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The lens of theory: seeing better or differently?

Donald Nordberg (Business School, Bournemouth University, Poole, UK)

International Journal of Organization Theory & Behavior

ISSN: 1093-4537

Article publication date: 12 December 2022




This article explicates the notion of using a “theoretical lens” to interpret research data, which has grown increasingly common in recent decades, often without a second thought about the implications of use of a mere metaphor in the pursuit of truth. Poets may not question that metaphors reveal truths, but should social scientists accept that?


It looks first at what theory means, then – and in greater detail – what the metaphor of a lens entails.


Drawing on the base analogy in optics, it identifies four mechanisms through which theory might act as a lens – adjustment, correction, distortion and augmentation-suppression, with examples based on theories of business strategy and organisation studies.

Research limitations/implications

These four mechanisms involve two different ways of seeing – better and differently. With adjustment and correction see better what is, or perhaps what was. With distortion and especially augmentation-suppression, we see differently, which helps us imagine what might be, or what we might have overlooked. They help us escape narrow silos of thinking. Researchers and students alike need to be aware of all four lenses of theory and be ready to experiment.


It argues that if some theories try to help us see better, others push us to see differently, with implications for the practice and teaching of research methods.



Nordberg, D. (2022), "The lens of theory: seeing better or differently?", International Journal of Organization Theory & Behavior, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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