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Reading list Theories: guidance on theorising CO:RE at LSE Published: 09 Dec 2021 Last updated: 02 Nov 2022

Theorising - a guided reading list with key texts

This section offers methodological and conceptual guidance on theory – what is theory, approaches to developing theory, key challenges in theorising and how to overcome them. This has been designed especially for researchers and research users concerned with children’s digital lives. It focuses on the task, and associated challenges, of developing, applying, revising and reflecting on theory. Given the focus on children’s digital lives, it draws in particular on ideas about theory in the social sciences, including media and communication theory, comparative cultural theory, and theories of childhood and child development.

Citation: Livingstone, S., Stoilova, M., and Rahali, M. (2022). Developing theory: a guided reading list. CO:RE – Children Online: Research and Evidence. 

Useful starting points

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Dawes, S. (2017). What is media theory?. Media Theory, 1(1), 1–17.

Setting out the aims of the Media Theory journal, Dawes argues that the theorisation of ‘media’ needs to consider its different forms and boundaries, as well as the boundaries of ‘media theory’. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Harrington, A. (2011). Social Theory. Oxford Bibliographies. 

This provides a brief introduction to social theory, its scope, key concerns and classical theorists. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Manghani, S. (2017). Open theory. Media Theory, 1(1), 162–167.

This article offers a playful guide on how to create theory, and on the processes of thinking, situating and writing theory. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Sutton, R.I. & Staw, B.M. (1995). What theory is not. Administrative Science Quarterly, 40(3), 371–384.

This article discusses the importance of theory for social science and identifies several principles of what theory is not in an attempt to create guidance on how to create theory.

Further reading

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Banaji, S. (2016). Global Research on Children’s Online Experiences: Addressing Diversities and Inequalities. Global Kids Online. 

Banaji explores existing inequalities between research and theory from the Global North and the Global South, and criticises the processes of power and privilege that underpin the research process.

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Berger, P. L. and Luckmann, T. (1966) The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Doubleday & Company, New York.

This is a classic text taking a social constructionist approach to social science research. The authors explore how knowledge is formed, and how it is preserved and altered within society. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Dankasa, J. (2015). Developing a theory in academic research: A review of experts’ advice. Journal of Information Science Theory and Practice, 3(3), 64–74.

Clearly articulating new theories from research remains a challenge. Dankasa explains the concept of ‘theory’ and the different components that make up a theory before offering suggestion as to what makes a good theory based on collated advice from scholars. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Donsbach, W. (2006). The identity of communication research. Journal of Communication, 56(3), 437–448.

Donsbach argues that scholars are limited in their ability to keep an overview of their disciplines as the field grows much faster than any scholar could process, hence the difficulty in offering a synopsis or claiming novelty. Furthermore, the scope of any such claims carries a bias. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Fazi, M.B. (2017). The ends of media theory. Media Theory, 1(1), 107–121.

Fazi discusses what ‘theory’ might mean in relation to media and media studies, offering reflections on the role of theory in general and of media theory specifically. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Forsyth, P. (2018). "What theory is not" revisited. Journal of Research on Organization in Education, 2, v–x. 

This article provides guidance on how to link theory and evidence. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Glynn, K. (2020). Critical Media Theory. Oxford Bibliographies. doi:10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0333

Glynn provides a brief discussion of the origins and historical development of critical media theory, as well as its key schools of thought and theorists. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Holmström, J. (2005). Theorizing in IS research: What came before and what comes next?. Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, 17(1), 167–174.

This article offers a discussion of how to update existing theories and handle theoretical contradictions. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Home, R. (2017). Going south and engaging non-Western modernities. Media Theory, 1(1), 65–73.

This article points to the importance of understanding the complex contexts of the Global South and how they demand rethinking of theories based on the Global North including what counts as media. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Leeds-Hurwitz, W. (2012). These fictions we call disciplines. Electronic Journal of Communication/La Revue Electronique de Communication, 22(3–4).

This article argues that academic disciplines are social constructions – shaped by scholars and also shaping of scholars. It explores how disciplines have become taken for granted and argues that conceptualising disciplinary boundaries as fluid can enhance our thinking, while the juxtaposition of ideas or tools from different domains encourages new ideas. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Miller, D. (2021). A theory of a theory of the smartphone. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 24(5), 860–876.

Miller criticises the practices of elitism and exclusion behind theorising and proposes a ‘de-fetishised’ theory via an example of theorising the smartphone. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Mitchell, W.J.T. (2017). Counting media: Some rules of thumb. Media Theory, 1(1), 12–16.

Mitchell offers a discussion of what media theory is and how to theorise it. He suggests that media needs to be theorised according to several reference frameworks, including image/music/text (drawing on the work of Barthes), a model of communication, medium, time and pace.

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Munger, K., Guess, A.M. & Hargittai, E. (2021). Quantitative description of digital media: A modest proposal to disrupt academic publishing. Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media, 1. 

As an introduction to the rationale for this new journal, this article criticises existing research that tends to reflect mainly dominant theories and conventional wisdom. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Park, D.W., Pooley, J. & Simonson, P. (2021). History of media studies, in the plural. History of Media Studies, 1. 

This editorial introduction discusses the historical development of media studies and the concept of ‘media’ and argues for decentring knowledge-making. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Raetzsch, C. (2017). 10 propositions for doing media theory (again). Media Theory, 1(1), 179–186.

In this article, Raetzsch interrogates how digital media shape our perceptions, and questions what is commonly understood. The text offers 10 propositions on how to understand and do media theory, including that media theory is transnational, interdisciplinary and applied, and has a context, motivation and position. 

image/svg+xml art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed by PLoS. This version with transparent background. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svg art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, JakobVoss, and AnonMoos http://www.plos.org/ Rivard, S. (2021). Theory building is neither an art nor a science. It is a craft. Journal of Information Technology, 36(3), 316–328. 

Rivard argues that researchers mistakenly hold the romantic view that theory is the result of a deductive process and should be flawless, while the outcomes of theorising are, in fact, often incomplete and require perseverance. Rivard offers a spiral model of theory building and proposes design principles. 

Swedberg, R. (2012). Theorizing in sociology and social science: Turning to the context of discovery. Theory and Society, 41, 1–40.

This article proposes a general structure of theorising that relies on exploring empirical evidence, creativity and iteration. The steps of the model include observation, conceptualising and developing an early-stage theory with tentative explanations and justification that puts the tentative theory to the test. 

More reading lists on other concepts

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Authors

Sonia-Livingstone.jpg

Sonia Livingstone

Sonia Livingstone DPhil (Oxon), FBA, FBPS, FAcSS, FRSA, OBE, is a professor in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science (UK). She currently directs the projects “Children’s Data and Privacy Online,” “Gobal Kids Online” (with UNICEF) and “Parenting for a Digital Future”, and she is Deputy Director of the UKRI-funded “Nurture Network.” Since founding the 33 countries EU Kids Online research network, Sonia has advised the UK government, European Commission, European Parliament, Council of Europe, OECD and UNICEF, among others, on children’s internet risks, safety, media literacy and rights in digital environments. She blogs at www.parenting.digital. She is leader of the CO:RE work package 5 on theory.

LSE_Mariya-Stoilova.jpg

Mariya Stoilova

Mariya Stoilova is a post-doctoral researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) working on children’s rights, online risks and opportunities, and well-being. She is member of the CO:RE work package 5 on theory.

London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
CO:RE at LSE
Theories

The team at the LSE works on theory, providing a series of mutually cross-fertilising mechanisms to coordinate and support the theoretical dimension of research. The team identifies valuable theoretical concepts that offer multidisciplinary breadth and depth in understanding the long-term impact of digital media on children and youth, and coallates all in a comprehensive theories toolkit that provides guidance throughout the theory pathway, from (research) question to generating theory.

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