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Forum Theorizing in the context of professional practice: the case for middle-range theories

Building Research & Information , Volume 36 (6): 649-654 – Nov 1, 2008


© 2008 Informa plc
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Forum Theorizing in the context of professional practice: the case for middle-range theories


This commentary seeks to complement the contribution of the Building Research & Information special issue on 'Developing Theories for the Built Environment' (2008) by highlighting the important role of middle-range theories within the context of professional practice. Middle-range theories provide a form of theorizing that lies between abstract grand theorizing and atheoretical local descriptions. They are also characterized by the way in which they directly engage with the concerns of practitioners. In the context of professional practice, any commitment to theorizing should habitually be combined with an equivalent commitment to empirical research; rarely is it appropriate to neglect one in favour of the other. Any understanding of the role that theory plays in professional practice must further be informed by Sch n's seminal ideas on reflective practice. Practitioners are seen to utilize theories as inputs to a process of continuous reflection, thereby guarding against complacency and routinization. The authors would challenge any assumption that academics alone are responsible for generating theories, thereby limiting the role of practitioners to their application. Such a dichotomized view is contrary to established ideas on Mode 2 knowledge production and current trends towards co-production research in the context of the built environment. Ce commentaire vise compl ter l'article du num ro sp cial de Building Research & Information sur «Le D veloppement de Th ories pour l'Environnement B ti» (2008) en soulignant le r le important des th ories de moyenne port e dans le contexte des usages professionnels. Les th ories de moyenne port e assurent une forme de th orisation qui se situe entre les grandes th orisations abstraites et les descriptions locales o la th orie est absente. Elles se caract risent galement par la mani re dont elles s'int ressent directement aux pr occupations des praticiens. Dans le contexte des usages professionnels, tout engagement th oriser devrait habituellement tre conjugu un engagement quivalent envers la recherche empirique; il est rarement opportun de n gliger l'un au b n fice de l'autre. Toute compr hension du r le que la th orie joue dans les usages professionnels doit en outre tre influenc e par les id es s minales de Sch n sur la pratique r flexive. Les praticiens sont consid r s comme utilisant les th ories comme facteurs intrants dans un processus de r flexion continue, se gardant ainsi de toute autosatisfaction et de toute tendance la routine. Les auteurs contesteraient toute hypoth se selon laquelle les universitaires sont seulement responsables de la cr ation des th ories, ce qui limiterait de ce fait le r le des praticiens leur application. Un tel point de vue dichotomis est contraire aux id es tablies concernant la production de connaissances de Mode 2 et aux tendances actuelles en mati re de recherche sur la coproduction dans le contexte de l'environnement b ti. Mots cl s: environnement b ti, recherche sur la coproduction, production de connaissances, th orie de moyenne port e, pratique r flexive
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