How to choose them How to use them

How to choose them How to use them ... Behaviourism, social psychology, praxeology ... Humanistic idealism...

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How to choose them How to use them

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© Hans Erik Stolten

This presentation has an outspoken crossdisciplinary approach ...  With a special focus on history, development, and research on Africa ...  The use of theory as such is advocated…  And several auxiliary sciences and ancillary approaches are presented...  African Studies and Development Theory are outlined...  Together with divergent views on colonialism and imperialism 

Theories in Social Science

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Theory as such

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Glimpses of the past or present - if seen as a single whole - are called theory Theory is a set of propositions, which together describe and explain the phenomenon being studied at a higher level of abstraction than the specific facts and empirical generalisations A system or framework for interpretation with greater validity than its individual elements A set of essentials, with an indication of how and to what extent these are connected, and on what grounds, the theory can be said to be applicable Theory elucidates the data by deduction, in the if then sense Theories in Social Science

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Theory as such









There is no clearly marked boundary between science and ordinary thought The abstract and “indefinable” is actually the easiest to characterise; the near and concrete is always too complicated to define In social science, theories have a double appeal; they offer a release from the thrall of detail, and a scheme to which facts may be attached… This is also the danger of the “grand narrative”, which even theory-lovers seem keen to criticise Theories in Social Science

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Theory as such



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Because present appearance does not necessarily resemble nature, past, or future It makes it easier to distinguish between manifestation/mode and essence/substance Some form of theory will be present in any case in your work as an implicit combination of your worldview and overall attitude towards the profession Without structure, knowledge is just a pile of data and observations with no coherence or understanding Theory is usually part of the premise for a valid argument Theories in Social Science

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Theory as such

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Theory will make you aware of your own biases, together with those of others It allows you to consider excessive problems in an abstract way… And frees you to think critically or speculatively, instead of being trapped into describing what exists A critical approach rests on the ability to momentarily escape from the concrete existent

Theories in Social Science

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Theory as such

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Simplistic descriptions do not work easily, if what they are describing is not itself coherent Pains and pleasure, hopes and horrors, intuitions and apprehensions does not have much form or pattern Conformist theory can restrict freedom of thought, because our political and theoretical vocabulary has become increasingly “closed” Fancy new theories or professionally established conventions may work as ideological restraint Middle range theories neither reveal the real reasons for the research nor explain the concrete results The ultimate goal - the creation of new, general theory - can be controversial and difficult to sustain Theories in Social Science

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Theory as such



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Read broadly to see how other researchers have approached your subject What did the thinker/s mean? Get acquainted with concepts and vocabulary What was the theorist’s background, agenda, role, and situation? How has the theoretician’s “school” been used by the establishment or by alternative forces? How relevant is the theory for your specific task and source material? Do not choose a theory just because it is common or fancy in your institutional set-up Theories in Social Science

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Theory as such

Start with narrating the history of the problem and the way it has been viewed/investigated so far by others

Theory can involve several levels of abstraction: 

Overall theoretical foundations such as Rationalism, empiricism, positivism  Rostowian modernisation theory  Dialectical and historical materialism  New or critical realism  Social constructivism, phenomenology  Behaviourism, social psychology, praxeology  Linguistic structuralism, post-modernism, semiotics, discourse theory, the linguistic turn 

Theories in Social Science

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Theory as such



Middle-level theories derived from... Political science  Sociology  Historical anthropology  Cultural studies  Or cross-disciplinary extracts 



Such as...    

Action research Empowerment theory Participatory approaches gender studies Theories in Social Science

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Theory as such



Concrete theories applied for the purpose Conventions on democracy, social, and cultural rights  Functional frame analysis  Thoughts on qualitative versus quantitative approaches  Actor-network-theory  Community capacity building approaches  Participatory Rural Appraisal approaches  Carefully selected post-modernist inspirations  Own hypotheses… 

Theories in Social Science

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Theory as such

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Humanistic idealism Religious dogma Liberal laissez-faire cynicism Malthusianism, social Darwinism Structuralism based on social class reasoning Essentialism, foundationalism Genealogical approaches Post-colonial discourse theory, Orientalism Search for causal explanations for regularities Use of the discipline for the sake of social progress Political / research policy implications of the analysis Theories in Social Science

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Theory as such



Schools inside, e.g., the historical profession Conservative history, Toryism  Whig history  Historicism  Empiricism  Annales School  Historical materialism, Soviet Marxism  Socio-economic structuralism  English Marxists, social history  The Bielefeld school, gesellschaftsgeschichte  … and more … 

Theories in Social Science

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Basic classical approaches

 Important

reasons for the differences between historiographic directions are hidden in political economy  Differences in political opinions reflect social developments in society in a relatively simple and direct way  The main divergent historical schools may be considered as history ideologies  While structures can be understood only through human action, practice must simultaneously be explained from conditional structures Theories in Social Science

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Auxiliary Sciences

Differs from History in: 

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Present solutions rather than past accounts More quantification and formalisation Models rather than acting humans More nomothetic than ideographic Abstract analytical concepts more important Sometimes an utopian-critical attitude to society However, often use of empirical findings for building theories rather than use of theories as starting point Theories in Social Science

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The use of theory

Research methodology will depend on objectives and professional tradition  





Multidisciplinary contexts  Qualitative interpretations, constructions of meaning… Sociology / Gender Studies / Social Psychology  Conflict matrices, focus group discussions, opinion polls, generational approaches, behaviour observation, abstract philosophical discussion as method… Anthropology / Ethnography  Case studies, fieldwork techniques, participatory appraisals, action research, qualitative questionnaires, key informants, particular findings… Development Economics / International Relations  Wealth ranking, social maps, macroeconomic statistics, quantitative evaluations, graphics, poverty indicators, capacity building estimates… Theories in Social Science

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The use of theory







Human Right Studies / Policy Studies  Law studies, legal cases, conventions, practices, conducts, contextualisation, generalisation… History  Archival studies, discourse analysis, source criticism  Usually idiographic rather than nomothetic approach  Complexity comprehended through concrete examples  Combination of diachronic and synchronic perspectives Literary Studies / textual studies  Document studies of ideas, identifying ontological, epistemological, and normative aspects  Characterisation of analysed works into tendencies  Modes of explanation in overall conceptual framework  Effects on society Theories in Social Science

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Theory as such

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Internal and external influences on science Continuity and change in science Kuhn’s paradigm changes The generation concept The political culture of science Habermas and the utopia of the equal debate Social constructionism Coming up...

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Ancillary Approaches

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The linguistic turn, cultural semiotics Foucault’s influence and the power of discourse analysis Bourdieu’s sociology of knowledge Post-colonialism Traditional source criticism versus post-modern insights Coming up…

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Transverse notions and concepts



Norbert Elias’s civilisation theory Gradually people became more conscientious • From outer-controlled to inner-controlled •

Social psychology and behaviourism  Social constructivism / constructionism 

Themes: embeddedness of cognition; society/nature; the relationship between idea and materiality • Coming •



Coming up... Theories in Social Science

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Transverse notions and concepts

Opening search for perspectives, can not be narrowed down to immediately applicable methods and angles…  But has to consider larger, overlapping, theory complexes…  It has to be an open qualitative analysis: explorative research aimed at developing suggestions…  Which then to some extent can be tested for generality through empirical text-studies 

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Transverse notions and concepts

Different ideas, concepts, explanations, models and theories are selected and put together  Types of knowledge are integrated to create a more complex framework for understanding  Exceedance of individual disciplines and integration of information across boundaries are knowledgeproductive  Demonstrate complex relationships and connections  Present new angles and contexts of comprehension  Take advantage of conceptual interdisciplinarity 

Theories in Social Science

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Development Studies



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Broad, multidisciplinary approach often mixing anthropology, sociology, and economy Attempts to save the world and at the same time... Focus on limited, measurable situations in their totality through case studies Often mixing micro and macro-perspectives Practical application in relation to administration of development aid Open to contradictory ideological use Theories in Social Science

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Development Studies

Usually a conglomeration of theories  Modernisation theory  Dependency theory  World systems theory  Theory of uneven and combined development  Development economics theories

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African Studies









Entangled with Western politico-economic engagement in Africa Christian missionary accounts helped discipline education and culture Western civilisation theories suppressed subaltern discourses After independence, extension of centres in the North to uphold indirect understanding and control Theories in Social Science

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African Studies

From:  An open-mindedness about the potential for African states to deliver public goods  A believe on the ability of the social sciences to apprehend African realities To: 



A deflated sense of what African states can deliver Doubts on the extent to which the social sciences are capable of explaining complex phenomena Theories in Social Science

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African Studies

Emblematic institutional development that mirrors African history:  Early, heady post-independence optimism  Internal civil wars and coups d’états  Carefully-managed presidential transitions  Closeness to the policy world made Nordic African Studies more robust 

Coming up...

Theories in Social Science

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African Studies

Themes with a high degree of continuity over time: 

Gender, religion, Pentecostalism, popular culture, traditional rulers, and urbanism

After 1989, less room for: 

Underdevelopment, anti-colonialism, pan-Africanism, popular political international solidarity, inequalities, class, workers and peasants, and the role of the state

Have become more popular issues, lately: 

Identities, pre-colonial polities, ethnicity, diasporas, general poverty, development aid, good governance, trade and investment, health, African patriotism, regionalism, localism, globalisation, and international migration Theories in Social Science

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African Studies

The “noble savage” used by feudalists in opposition to Enlightenment in Europe  The “barbaric wild” as opposite to the enlightened European  The backward negroid race as social Darwinist legitimatisation of extortion  The ”invention of tradition” by colonial administrators  The ”imagined societies”, where African leaders share a common responsibility for the atrocities  Said’s Orientalism and Africans seen as “the other” 

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African Studies

African philosophers and political ideas  Inclusivity, openness, collectivism  Ubuntu  Pan-Africanism  Amilcar Cabral  Franz Fanon  African socialism  Desmond Tutu’s humanism  Mandelaism, rainbowism  African renaissance  Coming up… Theories in Social Science

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End of history

Theories in Social Science