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

Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts (1st edn)

Jean-Frédéric Morin, Christian Olsson, and Ece Özlem Atikcan
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date: 08 December 2021

p. 131G. Grand Theory and Middle-Range Theory

Choosing the Right Tool for Theory Buildinglocked

p. 131G. Grand Theory and Middle-Range Theory

Choosing the Right Tool for Theory Buildinglocked

  • Frederik Ponjaert

Abstract

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.

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