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Ekaterina Sorokina and Youcheng Wang

Tourism lacks its own unique theoretical knowledge and most would agree that it is yet to become a discipline. Generally, theoretical knowledge of the tourism field has been ‘borrowed’ from other related disciplines and then ‘stretched’ to give it a tourism dimension. Consequently, most of the concepts and theoretical frameworks that are available in the tourism field are not unique because they have been developed elsewhere. The interdisciplinary nature of tourism has resulted in a highly fragmented, fragile and sometimes weak knowledge about the real-world phenomena. However, the tourism field has recently begun to show promising signs, and now strives to develop its own theoretical knowledge and to integrate this knowledge in one general theoretical framework. In order to facilitate development of tourism-specific knowledge, researchers need to understand what constitutes a theory and a theoretical contribution. Unfortunately, many are mistaken in their view of a theory. Therefore, this chapter is designed to introduce tourism and hospitality researchers to the subject of theory and to various approaches that researchers may apply to make a theoretical contribution. Most academic journals offer no specific guidelines on how to make an original and significant theoretical contribution to the tourism field. Thus, the chapter provides information that is necessary to educate researchers on this subject.

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Ekaterina Sorokina and Youcheng Wang

Tourism research is often critiqued for the ‘stretching’ and ‘contextualizing’ of concepts from other related disciplines and fields. This chapter, therefore, offers theory building and theory evaluation tools that may facilitate the development of knowledge unique to tourism and hospitality. The chapter begins with a review of two dominant paradigms that have greatly influenced all social science research; it then explores methodologies that represent each of the paradigms and provides examples of methods that are relevant to them. Specifically, the chapter provides a snapshot of the methods, and highlights their application in practice, as well as their benefits and disadvantages. Description of the methods is followed by a discussion of two theory building strategies that researchers may apply. The chapter additionally explores an ongoing process of theory building to demonstrate a general process of its development. Lastly, the chapter examines various theory evaluation criteria, and develops a framework that integrates them. Each of the criteria is discussed in detail to facilitate researchers’ understanding of how they may be applied to evaluate an existing theory.