Research and theorizing does not occur in a vacuum. Research, in the sciences o the humanities, requires a conceptual system that provides the framework or guidelines to investigate, interpret and solve particular problems. On a general level, a theoretical framework provides the criteria to determine what counts as a problem and the steps necessary to solve the problem. The American philosopher John Dewey argued that philosophical problems are historical. What counts as a philosophical problem in one historical period may not be important for a different period.
Identify and evaluate the general character of the framework. Does the author clearly define the framework that she is using in the study? An author may clearly define the framework used for a study: empirical, hermeneutic, phenomenological, psychoanalytic, quantitative or qualitative, and so forth. On the other hand, the author may not feel it necessary to clearly state or identify the framework. In this case, the language, concepts, and style of argument may indicate the nature of the framework. For example, an author writing from a Marxist perspective might use words and concepts such as base and superstructure, ideology, commodity fetishism, and dialectics.
Compare and analyze the main concepts and the framework. The framework and the concepts used by the framework may be thought of in terms of the metaphor of the forests and the trees. A theoretical framework establishes a perspective in which to view, interpret, and solve a problem. The framework's concepts are the lenses through which everything is seen and colored. An example of this is the Jurgen Habermas's theory of communicative action. The theory of communicative action forms the bigger picture and the individual concepts concern how the picture hangs together as a whole. According to Habermas, all knowledge -- scientific, ethical/moral, and aesthetic -- is based on implicit knowledge claims. The specifics of Habermas's theory are worked out in terms of individual concepts.
Compare the framework with the specific problem or topic being addressed. Determine if the framework is relevant to the problem. For example, Marx and Engels developed a theoretical framework to analyze, evaluate and critique the economic foundations and social consequences of capitalism. Marx and Engels argued that earlier economic theories were theoretically flawed and could not accurately diagnose and understand the historical development and economic structure of capitalism. In other words, Marx and Engels claimed that the work of their predecessors in economic theory -- Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, and the French economists -- was irrelevant when it came to understanding the historical and social dimensions of economics and its relationship to society because they thought of economics in terms of eternal and invariable laws rather than as historical and variable.
Determine if the results or solutions to the specific problem logically follow from the premises and concepts of the framework. Researchers and writers sometimes, intentionally or unintentionally, sneak hidden premises and presuppositions into an article or study that determine the results and outcome. A valid argument is one in which the conclusion follows logically from the premises. The author's desire to solve a problem may lead to a hasty conclusion that is not fully supported by the theoretical structure of the framework.
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