Formal Theory Construction: Developing Sociological Theory as Part of a Scientific Enterprise

This chapter demonstrates the major steps involved in theory construction as a formal part of a scientific enterprise. In doing so, we will see how sociological theories differ from the implicit theories of everyday life. One of the sharpest contrasts is whether the focus should be on discovering uniform relationships between objective social facts (as Durkheim insisted) or whether it must be concerned primarily with understanding subjective meanings which vary in different cultural contexts (as Weber argued).

Regardless of whether our focus is on objective facts or subjective meanings, the scientific method requires concepts and ideas to be established with sufficient clarity and precision that they can be used to guide research and evaluated in the light of research findings as well as everyday life experience. Since we are concerned in this book with already existing theories, our goal will not be to construct theories from scratch but to show how already existing theories can be formalized. Following are the specific points to be covered in this chapter:
  • The challenge of linking theoretical analysis and empirical research

  • Objective versus subjective dimensions of the social world

  • Explanation through prediction versus interpretation “after the fact”

  • Strategies for theory construction—This section (the heart of the chapter) emphasizes the importance of developing theories as explicitly and systematically as possible so they can be used to guide research. Special emphasis is given to the following:
    • Concepts, variables, and classification systems—The challenge is to identify and define concepts, variables, and categories as precisely as possible so that they can be clearly applied to specific features of the social world.

    • Propositions: statements of expected relationships among specific variables, and the conditions under which they are expected—This is the foundation for specific research hypotheses or questions.

  • Explaining causes versus consequences

  • The challenge of causal explanation

  • Deductive versus inductive forms of research and theory development

  • Multiple paradigms—This section highlights the variations among different theoretical schools in terms of underlying beliefs and assumptions.


Police Officer Crime Rate Social World Implicit Theory Sociological Theory 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

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