Theory in Action

Theoretical Constructionism


How to approach social theory actively, with a theoretical lens analogous to the use of methods, has been a challenge for professional scholars and students alike. Rather than treating social theory in an iconic manner, we explore the active use of theorizing for constructing and generating new knowledge. Examples of theoretical constructions and topics discussed include: the heuristic role of concepts; theoretical construction work; the importance of question-driven sociology; counterfactual reasoning; the power of ordinary language; an inventory of explanatory practices in social science; abduction; comparative case studies; class operations and the potential for using Merton’s middle range theory. Theory in Action is highly relevant for researchers and students interested in constructing theories in the social sciences.

Contributors are: Göran Ahrne, Mette Andersson, Roar Hagen, Willy Guneriussen, Ragnvald Kalleberg, Håkon Leiulfsrud, Willy Martinussen, Annick Prieur, Peter Sohlberg, Pål Strandbakken, and Richard Swedberg.
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Biographical Note

Peter Sohlberg, Ph.D. (1997), Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), is Professor in Philosophy of Social Science at NTNU. He has published monographs and articles in the fields of philosophy of science, sociology and social psychology. He has been teaching social theory and philosophy of social science since the early 1990s in Uppsala, Stockholm and Trondheim.

Håkon Leiulfsrud, Ph.D. (1991), Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), is Professor in Sociology at NTNU. He has published his work in the field of sociology with a special interest in social inequality and social stratification, social change and work. He has been teaching sociological theory, qualitative methods and social stratification in Trondheim since the mid-1990s.

Table of contents

List of figures
About the Authors

1. Theory and theoretical operations
Peter Sohlberg and Håkon Leiulfsrud

2. On the heuristic role of concepts in theorizing
Richard Swedberg

3. Sociology and the power of (ordinary) language
Willy Guneriussen

4. Weber’s ideal types: a sociological operation between theory and method
Pål Strandbakken

5. Class operations and measures
Håkon Leiulfsrud and Annick Prieur

6. Question-driven sociology and methodological contextualism
Ragnvald Kalleberg

7. If not, why not and what if: asking counterfactual questions
Göran Ahrne

8. Abduction – assessing fruitfulness and the construction of scientific concepts
Roar Hagen

9. Theorising through comparative case studies
Mette Andersson

10. Explanatory practices in sociology. An overview
Willy Martinussen

11. A thick description of Robert K. Merton’s middle range theory – manifest properties and latent ambivalence
Peter Sohlberg



All interested in social theory, and anyone concerned with theory application as a methodological problem.


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