David M. Penn
The Role of Theory
Theory refers to a particular kind of illumination. It is a structured body of principles and concepts with intent to provide insight or explanation pertaining to a particular phenomenon. Consequently, theories attempt to explain why and how something operates the way it does and postulates what kind of implications or impacts it may have (Browne & Keeley, 2007, pp. 4-6). In essence, theoretical perspectives provide an opportunity for critical reflection by the global community. The aim is to shape how scholar-practitioners identify a defined research dilemma, how to frame the research and methodological parameters with which to address it. The connection between theory and research is reciprocal. Without critical evaluation of research, academics are condemned to merely regurgitate espoused thought or practice. Through theorization and research, Ph.D. students generate interconnected ideas that are systematically formulated and organized, illuminate issues and confirm or disprove assertions using various research methods (Brookfield, 1995, pp. 185-206).
The Influence of Theory
As asserted by Brookfield (1995) the study of theoretical canon is fundamental to the Ph.D. student’s development (p. 189). Essential to this process of study, one must consistently ask the right type of questions throughout critical reading (Browne & Keeley, 2007). In Brookfield’s (1995) view, the questions should be epistemological, experiential, communicative, and political in nature (p. 189). Having a historical perspective of ideas presented in theory is essential through the epistemological lens. It asks for traditions that are intellectually significant to be evaluated not only by the scrutiny of the actual evidence provided but also research methods and empirical data (Brookfield, 1995, p. 2). Wright (2008) supports this line of questioning contending that the ability to speak knowledgeably about theory is the capacity to interpret and understand the analysis and data and how it relates to the theory (p. 2). The responsibility is on the student to be well-read and analyze accordingly. Experiential questions lead pupils to examine the autobiographical nature of the written work. There may be biases, culturally based distortions or ethical conundrums that may influence the author that the reader must take into account (p. 193). A form of communicative inquiry affords the reader insight into how the author attempts to facilitate understanding of the theory through language. The careful selection and arrangement of terminology and general wording are needed in order to reach the broad spectrum of readers and actively engage the audience (p. 198). Politically motivated questions are necessary so the reader may deduce whose interest does this work benefit and what actions could be inspired or impeded (p. 200). Ph.D. students asking these types of questions may be able to filter intense amounts of literary stimuli, make sense of information presented and apply or dismiss it appropriately (Brookfield, 1995, pp. 185-206).
Primary Strategy of Theoretical and Critical Reflection