Prior to conducting a qualitative study, there is a need to identify the theories and views which are likely to influence the study. In such respect, researchers examine not only their own frames of interpretation but including other social theories in relation to the to-be conducted investigation. Fetterman (1989) is convinced that there are two types of “grand theory” utilised by researchers who are particularly interested in social change: (1) ideational and (2) materialistic (Davis, 2011). “Ideational theories suggest that fundamental change is the result of mental activity – thoughts and ideas”(Davis, 2011). The “prime movers” under materialist theories involve material conditions such as money, ecological resources and modes of production. These theories can be jointly used in a single study.
In a study of language conducted by Fetterman for instance, the materialist theory was used to suggest socio-economic conditions as determinants of both individual experiences and government policies with respect to language and literary acquisition (Davis, 2011). The ideational theory was used to interpret language policy implementation by teachers as caused by “culturally-determined” ideas on language acquisition. There are also a number of other grand theories which dwelt on the “nature-nurture debate” and which tend to answer the question whether social behavior is genetically-dictated (nature) or socially-constructed (nurture).
Under interpretive qualitative research, however, grand theories often remained “implicit” and researchers tend to rely more on middle-range theories. Middle-range theories explain a phenomena in a holistic manner using a scope which is relatively broader than causal models and empirical generalizations (Davis, 2011). Nonetheless, researchers using either the two (grand versus middle-range) or both, are entirely supported by theoretical guiding principles prior to creating a framework suited to the investigation.
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