Barbarians at the Gate: Theory's Fresh Strategy for Rebuffing the Empiricists

T. Hank Robinson, University of Nebraska at Omaha

Despite calls for greater attention to formalized theory construction, falsifiable propositions, and theoretical integration, the link between criminological theory and research seems increasingly tenuous. Empiricists argue that theory lacks sufficient power to contextualize research and that exploratory methods such as data mining and factor analysis deserve greater respect in refereed journals. This paper reviews the current state of substantive theory in criminology and recognizes the limitations of formalization and integration strategies. Theory's central role to the development of a scientific discipline is reinforced and the important difference between "theory as tool" and "theory as explanation" is illustrated. Theorists charge that methodologists slight theory, but here it is shown that theorists have long neglected conceptual development. Finally the paper outlines how a renewed focus on the improvement of concepts can restore theory's relevance to researchers and amplify substantive theory's power of explanation.

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Updated 05/20/2006