Criminological Knowledge and the Paradox of Observational Theories

Bruce DiCristina, University of North Dakota

ABSTRACT
The theory-laden nature of observation is a multidimensional problem that has significant implications for the construction and evaluation of criminological knowledge. A sound understanding of its dimensions can help curb the production of careless knowledge claims. In this paper, I examine one general dimension of this multidimensional problem: The paradox of "observational theories." The process of theory evaluation can be viewed as entailing at least two theories, the theory one wishes to test and a more-or-less distinct theory that is used to identify or construct "facts." However, the existence of two theories creates a dilemma. If the knowledge claims of the theory being tested conflict with the "facts" of the observational theory, which theory is wrong? Moreover, can the theory being tested be reinterpreted as a set of "facts" that can be used to evaluate the observational theory? In criminology, observational theories frequently lack plausibility, and thus this paradox warrants attention.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006