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Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Grand Theory and Middle-Range Theory  

Choosing the Right Tool for Theory Building

Frederik Ponjaert

This chapter differentiates between grand theory and middle-range theory. The study of social phenomena raises the twofold question about the internal and external validity of a hypothesis. A piece of research is internally valid when it describes the true state of affairs within its own setting. The extent to which its findings can be applied to other settings will determine its relative external validity. External validity is a product of the theoretical aspirations of the research. When grand in scope, theoretical aspirations reject the importance of specific variations and attempt to describe the true state of affairs in all settings. Conversely, a theory-building exercise with a mid-range scope is bound by a set of conditional statements. Whereas middle-range theory-building is rooted in generalizable empirical propositions, grand theory-building is based on internally consistent ontologies. On the one hand, grand theory favours highly abstract theorizing, which is fairly distinct from concrete empirical concerns. On the other hand, middle-range theories reflect more sociologically embedded theorizing, which strives to integrate theory and empirical variations over time and space.


Cover Political Research

8. Experimental Research  

This chapter explores the principles of experimental research design as well as the issues and problems associated with different aspects of the approach. In particular, it considers the issue of internal and external validity, the common obstacles associated with experimental research, and what can be done to try and avoid or minimize them. The chapter first describes the five steps involved in the classic version of the experimental design before discussing three types of experimental design: laboratory experiments, field experiments, and natural experiments. It also examines the ethical issues that arise from experimental research and concludes by highlighting some of the advantages of experimental research.