A dynamic and multifunctional account of middle‐range theories

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Kaidesoja , T J 2019 , ' A dynamic and multifunctional account of middle‐range theories ' , British Journal of Sociology , vol. 70 , no. 4 , pp. 1469-1489 . https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-4446.12621

Title: A dynamic and multifunctional account of middle‐range theories
Author: Kaidesoja, Tuukka Juhani
Other contributor: University of Helsinki, Practical Philosophy

Date: 2019-09
Language: eng
Number of pages: 21
Belongs to series: British Journal of Sociology
ISSN: 0007-1315
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-4446.12621
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/310491
Abstract: This article develops a novel account of middle‐range theories for combining theoretical and empirical analysis in explanatory sociology. I first revisit Robert K. Merton’s original ideas on middle‐range theories and identify a tension between his developmental approach to middle‐range theorizing that recognizes multiple functions of theories in sociological research and his static definition of the concept of middle‐range theory that focuses only on empirical testing of theories. Drawing on Merton's ideas on theorizing and recent discussions on mechanism‐based explanations, I argue that this tension can be resolved by decomposing a middle‐range theory into three interrelated and evolving components that perform different functions in sociological research: (i) a conceptual framework about social phenomena that is a set of interrelated concepts that evolve in close connection with empirical analysis; (ii) a mechanism schema that is an abstract and incomplete description of a social mechanism; and (iii) a cluster of all mechanism‐based explanations of social phenomena that are based on the particular mechanism schema. I show how these components develop over time and how they serve different functions in sociological theorizing and research. Finally, I illustrate these ideas by discussing Merton’s theory of the Matthew effect in science and its more recent applications in sociology.
Subject: 5141 Sociology
611 Philosophy

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