Foundations of Science

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 353–362 | Cite as

Abstraction and Insight: Building Better Conceptual Systems to Support More Effective Social Change

  • Steven E. WallisEmail author


When creating theory to understand or implement change at the social and/or organizational level, it is generally accepted that part of the theory building process includes a process of abstraction. While the process of abstraction is well understood, it is not so well understood how abstractions “fit” together to enable the creation of better theory. Starting with a few simple ideas, this paper explores one way we work with abstractions. This exploration challenges the traditionally held importance of abstracting concepts from experience. That traditional focus has been one-sided—pushing science toward the discovery of data without the balancing process that occurs with the integration of the data. Without such balance, the sciences have been pushed toward fragmentation. Instead, in the present paper, new emphasis is placed on the relationship between abstract concepts. Specifically, this paper suggests that a better theory is one that is constructed of concepts that exist on a similar level of abstraction. Suggestions are made for quantifying this claim and using the insights to enable scholars and practitioners to create more effective theory.


Conceptual systems Theory building Abstraction Metatheory  Theory of theory 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Foundation for the Advancement of Social TheoryPetalumaUSA
  2. 2. Capella UniversityMinneapolisUSA

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