In search of an adequate theory of human interaction; an account of my thoughts on scientific research.
 Introduction (the context of this paper)
 Ontology and the definition of the object of research (What is?)
 Epistemology and the semantic theory of human interaction (Why do we study ‘What is’?)
 Methodology and the way to do research (How do we study ‘What is’?)
 Choosing a theoretical framework (A possible way to study nursing leadership)
Choosing a theoretical framework
In the foregoing chapters I have articulated my view on some issues concerning the ontology, epistemology and methodology of my research.
In doing so I now can summarize the criteria with which I will judge the suitability of a theory or model to help investigate my subject: nursing leadership in general hospitals.
In the ontology section I have stated that people are pursuing goals (sometimes undeliberately), make representations of themselves and the world they live in and communicate and behave in an empiric-semantic space. People occasionally behave unconsciously, have habits and make choices. They play/have roles; lie when they think it’s necessary (even lie to themselves sometimes), have emotions, etc. It is impossible to give a complete description of humans here. In “Social theory” Elliott (2010) summarizes the social theories that have been proposed from Henri Saint Simon and Auguste Comte on and the way the authors have defined humans.
In the epistemology section I have explained my Piagetian view of knowledge creation: brain-world interaction leading to structural concepts like causality and object permanence used to make causal representations of ‘invariant’ objects interacting in the (social) world. As explained, the production of knowledge is the result of the struggle of the brain to master the continuously developing and changing world it lives in. Humans make representations of the world they live in and of the interactions they are involved with. Fujita (2007) and his colleagues at the Psychology Union of the University of Kyoto developed a model that integrates all their cognitive studies on this matter. It is called the “Cosmos in the mind” and focuses on three cognitive spaces: the interaction of humans with a) natural reality, b) social reality and c) with internal reality (the self).
In the methodology section I have articulated the acceptance of method diversity in doing research, the integration and competition of theories, the application of theoretical principles in practice and the necessity for clarifying the concepts of theories in relation to each other and reality and summarized very shortly some ideas of Hempel (1965). Here I would like to stress the importance of defining and distinguishing well the concepts we so often use in the (social) sciences like, ‘causality’, ‘event’, ‘process’, ‘function’ and ‘mechanisms’. Van der Stel (2009) for example, explains the differences between some of these concepts in the philosophy of Mario Bunge (an Argentine philosopher and physicist mainly active in Canada, born in 1919, Buenos Aires): the concepts refer all to change; an ‘event’ is a change in one step; a ‘process’ is a sequence of changes of the state of a concrete thing (an object); a ‘function’ refers to what a system does (and it often refers to some processes); a ‘mechanism’ is also a process, but refers to how the system works and develops. And it is important to state that human interaction, communication and behaviour is fundamentally indeterministic and highly unpredictable because of its complexity (Cziko, 1989).
Let me now come to the problem of how to choose a suitable theoretical framework for my research; a problem that leads me to formulate the following criteria for choosing a theory:
1. Humans should be treated / handled as complex bio-psychic systems that interact with each other and with the physical world they live in;
2. Humans perceive and interpret external (physical and social) and internal signals, stimuli or signs;
3. Humans develop a concept of their identity, their ‘self’;
4. Humans use physical displacement (as signs) and language to communicate to each other;
5. Behaviour is the result of the interaction a human has with his environment and his brain/cognitive functions, like conscious or unconscious behaviour;
6. Behaviour (spatio-temporal movements of bodies) can only be understood as actions that satisfy some need, desire or belief;
7. Humans make a representation of the entities and changes they perceive, into a knowledge base; in this respect science can be seen as a set of procedures that ensures a truthful representation of the dynamic world humans live in;
8. Humans use their knowledge base to master their environment (physical and social);
9. Humans have evolved phylogenetically (evolution) and each individual develops ontogenetically (from birth into an adult);
10. Human interaction, communication and behaviour is fundamentally indeterministic because of its complexity.
In a nutshell: humans can be seen as complex semantic systems that desire to ameliorate their environment for a pleasurable existence. They do this by sensing their environment with which they interact.
So what to do when there is no theory that satisfies the above criteria? And what about leadership?
If no theory can be found that satisfies the stated criteria, then we should choose a theory that satisfies as much criteria as possible, and try to improve it.