A Methodology for Critiquing and Reconceptualizing Theories and Models

Abstract

While rethinking or reconceptualizing models or theories can appear to be something of a mystic art, there are methods behind the madness. With the concept of method articulated as a set of steps to be taken and processes to be applied, the rough rules of thumb described here are distilled from several efforts to rethink the primary theories and models used to frame research. This can be a particularly useful effort when applied to areas of research that present persistently vexing puzzles. Often those puzzles will be the result of a dissonance between the theoretical foundations of study and the nature of causal processes connected to the subject and simply engaging in the exercise of rethinking the theory can lead to valuable insights. Rethinking is a carefully chosen term, and it is used here with specific intent. Despite the inspiration I found in the early applications of post-structuralist theory to the study of politics and international relations (i.e., Ashley, 1984), I have always been dissatisfied with critique as an end point of any of these efforts. Thus, I adopted an approach that integrated the construction of an alternate theory or model as an integral part of the process of critique. This has been central to my research beginning with my very first publication (Van Belle, 1993) and over the years these methods have been carefully refined and applied to a wide variety of topics. The result is a conceptual framework of starting points and strategies that individuals can adopt to more fruitfully challenge theories, or to simply develop a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the theories and models being applied in the study of politics and in the social sciences more generally.

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