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3.8: What happens next-- “beyond understanding”?

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  • After the process of careful analysis required to really understand a theory, we have now achieved a clear picture of the “map” that the theory provides for its target phenomenon. We can use understanding as a launching pad for further theory construction—by clarifying construct definitions, critiquing what is present as well as what is absent, and filling in holes. We can use it as a basis for comparing and contrasting different theories that focus on the same target phenomenon. We can integrate the theory with others that we have previously understood, or we can go in search of additional theories to shore up, enhance, or elaborate the current one. We can also use the theory to design research studies and intervention efforts. Chapter 3: Understanding a Theory 18 An important accomplishment in understanding theories and reflecting on their assumptions, is that we are beginning to differentiate our thinking. We distinguish elements that are often “fused” in our everyday research practice. We separate our target phenomena (which function in the real world beyond our immediate grasp) from our theories or representations of these phenomena, which are always highly selective and simplified. We can separate the theories from their constructs, and both of these from their operationalizations and measurement in specific variables. We can then examine the assumptions packed in all of these elements. This kind of “defusing” allows us to become more flexible in considering multiple perspectives— meta-theoretical, theoretical, operational, and analytical—in studying and trying to optimize our corner of the world.