Explore 9 theoretical frameworks—Constructivism, Behaviorism, Psychoanalytic, Psychosocial, Feminist, and more. Understand their impact on research and society.
The important concepts in your research are defined in your theoretical framework, which also proposes relationships between them and examines pertinent theories based on your literature review.
A strong theoretical framework provides direction for your research. It enables you to demonstrate the relevance of your thesis or dissertation topic in your field and to interpret, explain, and generalize from your findings in a compelling manner.
A theory that can be used to explain and comprehend the data in your research study is known as a theoretical framework.
Connaway and Radford’s (2021) definition provides a helpful working definition.
“…a theoretical framework utilizes theory/theories and their constituent elements as the presumed ‘working model’ that drives the investigation and analysis of a social phenomenon.” (Connaway & Radford, 2021)
There are numerous theories, and they all have unique perspectives on the world. Each will influence the way we view and interpret our data.
- Feminists view the world from the perspective of women’s oppression and power.
- According to functionalists, social order is maintained by the concepts and ideas that exist in our societies.
- Behaviorists study how incentives, or punishments and rewards, influence people’s actions in the real world.
- Postmodernists observe how discourse and language influence belief systems in the real world.
We consciously choose our strategy and focus while choosing a theoretical framework. Examples of theoretical frameworks that will concentrate on how power functions in society are “feminism” and “critical theory.”
In a sociological or cultural studies analysis, this could be helpful. However, in a study of classroom learning, you could be better off using constructivism or behaviorism as your theoretical frames.
Examples of Theoretical Framework
Academic Disciplines: Education, Psychology
In educational psychology, constructivism is a theory about how individuals think and learn.
Constructivism, a theory in educational psychology within the realms of psychology and education, asserts that individuals shape their comprehension by engaging with experiences. It suggests that people develop their understanding through reflection on experiences.
When faced with new information challenging existing beliefs, cognitive dissonance arises. This dissonance is resolved through assimilation and accommodation processes, leading to a refined understanding.
This challenges behaviorism, which states that learning is best achieved through rewards, punishments, and forming associations between concepts.
Examples of Constructivism
In a classroom setting, a researcher studying gravity comprehension in physics observes students progressing from basic information to hands-on experiments and discussions. The study focuses on how students construct understanding, utilizing prior knowledge and evolving through experience and reflection.
Academic Disciplines: Media Studies, Sociology, Cultural Studies
Postmodern theory argues that social narratives, beliefs, and meanings are historically, culturally, and socially placed.
A central postmodern concept is discourse, emphasizing how knowledge is shaped through language. The language used to discuss something constructs normative ideas, such as gender being socially constructed.
Postmodernists are inherently skeptical of truth-claims, contending that such claims, like “men are natural-born leaders,” emerge through language and social narratives that normalize such beliefs.
Postmodernism’s role is to highlight the relativity of truths and social narratives perpetuated by media and culture.
An Example of a Postmodern Theoretical Framework Study
A researcher adopting a postmodernist framework might analyze the representation of reality in contemporary television news. The study could analyze story selection, presentation, imagery, language use, and underlying assumptions about truth and objectivity.
From a postmodernist perspective, the study wouldn’t seek an objective reality but would explore how the news constructs multiple, subjective realities.
Academic Disciplines: Psychology, Education
Behaviorism, a learning theory in behavioral psychology linked with psychology and education, states that behaviors are acquired through association and trial and error.
The theory adopts the principle that learning must be measurable. Behaviorists do not consider inner cognitive states because they believe that thoughts cannot be measured. According to the theory, behavior must thus be examined in a systematic and observable way without taking into account internal mental states.
Pavlov’s famous behaviorist research describes how his dog came to identify the ringing of a bell with food, leading him to learn to salivate when the bell rang. We now refer to this as a Pavlovian response.
Comparably, B.F. Skinner discovered that rewarding and punishing rats can cause them to pick up maze navigation skills at ever-increasing speeds, proving the observable effects of rewards and punishments in learning.
An Example of Research with a Behaviorist Theoretical Framework
In a behaviorist-framed study, a psychologist might examine the impact of positive reinforcement on elementary school children’s classroom behavior.
The experiment could introduce a rewards system for specific behavior, like raising hands before speaking, observing changes in its frequency.
The researcher’s assumption that the reinforcement (reward) would increase the incidence of the desired behavior would be guided by the behaviorist theoretical framework.
4. Psychosocial Theory
Academic Disciplines: Psychology, Social Work
Psychosocial theory, evolving from Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, acknowledges that subconscious thoughts influence behavior. It centers on how early social interactions shape later-life outcomes.
Erik Erikson, a key figure in psychosocial theory, proposed distinct life stages, each presenting challenges like industry vs inferiority. Overcoming these challenges is crucial in order to avoid developing an inferiority complex later in life, we must learn to appreciate an industrious and creative personality.
Applied in research, psychosocial theory helps understand how individuals develop psychological complexes and navigate their origins.
An Example of Research Employing a Psychosocial Theoretical Framework
A research project rooted in a psychosocial framework might explore individual patients’ core challenges, aligning them with Erikson’s psychosocial stages. The theory guides result interpretation, suggesting past events, such as parental criticism, contribute to higher psychological stress.
Theory Academic Disciplines: Psychology, Social Work
Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theories, originating from Sigmund Freud, propose that human behavior results from interactions among three mind components: the id, ego, and superego.
In a research project, a psychology student might employ this theory to test patients’ behaviors, comparing them to Freud’s or Carl Jung’s theoretical ideas about developmental stages, the interplay between id, ego, and superego, or the subconscious’s power to influence thoughts and behavior.
This theoretical framework is rarely employed nowadays, but it serves as a foundation for following theories that are regarded in higher esteem, such as psychosocial theory, which is discussed next.
A Example of Research Employing a Psychoanalytic Theoretical Framework
A researcher applying a psychoanalytic framework may explore early childhood experiences’ influence on adult relationship patterns. Through in-depth interviews, the study delves into participants’ recollections of early relationships with parents, uncovering unconscious conflicts and defenses. The aim is to identify patterns in current relationships reflecting these early experiences and defense mechanisms.
6. Conflict Theory
Academic Disciplines: Sociology, Cultural Studies
An understanding of how power functions in a society through its economic and cultural apparatuses can be found in the framework of conflict theory.
In general terms, it serves to emphasise the significance of power and coercion, especially in relation to social class and economic capital ownership.
Typically, conflict theory involves examining how the economy, policy documents, media, etc., distribute power within a capitalist context. Some conflict theorists may explore non-capitalist settings, such as workers’ cooperatives, to envision economic and cultural life in a post-capitalist society.
An Example of a Conflict Theory Framework Study
Conflict theory is a useful tool for sociologists researching wealth and income inequality in a given urban area. In addition to taking into account the community’s political and social structures, this study may analyse economic data. An understanding of how power and wealth imbalances fuel social tensions and conflict would be guided by the conflict theory.
7. Feminist Theory
Academic Disciplines: Sociology, Cultural Studies, and more
Feminism, a social and political framework, analyzes the societal status of women and men to advocate for women’s rights and interests.
In general terms, a researcher using a feminist framework would be primarily interested in how women are positioned in relation to males in society and how an established gender hirearchy shapes and structures their lives and personal autonomy.
Of course, there are many different opinions and perspectives of view within feminism. While some feminists may only concentrate on gender in the workplace or even how women’s rights intersect with and may be impacted by trans* rights, intersectional feminists are deeply concerned with the compounding disadvantages that black, working-class, and other marginalised women face.
An Example of Research Employing a Feminist Theoretical Framework
A feminist theoretical framework could be used by a researcher to look into gender bias in large corporations’ workplace promotions. The study could involve collecting and analysing quantitative and qualitative data on employee experiences with promotion opportunities, gender ratios in upper management, and promotion rates.
The study would look for any possible systemic inequalities and how they might affect women’s career choices from a feminist standpoint.
Academic Disciplines: Sociology (refer to the separate concept: Functionalism in Psychology)
Functionalism, rooted in Durkheim, Merton, and their peers’ works, is a sociological approach assuming that each facet of society is interdependent, contributing to the overall functioning of society.
Functionalism often employs the analogy of the human body to conceptualize society. Just as organs in the human body serve specific functions, social institutions play roles in supporting the entire societal structure.
Thus, a functionalist theoretical framework seeks to analyze social institutions and structures (e.g., economic conditions, family dynamics, religious practices, media outlets) to understand how they fulfill or fail to fulfill their intended purposes.
Building on Merton’s functionalism, many sociological functionalist studies explore institutions with both manifest functions (intended purposes and consequences) and latent functions (unintended purposes and functions).
Key social institutions examined in sociological functionalism include the education system, hospitals, workplaces, factories, religion, and families.
A Study Example Employing a Functionalist Theoretical Framework
“What is the role of this institution in upholding society, the status quo, and social hierarchies?” is a fundamental question in functionalism. Using a functionalist framework, an educational researcher might investigate how schools help students get ready for different tasks in society.
They may gather information on student performance, teaching methods, curriculum, and post-graduation outcomes.
The researcher would be interested in how each component of the educational system contributes to the socialization process and gets people ready for adulthood and societal roles through a functionalist perspective.
9. Symbolic Interactionism
Academic Disciplines: Sociology (refer to: symbolic interactionism in sociology)
Symbolic interaction theory asserts that the meanings we assign to objects, processes, ideas, concepts, and systems are subjective and constructed through language, words, and communication, varying across contexts and cultures.
Symbolic interactionism is often used in qualitative social science research, particularly when interviews are used as a research method.
A theoretical framework called symbolic interaction opposes functionalism by emphasising microsociology over macrosociology.
Symbolic interactionists are interested in how individuals interpret their environment, while functionalists are typically more interested in how social structures, institutions, and concepts have significance on a social level.
Symbolic interactionism, for instance, contends that social interactions, as well as individual experiences and interpretations, are how people come to understand the world.
A Study Example Employing the Symbolic Interactionist Framework
A researcher using symbolic interactionist theory could look into how medical patients and doctors negotiate their understandings of sickness during medical consultations. The study, which would concentrate on the language and symbols used by both parties, would probably comprise observations and possibly recordings of consultations.
The way in which these interactions are constructed with mutual meanings and interpretations influencing the patient-physician relationship and treatment choices would be emphasized by a symbolic interactionist approach.
Please read through some of our other articles with examples and explanations if you’d like to learn more about research methodology.
- Research Methods
- Quantitative Research
- Qualitative Research
- Case Study Research
- Survey Research
- Conclusive Research
- Descriptive Research
- Cross-Sectional Research
- Theoretical Framework
- Conceptual Framework
- Grounded Theory
- Quasi-Experimental Design
- Mixed Method
- Correlational Research
- Randomized Controlled Trial
- Stratified Sampling
- Ghost Authorship
- Secondary Data Collection
- Primary Data Collection
- Table of Contents
- Dissertation Topic
- Thesis Statement
- Research Proposal
- Research Questions
- Research Problem
- Research Gap
- Types of Research Gaps
- Operationalization of Variables
- Literature Review
- Research Hypothesis
- Measurement of Scale
- Sampling Techniques