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Theory is a construct that is a general representation of an actual or constructed truth. When the theory represents an actual, usually recurring, truth or reality it becomes a law. If it does not represent a proved reality, it continues to remain a theory. In such cases we may also find competing theories. eg. we can find many different theories that deal with issue of capitalism and its origin. Such theories are at best perspectives. In social sciences, for those perspectives that has gained popularity, we speak of them as a theory. For example the Marxist theory, the Neoliberal theory etc. Also such a theory can themselves be a conspectus of theories and perspectives propounded by various scholars. eg. in the framework of Marxist theory we can find a huge number of scholars who have contributed to its development in the various dimensions of scholarship disciplines.
Particularly in social sciences, we must remember that each theory is partial. No theory is able to provide a complete answer. If that were possible we would very well have been able to wear our reading glasses for the sun-goggles as well (or for that matter reached the absolute truth). Equally true of the theories is the logic that each theory tries to analyse the same phenomena and tries to fit the problem to its own frame of analysis. Its like the world trying to adjust according to the needs of the goggles. In such situation the analyst uses an inductive knowledge whereby he comes to a general conclusion from a particular phenomena, instead of coming to the conclusion from a large number of sources of generality.
The theories / perspectives have relevance not because of its ability to draw the line, but also because it is able to see the thing from a particular additional point of view that is not visible to the ordinary oberver of events. In this sense, there is a ‘symbiotic’ relation that the different perspectives are able to give in totality a rather complete picture of a phenomena. Thus if elite theory would tend to justify the social hierarchy, Marxism can as well give the other view. And even though contrary, we can make “more” sense of reality only when we collate these together. So even though truths might not be multiple, the approach to that truth certainly are multiple…and none of that is able to find the ‘absolute’.
In contrast to social sciences, the physical sciences are on a more solid footing in terms of clarity on the issue of theory. Here the process of theorisation starts just as in social sciences : from Hypothesis to arriving at a Conclusion. However many of such theories gain the stature of a law because such of the theories uncover the natural realities. eg. the law of gravitation etc.
However even in sciences – particularly in areas like medicine, natural sciences including the physical sciences, we find plethora of theories that are far from becoming law. For example what is the origin of the universe? We can find umpteen theories regarding it. Similarly areas of geology, medicine etc. are filled with assumptions and theories. For example the different streams of medicine like allopathy, homeopathy, ayurveda etc have different assumptions regarding the human body as well as their approach to cure are based on different premises that are fundamentally different.
It is in this way the vast sea of knowledge gets explored by studies and research. A research means that a particularly thing is re-searched with an attempt to find newer things and gain better perspective particularly in light of greater insight gained in related fields. For example research in areas of History and Archaeology has gained tremendously with the usage of scientific tools like radio carbon dating that help to determine the time period of an excavation in a better way. Satellite image mapping is also used to understand the aspects of archaeology like flow of rivers etc. However dispite these advances one cannot come to a definite conclusion in many of such matters – why did a particular civilisation actually decline? Such questions may be difficult to answer even with sophisticated scientific tools – one can at best theorise about such issues.
Theorising a phenomenon is thus a systematic way to understand why the particular phenomenon occurs. Systematisation in the form of a theory is thus the most important dimension of research that makes for a coherent understanding of the issue and brings together disjointed facts from the vast information available around us. It is in this way that disciplines of knowledge expand and are able to explore wider vistas.