Chapter 3: Middle-Range Theories
3.1 MIDDLE-RANGE THEORIES: A DEFINITION The ‘middle-range’ theories creed has a long and persistent – though not very prominent – presence in the domain of social sciences. The fundamental characteristic of middle-range theories, in contrast to grand or general theories (theories covering the whole spectrum, from the most abstract laws and concepts to the empirical analysis of the concrete, in a unified framework), is the rejection of (a) abstract general laws and (b) an allembracing theory. These are substituted with intermediate concepts with an immediate identification with the most concrete phenomena or with empirical observations believed to be undeniable truths (stylized facts). Middle-range theories start with a set of factual observations (perceived as indisputable facts), usually based on some empirical research. These, via an empiricist methodology, give rise to a set of intermediate concepts with an immediate identification with the specificities of these stylized facts. Because of empiricism – and the subsequent immediate identification with the concrete – these intermediate concepts are of a pre-theoretical nature and bypass any search for a less obvious but probably more important submerged content. Robert Merton (1968, p. 39), who introduced middle-range theory into contemporary social science, defines it as follows: Middle-range theory is principally used in sociology to guide empirical inquiry. It is intermediate to general theories of social systems which are too remote from particular classes of social behavior, organization and change to account for what is observed and to those detailed orderly descriptions of particulars that are not generalized at all. Middle-range theory involves abstractions,...
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