What constitutes a theory. Theory is defined as a statement or group of statements that clarify the mechanics of the world around us and frequently explains relations among phenomena Good (Vogt, 2005). Theory constitutes the core body for analysis, assists in a resourceful development of the field, and is a necessity in applying real world problems (Gelso, 2006). Researchers have attempted to explain their views on theory using typologies that lead to a plethora of definitions with little agreement on meanings (Bachman & Schutt, 2007; Creswell, 2009; Gay & Weaver, 2011; Gelso, 2006; Harlow, 2009; Heinen, 1985; Kerlinger, 1986; Stam, 2007, 2010b; Sutton & Staw, 1995; Wacker, 1999; Whetten, 1989).
The meaning of theory is not preset, nor is it universal (Harlow, 2008); rather, it evokes a determining law, or a construct, originating from the methodical arrangement and understanding of phenomena. As stated by Heinen (1985), theory is a group of rationally arranged laws or relationships that define a discipline, and seeks to clarify a problem, describe revolutionary elements of a phenomenon, or provide predictive utility in a systematic way (Stam, 2007). In contrast, Gelso (2006) indicated that theory originates from the interrelation of variables, and defined theory using eight constructs; (a) descriptive ability, (b) explanatory power, (c) heuristic value, (d) testability, (e) integration, (f) parsimony, (g) clarity, (h) comprehensiveness, and (i) delimitation.
Proposing a more comprehensive view, Whetten (1989) suggested that theory contains certain core elements; the what’s and how’s describe the concepts, constructs, characteristics, frameworks, and theories gleaned from the literature concerning the issues being studied. The why’s explain observed patterns and describe discrepancies and similarities. The who’s, when’s, and where’s set the limitations in the researchers’ suggested theory and chosen methodology (Whetten, 1989). The definition of theory proposed by Sutton and Staw (1995) was limited to answering only the question why, that portrays causality, justifies methodical arrangement and timing of events, and provides a rationale for why a relationship exists. Subsequently, Wacker (1999) added measurability to the definition of theory; positing that theory can be defined, can be applied to a field, identifies a relationship between variables, and predicts answers to the already proposed questions (Wacker, 1999).
Based on Kerlinger’s (1986) definition, Creswell (2009) asserted that interconnected constructs transformed into propositions or hypotheses are the constituents of theory; denoting the association between variables seeking to define and predict phenomenon. As per Gay and Weaver (2011), the approach to theory is identified by the research assumptions and goals that researchers utilize, while DiMaggio (1995) viewed theory as (a) covering laws, (b)
enlightenment, and (c) narrative (p. 391). In contrast, Gelso (2006) stated, Rychlak’s proposition of theory was associated with four functions; (a) the descriptive that represents causality, (b) the delimiting that sets limitations on what is examined, (c) the generative that provides a heuristic value and expands the existing knowledge, and (d) the integrative that provides coherent, unified, and diverse facts. Moreover, Lynham (2002) referred to Habermas ‘s categorization of empirical-analytical, interpretive, and critical theory (p. 225). Finally, Heinen’s (1985) minimalistic approach to theory included a concatenated theory (i.e., inductive-synthesis) and hierarchical theory (i.e., hypothetico-deductive).