"Theory" for the immigrant to social sciences

Oct 11 2015 Published by under dissertation

This really deserves a detailed and thorough treatment it won't get here.

The entire point of my dissertation is basically that it's important to integrate across the various diverse literatures that have looked at how scientists communicate in order to adequately understand how any new technologies might be used or be useful (valued/valuable, etc).

Sound impossible much? Kinda sorta, but hey, maybe that's why it's taking me 10 years!

My undergrad is in physics. Masters is in library science (MLS of course). Neither do theory the way, say, sociologists, linguists, communications researchers, or anyone else in the social sciences does. At least at the undergraduate level, you don't have to pick an epistemology and a particular theory when measuring gravity or the wavelength of a laser.

When I look at theories, I basically look at what evidence was used to develop them and what explanatory power they have.  Also, I'm very pragmatic and I don't especially adhere dogmatically to any one epistemology.

Working this way gets me into trouble when trying to communicate with someone who is in one of these fields. You're really supposed to pick a viewpoint and use theory as a lens. I do get testing theories. I know how to do that, but there is supposed to be more. I don't know how to own and live and practice a theory.

I'm not terribly convinced others in LIS do, either, despite books on our "theories" and numerous ASIST sessions.

Maybe this is horrible admission? Maybe I have to pick one should I ever go on the academic market (which I don't expect to if any of my colleagues are reading this but really, I might if my committee is reading this)? Maybe I will not be able to get my articles in to communications journals?

It may be a completely different situation, but Paige Jarreau shared similar feedback on twitter:


Interestingly, when I was looking for the exact tweets to cite, I found her request for an article on theorizing social media.* The author basically complains just the opposite: we're trying to use everyone's old theories and just make them work for social media, even if we have to ignore things like interactivity.

Of course, the STS folks would call me cray-cray because incommensurability and what-not. So maybe it's up to us to have our own theory, then publish a lot, and then we'll be all set 🙂

*Kent, M. L. (2015). Social Media Circa 2035: Directions in Social Media Theory Atlantic Journal of Communication, 23, 1-4. doi:10.1080/15456870.2015.972407

5 responses so far

  • Dr. Harry Nimon says:

    Education has shifted so much over the years that my humble opinion is simply "It Depends." During my first doctoral class I was required to read and synthesize the Bass and Stogdill 's Handbook on Leadership...a 3000 page, triple column, small print tome on various leadership theories. My 'A+' paper also started with these two words...

    Too many individuals receiving advanced and terminal degrees miss the point that at its conclusion, one is not standing atop Mt Everest...one is standing at the very bottom looking up at the mountain of unknown and saying "Oh, S _ _ _!"

    Doing the research for my dissertation, I originally made a frightening and expensive observation that senior military officers were taking advanced decision-support/unit tracking systems out of their vehicles, during Desert Storm. These systems littered the desert and not because they were not working...the officers were going back to maps and grease pencils to plan/track unit operations. My initial theory centered around their familiarity to this type of system...I was wrong.

    Analyzing the data, I quickly learned that if I normalized for education, training, familiarity with virtual systems, experience, and other factors...a single factor that was strongly bimodal remained. Remember, this was a combat environment where stress was as high as it is ever experienced by the human creature.

    Because of this, my theory totally changed requiring my increased investigation into neuro-psychology studies and professorial/networking sources. IMHO, one must always adjust first hypotheses and, possibly later, theories to match the experimental/observed data.

    In answer to your question, invention leads to ownership in spite of evidentiary observations to the contrary... In one of my lectures I used a slide where a young, impressionable archeologist had found a cliff face with the fossils of a flying dragon, a knight with a lance, and a horse embedded within it. He was pointing it out to the Professor who stated: "Ignore it, it isn't scientific..."

    • Christina Pikas says:

      So wait - what was the one bimodal variable? Now I need to know!

      • Dr. Harry Nimon says:

        Well, I could be nasty and say, "Read the dissertation or buy the book"...however, I hate it when people do that to me...

        So...the variable was individual personality.

  • C.E. Petit says:

    If you think it's bad in the taught-in-the-US-to-undergrads social sciences, try dealing with the epistomology/ideology problems in law, especially given the conflicts between the "ivory tower theorists" at the law schools and the "private actor theorists" in the various nonteaching research institutions... especially if one's starting place was research-oriented biochemistry. It's all very turn-of-the-twentieth-century-in-biologyish!

  • Zuska says:

    To own and live and practice a theory, may I suggest the example of Anne Elk and her theory of Brontosauruses? None finer, really.