Criminologists can define a theory in various ways. In the second chapter, Schmalleger gives two different definitions of this concept and then suggests his own (29). To summarize all of them, a theory refers to a set of propositions that are connected to each other and provide an explanation of “why events occur in the manner that they do” (Schmalleger 29).
Theories are based on and can be improved by investigations, evidence observation, hypothesis testing and repetitive revisions. From the very beginning, the author also gives an example of a situation, which proves that theory developing is not so simple and monosemantic as it seems to be.
Theories are not the bare claims. They are supported by data and research, and that is the backbone of every theory. The first step that has to be made is the problem identification. That is when first hypotheses are built. The most important thing at this stage is to present all concepts in the terms of measurable variables since only in such a case any further testing of the hypotheses is possible.
The next step is to select a research design, which is “a kind of road map” to the whole process of research (Schmalleger 33). Indeed, it is a plan, logic, and structure of any study.
After a research design has already been chosen, it is necessary to decide what type of data has to be collected and which of the methods of information gathering is needed in this particular case. At this stage of research, it is important to remember that the problem that has to be solved defines the type of data needed, and the type of data, in its turn, determines the gathering method.
The primary methods are: surveys (questionnaires, interviews, etc.), case studies (detailed investigations of particular cases), participant observations (either undercover or evident), self-reports, and, finally, secondary analysis of the information that has been gathered.
When data is collected, it has to be presented in measurable variables to make mathematical and statistical analysis possible. Those help to summarize the information and make conclusions, which build up a theory.
The most serious drawbacks of theory developing are the factors that can sway the outcomes of the research. Because of them, the information gathered most likely will turn out to be wrong and irrelevant and, consequently, change the whole theory. For example, while collecting the information from people, one of the biggest problems is that all of them perceive the events in their own way, through the prism of emotions, feelings, thoughts and so on.
That is why two individuals can describe the same situation absolutely differently while being sure that they are telling the truth. Another factor that can jeopardize the results of the research is reactivity. When people know that they have been observed or surveyed, they usually act differently. Moreover, even if they do not know it for sure, the presence of a dictaphone or a camera will probably affect the outcome of a conversation as well.
To conclude, theory developing is a complicated and delicate process, which depends on many variables. For building a relevant theory, data collecting is not enough. It is also necessary to minimize the factors that can have an adverse impact on survey outcomes, present all of the concepts in the terms of measurable variables, use various mathematical and statistical techniques, as well as take into account many other nuances.
Schmalleger, Frank. Criminology Today. 7th ed. 2015. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education. Print.