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A Systems Approach to Understanding Theory: Finding the Core, Identifying Opportunities for Improvement, and Integrating Fragmented Fields


  • Steven E. Wallis

    Corresponding author
    1. Foundation for the Advancement of Social Theory, Petaluma, CA, USA
    2. Capella University, Minneapolis, MN, USA
    • Correspondence to: Steven E. Wallis, Foundation for the Advancement of Social Theory, 1656 Wynoochee Way, Petaluma, CA 94954, USA.


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When discussing a theory, are we talking about the ‘same thing’? Here, two analyses of institutional theory find more conflict than agreement. This opens a question—how best to investigate, understand, and communicate our understanding of theoretical constructs. A third analysis uses an emerging systems-based methodology to look at theory as a system unto itself. In that study, the system of theory is quantified in terms of its systemic structure and complexity. This approach suggests new ways to understand the core and belt of a theory and provides a path towards integrating disparate theories in fragmented fields and a more objective way to advance theories towards greater effectiveness in research and practical application. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.