The terms paradigm and theory are predominantly used in the field of social science. However, a clear-cut distinction between the two poses a slight problem, and therefore, they are used interchangeably many times. For the sake of social science and the sake of this article, we need to distinguish between the two terms. If we can understand the analytical distinction between the two, it would lead to forming a handy framework for connecting social scientific ways of thinking and research methods.
Let's start with the term Paradigm. Think of it as an analytical lens to view the world and understand the experiences of humans. Take the case of ‘abortion’. This case, for one, would have various views on it. To some, the discretion of the woman in need of an abortion is of utmost importance. After all, it is a medical procedure, and the ‘yes or no’ of the person on whom the procedure is being done holds a lot of significance. Then again, many consider it murder, and society at large should be the decision-makers on whether such a medical procedure should be allowed. Each party is confident about their views on an extremely sensitive issue.
The problem here is that each party is forming their opinions based on certain assumptions about how the world should work. The assumptions are formed from a political perspective or what your parents have always told you or maybe on religious grounds. What we are essentially saying out here is that each party’s stance is influenced by a paradigm. In other words, a paradigm includes what we know what we can know, and lastly, how we can know the same.
Coming to theories, they also cover the part where one is trying to understand the interaction between humans. Their mandate can be sweeping in nature, and at times, they aim to cover topics like the existence and continuation of society. But their focus might not be as wide as in the case of Paradigms. More often than not, they are just trying to help us understand a single phenomenon. In essence, one can think of them as ‘an explanatory statement that fits the evidence’. In a nutshell, theories back up the paradigm by explaining the ‘how’ behind the ‘why’.
Paradigm vs. Theory
The main purpose of both paradigm and theory is roughly the same, and that is to define and explain different concepts in science and to explain various phenomena. While a theory uses certain criteria to explain the phenomenon, the function of the paradigm is to provide the framework for the theory to be tested. In other words, the main difference between paradigm and theory is that the theory concentrates on explaining the basic cause of a phenomenon while the job of a paradigm is to provide the background for testing and measuring the theory.
Difference Between Paradigm and Theory in Tabular Form
|Parameters of comparison||Paradigm||Theory|
|Which comes first?||This comes before writing a theory||When analysis and evaluation happen, the theory comes after the Paradigm|
|Narrow vs. broad approach||This refers to a broad background or framework of a particular discipline||This is narrower in its approach and explains a specific phenomenon within the ambit of a paradigm.|
|The General vs. detailed approach||Provides a general perspective||A particular phenomenon is explained in detail here|
|Assumptions vs. evidence||It is based on basic assumptions||It is based on empirical evidence|
|Purpose||Providing a framework for understanding a field of study||Predictions of future events can be made since the data has been tested in this case.|
What Is a Paradigm?
The word ‘paradigm’ originated from the Greek language, where it was called ‘paradeigma’. The meaning of the Greek word is simple, pattern, or example. Paradigm essentially means ideas, postulates, and research material that help to form a theory. It does not have a proof of existence and can, therefore, be deemed as philosophical and having an approach that is general at best. Then again, it can be considered in a scientific sense as well because, at times, it highlights reality from different angles, which is, of course, for the benefit of the intellectuals. It helps in better understanding of nature vis a vis its different aspects.
There is a need to understand the term paradigm shift. When we talk of science, we are talking of the absolute truth, and in such a case, two paradigms cannot exist simultaneously. This is when the term paradigm shift comes into play.
A paradigm helps us view and understand the world around us by providing a central hypothetical framework. Just like when we breathe in air, we don’t notice it. Similarly, a paradigm can be accepted in a very broad sense, to the extent that it might not be noticed at all. To quote an example – in olden times, astronomers assumed, and it became a paradigm, that the Earth is at the center of the solar system, and it is the sun and the planets that revolve around it. But then, a new paradigm appeared that gave us an entirely different view of the solar system. According to the latter, it’s the sun, not the Earth, which is at the centre. Thus, a paradigm shift happened, which encouraged the community of scientists as well as the general public to accept a new mindset as far as the world is concerned.
Types of Paradigms
When the topic of discussion is related to science, this is the first of the various frameworks we are about to discuss that one thinks of. The principles of knowability and objectivity guide the paradigm of Positivism. This paradigm builds on the assumption that empirical data should be used to study society. According to Positivism, the researchers should let go of their biases and values to reach an objective and empirical truth. It, therefore, promotes a value-free sociology. It needs to be mentioned that August Comte, the person behind the term sociology, was in favor of sociology being called a positivist science.
According to the positivist paradigm, it is ‘the truth’ we are after. But under this second paradigm, ‘the truth’ is always changing, and it is constructed by society. Further, this paradigm says that through our interactions and the meaning we derive from those interactions, we are responsible for creating reality. ‘The truth’ is not something that exists, and it is not something that we discover. In other words, this paradigm says that our realities come into being through the social context and interactions.
Power, inequality, and social change define this paradigm. The ideas portrayed by this paradigm are the results of the ideas presented by social theorists of yesteryears. It is characterized by perspectives that are diverse in nature. The critical paradigm endorses the notion that objectivity and value-free ideas are not at the heart of social science. If a social change is on the cards, then according to this paradigm, it requires scientific investigation.
This paradigm challenges all that is taken for granted by the social scientists. They refute the claim of the positivists on the concepts of objectivity and knowable truth.
This paradigm does not concur with what is stated by social constructionists either. The latter say that the truth lies in the eye of the group that is in agreement. However, according to postmodernists, the truth can never be known because whenever an investigation takes place, the researcher tends to attach his version of the truth to the investigation.
The postmodernists are not in agreement with the critical paradigm either. They challenge the critical paradigm when the latter claims that power and inequality change the reality and the truth.
What Is a Theory?
A theory comes into existence when a hypothesis has been verified, and the results on which it is based have been proven by scientific methods. It has a clear-cut approach and can be ideological in nature. Since it concentrates on being specific, there is a slight risk of it being proven wrong.
So, how does a theory come into existence? It is based on a paradigm, and only when the hypothesis, statements, and postulates of the paradigm have been verified to be true does it come into being. Scientific theories are the most common type of theory, but various other fields also use the concept of theories. As far as scientific theories are concerned, a theory can be deemed to be a list of statements and/or explanations of a phenomenon that happens at regular intervals. Since the phenomenon in question is recurring in nature, the theory is established only after repeated scientific calculations and hypotheses.
Types of Theories
This gives us answers to how different parts of society work together and the relationship between the same.
This keeps the organization of the society as a background, and based on that, it tells us who the winners are and who all lost.
The Theory of Symbolic Interactionism
Keeping the interactions in the backdrop tells us first how the meaning is created and then negotiated.
In this case, costs and rewards have to be kept in mind so that we can understand how behavior is impacted by them.
Main Differences Between Paradigm and Theory (In Points)
The basic definition of Paradigm and Theory will give us a good understanding of the difference between them. A Paradigm defines the scope of a scientific inquiry with the help of beliefs, rules, and, last but not least, assumptions. A Theory comes into existence when a particular phenomenon needs to be explained.
It is the job of a Paradigm to provide a structure for the Theory. The job of the Theory is to work within the framework that the paradigm has created and to explore the various possibilities within that structure.
Background vs. Explanation
The paradigm provides the framework within which the theory is tested. As mentioned before, the theory works within that framework and explains the phenomenon based on the criteria developed by the paradigm.
Paradigm serves as the reference point for a theory. Keeping the framework developed by a Theory in mind, the Theory serves as a hypothesis for the research work.
A combination of research methods, postulates, theories, and standards comprises a Paradigm. A proven hypothesis constitutes a theory.
Considered to Be
A paradigm is considered to be a background and a framework for reference. A theory is considered to be a tool for the creation of knowledge.
The paradigm is used mainly for the presentation of reality and explains the research in question. A theory goes a step further. It is used to predict phenomena, which could be natural or an existing phenomenon.
A paradigm presents a theory tangibly and visibly. It, therefore, might not be a hundred percent accurate. A theory, on the other hand, goes through testing and can therefore be proven wrong.
A paradigm is generally philosophical in nature as opposed to a more ideological theory.
A paradigm is characterized by a general approach, whereas a theory is more specific as far as the topic is concerned.
There are various questions about the society. This includes what and how we ask them. Moreover, we also have apprehensions as to what we may find. Paradigms and theories, along with the different levels of analysis, have to find an order in which one moves ahead in the process of research. Achieving that order is an important factor when we finally decide what questions we are considering to ask of the social world. It isn’t always a practical approach to utilize too many levels of analysis in the research being conducted. Therefore, one needs to be careful as to what level of analysis one is deploying. All this can be affected by our personal biases. Thus, many feel that social science is biased by its very nature, but that’s not true. Also, the other extreme is not true. That is, we cannot claim to be free of values.
Postmodernists and social constructionists generally think that bias is an inherent factor when doing research. But as and when we do research, our goal should be to prove them wrong. A little bias cannot be ruled out entirely, but it needs to be recognized and dealt with. We all have personal approaches, which could be any of these – theories and levels of analysis to do our work. We need to have a thorough understanding of these approaches and the frameworks we develop for the successful completion of our investigation that is based on research. Finally, we need to be thorough when we read and try to understand other people’s work.