theory

theory, social theory
A theory is an account of the world which goes beyond what we can see and measure. It embraces a set of interrelated definitions and relationships that organizes our concepts of and understanding of the empirical world in a systematic way. Thus, we may establish a statistical relationship between poverty and crime, but to explain that relationship we might have to employ a number of theories: about people's motivations, the social meanings attached to poverty and crime, and the structural constraints which keep sections of the population in poverty.
Generally speaking there are three different conceptions of theory in sociology. Some think of theory as generalizations about, and classifications of, the social world. The scope of generalization varies from theorizing about a particular range of phenomena to more abstract and general theories about society and history as a whole. Others believe that theoretical statements should be translated into empirical, measurable, or observable propositions, and systematically tested. Thus, in the example above, we should test assumptions about motivations, social meanings, and so forth. This approach is usually characterized (rather unhelpfully) as positivism . Finally, yet others argue that theory should explain phenomena, identifying causal mechanisms and processes which, although they cannot be observed directly, can be seen in their effects. For example, Marxists might use the alleged contradiction between the forces and relations of production (unobservable) to explain fluctuations in the levels and development of class struggle (observable). The label realism is sometimes attached to this view.
The term social theory is also applied commonly to the most general level of theories of society-to perspectives such as structural functionalism, phenomenology , or Marxism -which embrace most or all of the social sciences. Some prefer to call this level ‘social philosophy’. See also axiom ; exchange theory ; hypothesis ; philosophy.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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  • theory — theo‧ry [ˈθɪəri ǁ ˈθiːəri] noun theories PLURALFORM 1. [countable] an idea or set of ideas that is intended to explain why something happens or how it works: theory of • The book is called An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change . • The theory… …   Financial and business terms

  • Theory m — – A Theory of Leadership Management = Theory M X Y The Theory M style of leadership is one that recognizes that it is necessary to employ a variety of tactics for varying management situations. This type manager / leader is confident in his… …   Wikipedia

  • Theory — The o*ry, n.; pl. {Theories}. [F. th[ e]orie, L. theoria, Gr. ? a beholding, spectacle, contemplation, speculation, fr. ? a spectator, ? to see, view. See {Theater}.] 1. A doctrine, or scheme of things, which terminates in speculation or… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • theory — I noun assumption, belief, conjecture, doctrina, doctrine, dogma, guesswork, hypothesis, ideology, opinion, philosophy, postulate, presupposition, proposition, ratio, speculation, supposition, surmise, thesis, thought, untested opinion, view… …   Law dictionary

  • Theory X — ˌTheory ˈX noun [singular] HUMAN RESOURCES the theory that employees will not work well unless managers pay close attention to their work and control them by encouraging or threatening them * * * Theory X UK US noun [S] ► HR, MANAGEMENT the idea… …   Financial and business terms

  • Theory Y — ˌTheory ˈY noun [singular] HUMAN RESOURCES the theory that employees will generally work well and take responsibility for their own work, if they have the right conditions and rewards * * * Theory Y UK US noun [S] ► HR, MANAGEMENT the idea that… …   Financial and business terms

  • Theory Z — ˌTheory ˈZ noun [singular] HUMAN RESOURCES the theory that when employees are very involved in their organization and in making decisions, as in the Japanese style of management, they work better and produce more * * * Theory Z UK US noun [S] ►… …   Financial and business terms

  • theory — [thē′ə rē, thir′ē] n. pl. theories [< Fr or LL: Fr théorie < LL theoria < Gr theōria, a looking at, contemplation, speculation, theory < theōrein: see THEOREM] 1. Obs. a mental viewing; contemplation 2. a speculative idea or plan as… …   English World dictionary

  • theory — ► NOUN (pl. theories) 1) a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained. 2) an idea accounting for or justifying something. 3) a set of… …   English terms dictionary

  • theory — theory …   Philosophy dictionary

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