Social science and management information systems (MIS) research have been criticized for failure to integrate theory construction and theory testing (see e.g., Subramanian & Nilakanta, 1994). In particular, concerns with MIS as a cohesive research discipline have long included inadequate construct development and lack of valid, reliable measuring instruments for those constructs (Keen, 1980). Understanding the theoretical basis of constructs and how they are developed and tested across the research continuum are fundamentals of a cohesive academic discipline. To provide a common research framework for the growth of MIS as a scientific discipline, this chapter proposes a framework for an integrated research continuum across the life cycle of the research process.
Scientific Theory As A Spatial Network And The Research Continuum
To develop precise theories of wide scope and high empirical confirmation, scientific disciplines create and evolve comprehensive systems describing lawful relationships of theoretical constructs (Hempel, 1952). Some variables of interest within these theoretical constructs cannot be directly observed. Thus, constructs contain theorized unobservable, latent factors measured by empirically observed indicators (Nunnally, 1978).
A comprehensive scientific theory can be represented as a spatial network in which hypotheses use correspondence rules to link theoretical constructs to derived and observed empirical concepts, which acquire meaning through operational definitions. The unobservable (latent) theoretical constructs are anchored to the empirical environment by rules of interpretation (the correspondence rules). By virtue of these interpretive connections, the network can function as a scientific theory (Blalock, 1982). The ability to interpret unobservable, underlying constructs transforms a theoretical, spatial network into an empirically testable theory.
An important implication of this view of the structure of theory is that the integration of theory construction and theory testing across the research continuum is of major importance (Feigl, 1970; Hempel, 1952; Hughes, Price, & Marrs, 1986; Trochim, 1996). Figure 1 (below) is a graphic depiction of this spatial framework, developed from the work of Hempel (1952), Blalock (1982), and Trochim (1996).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Theories: General principles to which individual events, objects, or phenomena conform, and by which the occurrence of these events, objects, or phenomena is systematically anticipated.
Basic Research: Research performed without thought of practical ends, producing general knowledge and an understanding of nature and its laws.
Nomological Network: Interlocking system of hypotheses, principles, and laws linking the constructs that constitute any theory.
Construct Validity: Identifies theoretical constructs defined by a network of relations, all of which are anchored to observables, making the constructs testable.
Measurement by Proclamation: Theoretical claims of lawful relationships with no link to empirical tests (Blalock, 1982 AU16: The in-text citation "Blalock, 1982" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).
Internal Principles: Define basic entities (concepts and constructs) of the theory and the lawful relationships, hypothesized as part of theory, describing interrelationships of these theoretical constructs, either within the same theory or with other theories.
Measurement: Linkage process between the physical operation, on the one hand, and a mathematical language on the other.
Conceptualization: Refers to the theoretical process by which researchers move from ideas or constructs to suggesting appropriate research operations.
Bridge Principles: Mathematical formulae and operations, stated as the rules of interpretation, that link the processes proposed by the theory to empirical phenomena (measures and observations).