Models, Theory and Applications
Chapter 2: Theories and their uses in social marketing
‘Theory’ is a term that can be used formally and informally in academic and non-academic language. It is used in non-academic language to describe something that is abstract or unknown. Words that are often used interchangeably with ‘theory’ are words such as guess, supposition, proposition and hunch. People say things like ‘in theory’ or ‘hypothetically’ without consideration for the real meaning of the terms. The words theory and hypothesis have specific meanings that influence how research and investigation take place. A theory is a structured system of concepts that explain an existing set of observations and can eventually be used to predict future observations (Kemp et al., 2010). The system of concepts explains the observations and does not need to be directly observable. For example, the concept ‘attitude’ is not directly observable. However, it can be inferred from (manifest) observations such as self-reported survey answers, behaviours, and so on. A theory is based upon hypotheses (formalized questions) or research questions (concepts and ideas that are not yet formalized) and is backed by evidence. Therefore, a theory presents a concept or idea that is testable. A theory is not a guess. A theory is a fact-based framework for describing a phenomenon. In social marketing, theories are used to provide a model for understanding humans (influences, responses and behaviours) in a social change (usually persuasive) context. In addition, theories can be used to develop strategies based on generalizations.
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