Academic journal article Research and Theory for Nursing Practice

Theoretical Substruction Illustrated by the Theory of Learned Resourcefulness

Academic journal article Research and Theory for Nursing Practice

Theoretical Substruction Illustrated by the Theory of Learned Resourcefulness

Article excerpt

This article describes the process of theoretical substruction and uses this process to examine the significance of Rosenbaum's resourcefulness theory for nursing research and practice. The article discusses relocation as a phenomenon of interest to gero-psychiatric nurses working with elders who have relocated to retirement communities, illustrated by the theory of learned resourcefulness. The literature was reviewed to assess the congruence between the theoretical and operational systems suggested by Rosenbaum's resourcefulness theory. A model of learned resourcefulness is presented that includes middle-range concepts, relational statements, and propositions derived from the research literature. Theoretical substruction provides a mechanism for testing middle-range theories that may contribute to nursing knowledge development.

Keywords: theory; substruction; learned resourcefulness; relocation

Science, as a body of knowledge, refers to "cumulative theory and research findings that are generic, re-researchable, valid, and generalizable" (Hardy & Conway, 1988, p. 3). Nursing theories and conceptual frameworks are thus essential to advance nursing science (Frederickson, 1992; Schoenhofer, 1993; Zauszniewski, 1995a). However, they reflect highly abstract constructs (Hodnicki, Horner, & Simmons, 1993; Zauszniewski, 1995a). Theoretical substruction provides a logical picture that can clarify models, guide research, and allow theory testing (McQuiston & Campbell, 1997); it is a hierarchical model that progresses from the abstract to the concrete, relating key concepts, propositions, and operationalization (McQuiston & Campbell, 1997). In theoretical substruction the researcher identifies the major variables in a study, analyzes the level of abstraction of the variables, and identifies hypothesized relationships among variables, thus connecting the theory to the methodology (Beattie & Algase, 2002; Dulock & Holzemer, 1991; Dunn, 2004). It is a dynamic thinking process (Wolf & Heinzer, 1999) that enhances the researchers' ability to assess the congruence between theoretical and operational systems in a research design (Dulock & Holzemer, 1991).

Substruction is the opposite of construction; therefore it can be used to reevaluate models and make the results of theory testing explicit (McQuiston & Campbell, 1997). It is especially important for graduate students and new researchers because it helps them rely on their knowledge of infrastructure and reconstruct details when needed (Bruner, 1963). When Wolf and Heinzer (1999) surveyed students about their experiences with a substruction assignment, the students indicated that the assignment was difficult, challenging, confusing, and even frustrating; however, they finally "got it." They called for more friendly literature on the phases and elements of substruction but admitted that although challenging, the substruction process stimulated their critical thinking (Wolf & Heinzer, 1999).

Doctoral students have shared the same experience in terms of the challenges of theoretical substruction. However, they would also agree that theoretical substruction stimulates critical thinking and helps them formulate, clarify, and better understand their research. The process is particularly challenging where research is scarce or completely absent. This article examines the process of theoretical substruction and illustrates use of the process to examine the significance of Rosenbaum's resourcefulness theory for nursing research and practice.

THE RESEARCH EXAMPLE

The process of theoretical substruction isolates concepts, relational statements, and propositions from an existing theory and arranges them into a diagram that has vertical and horizontal configurations representing theoretical and operational systems (see Figure 1) (Dunn, 2004) to assess the congruence between the theoretical and operational definition in a research design and to identify the theoretical relationships among the variables of interest (Zauszniewski, 1995a). …

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