4984 theoretical research programs

hypothetical deductive propositions within
interdisciplinary dialogue.

SEE ALSO: Catholicism; Denomination; Her
meneutics; Orthodoxy; Protestantism; Religion;
Science and Religion; Secularization


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theoretical research

David G. Wagner

A theoretical research program has three com
ponents: a set of interrelated theories, a set of
substantive and methodological working strate
gies used to generate and evaluate these theories,
and a set of models for empirical investigation
and analysis based on these theories. Theoretical
research programs provide accounts of social
phenomena as diverse as affect control, status
organization, network exchange, resource mobi
lization, revolution, and coalition formation in
political action. Berger and Zelditch (1993,
2002) present detailed discussion and analysis
of these and many other programs. Wagner
(1984) discusses the source of the concept in
the work of philosopher of science Imre Lakatos
(1968, 1970) on scientific research programs.
Theoretical research programs are impor
tant to our understanding of how sociological
knowledge grows. Programs are distinct from
the broad, overarching meta theoretical strate
gies, such as functionalism and interactionism,
which orient the construction of individual the
ories. Programs are more dynamic than strate
gies, the latter growing only very slowly and
seldom in response to assessment of the the
ories that they generate. Programs are also dis
tinct from individual theoretical arguments, or
unit theories, such as Davis and Moores theory
of stratification or Lenskis theory of status
crystallization. Although programs generally
originate in a unit theory, they become much
more complex as a network of interrelated the
ories emerges over time.


The interrelation among theories in a program
arises from a core set of key abstract concepts
and assertions that are used in all the theories in
the program. For example, the idea of an expec
tation state is central to the status characteristics
program, the notion of a resource flow to the
network exchange program. Over time these
core ideas come to be used in a variety of dif
ferent ways that expand our knowledge. Each of
these ways represents a distinct pattern of the
oretical growth.
First, the ideas may be elaborated to provide
a more detailed or specific account of the phe
nomenon under study. Theory T2 is an elabora
tion of theory T1 if it uses the same underlying
core ideas to address a similar explanatory
domain as T1, and is more comprehensive
or specific or has better empirical grounding
than T1. Usually, T2 is intended to serve as a
replacement for T1. Elaborations may expand
the explanatory scope of a theory, formalize
its structure, or enhance the empirical conse
quences of a theory and its corroboration.