Notes: Qualitative Research 4: What is the role of theory in research?

These class notes are from today’s seminar about the role of theory in our research. We reflected on what we learned last week about paradigms, discussed the definition of “theory”, where theories are present (spoiler: everywhere), how theories are used in research, building our own theoretical frameworks, and the difference between a theoretical framework and a literature review.

Remember something from last week

That a paradigm should be the basis of your approach, as they form foundation of essence (way of viewing the world), knowledge and method…and be careful if you want to combine two of them as they are all very different even if they can be complementary to each other. E.g. I want to deconstruct to understand better, but then work towards a solution for emancipation.

Others in class: Many different paradigms to choose from; Positivism similar to natural sciences and assume that there is a truth; Paradigms connected to methodology; Paradigms can tell you about the researchers points of view and how they see the world; Relationship  bw individual and social world view; Essential to understand your own paradigm and the effect of  your research and conclusion; Reading thesis with this in mind now, helping with understanding; Realization that it’s okay to go into our research with our own worldview and perspective, as long as we are aware of them the way through; Don’t need to know about all of them detail, but need to know own thoroughly; The one you choose can effect results of your research, deconstructivism and Foucault; The way we see something and differences in how we understand and interpret the world; Ontology and epistemology .. what is reality and how can I know it?; Connection  with research and own background in psychology; Why see want to research what we want to do will impact the paradigm we choose in which our question will be formed; The way I see reality will lead me to choose my paradigm, relationship with critical literacy course and awareness of our assumptions about reality, alignment. Deconstruction  also about providing an alternative; Best to stay in comfort zone or to explore another? Is it a real choice as we intrinsically lean towards a certain approach; Connections to earlier studies, reflecting on the activity we did on the art and how we view it. Realized he’s a positive and believes there is a truth that we can find and demystify; Positioning.. what you write about, how you approach it, biases and the impact of this and is it possible to be unbiased?


Thoughts on interview with Noam Chomsky

Interview with him: About his theory that language acquisition as part of the biological world, and so the (natural) scientific community can understand this approach more than social sciences, who are assumed to not be Positivist and have “grave reservations“ about biology and idea of human nature. Interesting assumption by interviewer that social scientists are not true scientists.  Do we need to keep proving ourselves to be reliable and valid even though our approaches might be different from traditional scientific approach?


Idea and ideas intended to explain facts or events

Architecture of ideas

General principles or ideas related to a subject

Explain,predict,  understand and also to challenge, critically judge and extend existing knowledge

Differentiate research from account or report

Used to study and analyse data, explain and understand, build on.

It enters the research process everywhere

As an explanation (how does x work, what is x?), or as a tool for thinking (how can we think about things differently through different lenses?)

“No fact is theory free… one does not go into the field to “see”…one does go to “look”for various sorts of patterns and themes. Theory, acknowledged or not, dictates what kind of patterns one finds. Any explanation, no matter how small, involves a theory waiting to be explicated. When  we understand or try to explain  an observed event… we are calling on  theories large and small”

Video – task to watch and then report back what we see

Japanese preschool. Kids playing, snatching and fighting over a toy, who owns it,  tears, some hugs and consolation, hiding under table with toy to keep safe and keeping under shirt, promise keeping and some resolution. Teacher not really involved. How do we really know whose teddy bear it is? Kids creating their own rules and norms. Taking sides. Other children  to fighting,  they would follow the rules. Not everyone can be satisfied. Who is setting the rules?

^^ not so easy to say what we see completely without bias or theory, what we each focused on or tried to explain in the video says something about each of our own world views. Afterwards we have to recheck our observations and think about the theories we have used differently in our approaches to understanding.

Building our theoretical framework

We will build theoretical framework, we need to demonstrate our understanding of theories and concepts relevant to our topics, it’s not readily found in all literature so important to read around around a lot


What does theory do in my study?  What is the role of theory in my study?

What is the difference between a literature review and a theoretical framework?

Discuss and share:

Theoretical framework: defining concepts, more narrow, can be developed from what we learn in our literature review, we might not be aware of our theoretical framework but it might become clearer through our lit review work as we lean towards different articles and approaches etc in our evaluation of them

Literature review: bringing a range of theories together, our theoretical framework might evolve from  or impact our approach and evaluation, more of a synthesis of work in a specific phenomenon, connecting what has been done already and thinking about how we can contribute to the knowledge in this field, casting our net wide and exploring a range of theories and approaches.. multiple


Idea of different conversations in different rooms (paradigms) with different histories and concerns. Various disciplines look at the phenomena from different perspectives. ..part of the researchers job to build up the best possible theoretical framework for their particular research. Start with your own undeveloped ideas and explore others to find what fits and also what challenges


Theoretical framework: general intro to subject, theoretical concept of research problem, road map for organising idea and knowledge about the social world, you build it … choices

PREVOUS RESEARCH:What’s been topical recently, perspectives, interpretations, research gaps. Why is it important now? Where do they date back to, roots, historical overview etc ? Key thinkers in topic.

THEORY : current discussion  of problem, might be multiple and sometimes conflicting theories, models and frameworks, grand, middle range and substantive theories

CENTRAL CONCEPTS : definitions, relationships etc. Theory can be seen as a statement of relationships between concepts. Mental images we use as summary devices for bringing together observations and experiences that seem to have something in common


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