Craig Calhoun &
Robert Max Jackson
to "Question" a Theory
Here are some questions to ask of all theories. Many others
possible, but these should give a good start.
- What is the principal question(s) being asked?
- This will usually take the (often implicit) form: why or how
does some social
process or outcome exist when it does, as strong as it does.
- Consider both the main empirical examples the theorist uses as
a starting point
and the generalized abstract theoretical problem (e.g. Tocqueville's
wish to make
sense of American democracy and his desire to explain how democracy in
might escape a vulnerability to verge toward despotism)
- What, in simplest terms, is the author's answer to the principle
- What, are the competing possible answers?
- Which alternatives are explicitly recognized by the author?
- Which alternatives does the author consider the main
- Are important alternatives neglected by the author?
- How does the author contend that the privileged accounts (the
correct answer, according
to the author) are superior to the alternative accounts?
- What empirical evidence is used?
- What are the explicit comparisons?
- What logical arguments are entertained?
- What rhetorical devices are brought into play?
- How compelling is the support for the author's position?
- What critical initial assumptions, explicit and implicit, direct
- How does the intellectual environment, prevailing and preceding,
seem to have
influenced the author's ideas?
- What limits did it produce?
- What innovations in the author's ideas stem directly from this
one can create a theory about corporations until we have corporations.)
- How has the theory fared against subsequent historical events?
- Can you reconstruct the theory as a series of statements
declaring related causal
assumptions and propositions?
- Can you reconstruct the theory as an abstract model embracing
adequately defined social
actors, relationships, processes, conditions, and rules?
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Sociological Theory Syllabus