Reflecting on theory and practice, and how research questions connect them; part 2
A continuation of the reflection on theory and practice in our doctoral cohhort discussion.
Weick (1995) talked about the continuum from mature, accepted dominant theory to the first conjecture arising out of some anomalous observation.
There is a continuum between the generalist inquiring into the purest of theoretical distinctions, and the pragmatist seeking to add theory to help resolve/improve a wicked problem that matters to people right now.
I suggest that people find themselves on that continuum of theory-practice as a function of their passion and the initial question that motivates them enough to act.
I am a pragmatist who wants to make a difference in the world around me right now. Actually yesterday.
To perform at the doctoral level includes an unusually deep appreciation of the theory-practice continuum, plus all the other continuums we will experience; an appreciation of different schools of thought, of world views, of theories of action that link theory to practice; an appreciation of traditions of research methodology that link world view to research to practice, each with their history of practice/ Those “best practices” are connected to the theory that drives that method, but they are also connected to the humans socialized in that tradition. Bets practices are an intersection of the theory and the practice.
In the world of manufacturing there have been any number of approaches to improving quality that are mutually exclusive. The approaches derive from an idea about how best to improve quality, which are connected to theories of production.
Quality circles and independent Quality Assurance departments are 2 distinct approaches to quality control which are informed by separate theories; Quality circles invest in the idea (the theory) that quality improvement comes at the moment of production from educated and insightful worker teams who know best their own process and can make the adaptations required. QA departments way that we must separate the inspection function to highly trained and specialized teams whose only focus is on conformance to specification.
These 2 theories, in turn, are connected to the Theory X and Theory Y ideas of motivation and human nature. Your support of Theory X or Theory Y, whether conscious or unconscious, will bias you to favor either quality circles or QA departments.
Researchers with a passion for understanding human nature independent of circumstance are drawn towards the theory end of the theory-practice continuum. Researchers who re looking to improve production in this plant, in this country, at this time, with this culture and these workers and this line of business are drawn towards the pragmatist world view and seek to quickly find, adopt and adapt “useful” theory quickly.
Without both, and without a bridge between the specialized worlds of the pure theoretician and the pure pragmatist, we suffer from lack of communication.
I see the rise of the scholar-practitioner and practitioner-scholar, and programs like ours, as an adaptation to the need for the bridges between knowledge groups. If you believe the world is increasingly complex and interconnected while knowledge is expanding within each specialty, you can prove mathematically that “connective-ism” and communication are needed more than ever, and will lead to competitive advantage as well as improves integration of human knowledge.
I’d say “appreciate the other person’s point of view, because they must know things that you cannot yet know. There is just too much to know anything.
Find your passion along the continuum, and appreciate the whole continuum.
Weick, Karl E. (1995) What theory is not, theorizing is. Administrative Science Quarterly, 40(3):385-390.