Analyzing the Causes of a Problem
The human condition forces us to sail into the future with our gaze fixed on the past, plotting our course not on charts that detail the shoals and ledges of the seas ahead, but on the only charts mankind possesses -- and they depict only the seas astern. Theory teaches us both how to map the waters already under the counter, and how to plot a course through those uncharted waters before the bows.
-- Robert B. Seidman ( 1992, pp. 76-77)
Think for a minute about how you go about analyzing a problem, even if you make no attempt to use theory in a formal way. Likely, a part of the process you go through is to think about what common threads or themes run through the events, sometimes over years, that have characterized the problem situation that concerns you. You try to make sense out of what has been happening in terms of the patterns familiar to you from your own experience. You may involve others in this reflection as well. Making sense of the problem situation thus becomes a kind of matching procedure in which you characterize both the events in the problem situation you are trying to analyze and those you have experienced at other times and places, relating one set of events to the other.
Such relatively informal thinking is essentially similar to more formal procedures of using theories to analyze problem situations. It is important to recognize these similarities for two reasons: (a) to realize that using formal theories is an extension of what you have been doing most of your life and, therefore, is not strange to you, and (b) to build on this existing experiential platform in learning and using systematic approaches to analysis.
Emphasizing the act of characterizing makes us realize that even in everyday reflection, which we may not think of as theoretical activity, we select some "facts" to attend to rather than others and we generalize (i.e., recontextualize) these facts