Understanding of Theory in the Social Sciences

This essay discusses the concept of theory as it has been applied in social sciences; it arrives at a classification of four different uses of the word.

ARENA Working Paper 33/1999 (html)

Lars Mjøset

The notion of theory plays a crucial role in social science, as in any science. But few social scientists have discussed the term in a philosophy of science framework. Even fewer have asked whether the term has the same meaning in all social science. Instead, tense debates have raged, with opponents implying — but not explicating — different understandings of theory. Attempting a classification, this overview distinguishes four different understandings of theory, all of which have been influential in the social sciences.

Tags: methodological issues, political science
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM