct constructs of a theory which are: (a) definitions, (b) a set of variables relationship,
(c) a domain of applicability, and (d) factual claims or specific predictions.
Also when the discussions on the formulation of a theory are considered, it is revealed
that scholars have varied views. According to Stam (2007), there are three views that affect
theory which for many decades have been significantly influential and they are: (a) reductionism,
(b) instrumentalism, as well as (c) realism. According to Burgelman (2011) and Stam (2007)
reductionism is defined as a view stating that complex systems are composed by a mere sum of
the respective parts. Understanding of the system of reductionism is obtained through
examination of the individual parts of the system singly or independently (Burgelman 2011;
Stam 2000). As a result, reductionists strive to make complex items or systems more easily and
clearly understandable through a study of their individual parts and/or components independently
or singly (Burgelman, 2011; Nadler, 2004; Stam 2000). By breaking down the parts or
components of a system, reductionists usually envision a realization of a new view or perspective
of the system base as well as interactions of its components.
Nadler (2004) was critical in providing the four guiding principles used in reductionist
approach and/or method. For instance, all things or systems are separable into their respective
components or parts. Reductionist approach also state that there are substitutes to any of the
separated components or parts of systems or things, and partial problems solutions may be
helpful in solving a problem as a whole. Furthermore, the entity as a whole is the sum of its
parts or components and nothing more (Nadler, 2004). Thus, reductionists advocate for the
consideration of each part or component of a theory singly.
According to Malmi and Granlund (2009), instrumentalism stated that the usefulness of
theory instruments is entrenched in the worldview understanding and the best definition of the
theory is merely through its instruments and nothing more. Essentially, an evaluation of the
theory should be based on its ability for utilization in predicting or explaining a phenomenon
instead of the ability of utilizing it in reality depiction (Malmi and Granlund, 2009). For
example, consider the view of an acupuncture examination. Some individuals may swear by the
effects of acupuncture although they may not believe in the art expressed principles, such as Ki
energy. Thus, instrumentalists are likely to say that as long as it works, it does not matter why or
how it works.
The third view provided by Stam (2007) is realism, which has become significantly
influential in the development of theory. Realists believe that descriptions of the world can be
provided in terms of science, based on assumptions that the world has a real view, which is
distinct and independent of perceptions held by people. As a result, realists are generally fond of
asserting that one is capable of making predictions that are reliable about un-observable
phenomenon. A good example of the application of realism view might be considered to be the
Copernicus’ heliocentric theory in which the Earth’s revolution was predicted by Copernicus by
stating that it revolved around the sun although during that time there was no way in which
the phenomenon could be observed. Thus, it is evident that theory and research are intertwined
and coexist making it imperative to elucidate the relationship between the two and the
contribution of research to theory.
Relationship between Research and Theory and How Research Contributes to Theory
The purpose of theory that is accepted by many is that of explaining or predicting (Ellis
& Levy, 2008; Harlow, 2009). Theory is used in conceptualizing and providing explanations to
a set of observations recorded systematically concerning the phenomena as well as complex
behaviors. According to Ellis & Levy (2008), a research forms the basis for the process through
which data is collected and analyzed in order to ensure new knowledge is developed. Harlow
(2009) stated that the creation of the term reductionism was to provide a description of the
interplay between theory and research. Furthermore, the definition of reductionism is that it is
the cyclical process where theoretical ideas are tested by a researcher against new data that
emerges. Subsequently reframing those ideas or retesting the ideas up to a point is necessary to
confirm the resulting conclusions are considered trustworthy (Harlow, 2009). Gay and Weaver
(2011) concurred with the arguments of Ellis and Levy (2008) as well as Harlow’s (2009) stance
by reiterating that there is a tendency of incremental contribution of research knowledge to
theory by building upon as well as adding to an existing lexicon of facts. Defining the problem
acts as the point of connection between theory and research. The strategy and path of the
research is provided by the theory to be tested (Harlow, 2009).
There are two major methods that enable the researcher to conduct the research and they
include quantitative and qualitative research methods. According to Creswell (2009),
quantitative research is an empirical investigation of phenomena using statistical and
mathematical techniques. In contrast, qualitative research attempts to collect data aimed at
understanding the deeper meaning concerning complexities surrounding human interactions (Du
& Kamakura, 2012). The two methods are utilized in conducting research and they have varied
contributions to the development of theory.
Aliaga and Gunderson (2005) stated that quantitative research explains phenomena
through collection of numerical data which is subsequently subjected to analysis using statistical
and mathematical methods. Through quantitative data analysis methods, collected data is
converted into measurable form thereby creating a chance for easier way of categorization and
working with the collected data. According to Aliaga and Gunderson (2005), the concept of data
categorization is equivalent to the manner through which computers undertake conversion of
all data to binary constructs. Categorization of the data gives the researcher an opportunity to
use complex data sets in answering specific questions (Aliaga & Gunderson 2005). The
contribution to theory through quantitative research method is entrenched in the fact that, it
provides specific and measurable ways of viewing, accessing, and analyzing the collected data.
The measurability and specificity of quantitative research methods contributes to theory
development by enabling trend spotting (Du & Kamakura, 2012).
According to Creswell (2009), qualitative research methods are used to gather
information from subjects with the aim to better understand behaviors of human beings and the
possible reasons attributable to identified human behaviors. In conducting qualitative research, a
central question is usually the starting point of the study rather than a prediction (Creswell,
2009). The researcher subsequently strives to answer the questions by essentially attempting to
gain an understanding of why the phenomenon under consideration was observed (Creswell,
2009). Doz (2011) emphasized that qualitative research is utilized in an attempt to get more
knowledge concerning the subjects selected by the research for the study.
The contribution of qualitative research to theory occurs in many ways. For instance,
qualitative research is used in providing succinct descriptions of an observed phenomenon, and
generates in-depth explanations to the same (Eisenhardt, 1989). Doz (2011) stated that since an
iterative process is used in theory development, qualitative research methods are likely to enable
the refinement of key concepts as well as results through the additional insights provided.
Testing of theory is also done through qualitative methods by using alternative theoretical lenses
in the investigation of phenomenon for additional insights into the theory and subsequent
interactions of its variables (Du & Kamakura, 2012). Moreover, case study research methods
that involve the adoption of qualitative research methods have high potential to generate novel
theory (Eisenhardt, 1989).
Generally, there exist a number of ways through which research contributes to theory.
For instance, it is through the creation of theory whereby formulation of a theory can be based on
research observations. Research can be used in theory validation as well as in refuting a theory.
However, there is a need for specific application of research in order to validate or refute an
existing theory. Moreover, research can also be used in providing additional insights into
components of a theory thereby facilitating further refinement of the theory (Doz, 2011 & Du &
Example of How a View of Theory Adds to the Field and My Chosen Dissertation Topic
Out of the three views identified in Part 1 of this question as offered by Stam (2007)
including reductionism, instrumentalism, and realism; reductionism has the potential of making
significant contributions to the proposed research study. Reductionism has been widely applied
in making significant contributions to the field of business (Stam 2000). The proposed topic of
this research study is, “The Adverse Effects of Welfare Reform on Public Housing
Authorities.” The findings of this study will potentially be utilized for contribution to the existing
body of knowledge within the area of dissertation topic based on the reductionism paradigm
application. The Department of Housing and Urban Development administers Temporary
Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and Public Housing (HHS, 2013). While both programs
have been reformed over the years TANF’s reformations have had an adverse effect on public
housing. The proposed study will advance knowledge by exploring the effects of leadership bias
in decision making and how those bias effect decisions regarding reformation and funding.
The proposed research will utilize a qualitative study and reductionist research methods
to gain an understanding of the adverse effects attributed to welfare reform on Public Housing
Authorities. Application of reductionism methods to the study will be vital in providing valuable
insights into the adverse effects attributed to welfare reform on Public Housing Authorities by
considering specific welfare reforms. Examining this component singly is essential in shedding
light on components of welfare reforms and possibly adds to the body of knowledge around
adverse effects attributed to welfare reforms, and this data will be useful in adding to the body of
knowledge of business administration and the real estate industry. The use of reductionism will
also offer an opportunity to explore management decisions made regarding two programs
administered through the Department of Health and Human Services, Public Housing and
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Management of each organization will be
examined to identify how reformation is guided by leaders. The study will also examine
leaders/managements roles in decisions regarding reformation of programs.
Even though reductionism is undoubtedly the most appropriate research method to
effectively address the proposed study, this view has been subject to a considerable extent of
criticism. There are two issues with reductionism that researchers must consider prior to the
research study (Nadler (2004). For instance, all things or systems are reducible to their
respective parts or components. Also reductionism in not an effective method when complex
social systems are considered, in particular those that involve feedback loops.
In conclusion, it is worthwhile to note that theory and research concepts are undeniably
broad and far reaching even though they are interrelated. Also there have been disagreements
among scholars on their view of the nature and application of theory as well as research,
particularly across academic disciplines. However, there seems to be a universal concurrence
among all scholars with regards to the importance of the cycle in which theory and research
In addition, theory plays a vital role in providing a method for the prediction of the
interactions of phenomena variables, whereas research is critical in enabling the testing of theory
as well as discovering new observations. As a result, this interrelationship which exists
between theory and research is without any doubt, an engine that is fundamentally helpful in the
production of new knowledge across academic and professional fields. Researchers will
inevitably need to assess themselves which should include areas of vulnerable areas which may
bias the research study.
The demand for research is fueled by increasing needs of society to explore new depths
or to examine previous research. In response to researcher’s curiosity new methods of research
and data collection will be in demand. As these new methods and/or techniques are adopted by
researchers and new knowledge is gained studies will require new techniques. Older theories
and research methods and/or techniques even those dogged with controversies will contribute to
research when used appropriately. Students must be vigilant in their efforts to understand what a
theory is and how theory should be used as a tool to guide and further new knowledge. A clear
understand of the use of theory and research that supports their research and subsequently
contributes significantly to their respective academic and professional fields.
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Referencing at least five peer-reviewed journal articles or scholarly books, discuss views on the
relationship between theory and application or practice. How can a theory guide or inform
practice? What are the issues involved in translating theory into practice? Be sure to keep in
mind the various conceptions of theory you discussed in Question 1.