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The Nature of Theory

15 January, 2016 - 09:23
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There is no single all-embracing theory of educational management. In part this reflects the astonishing diversity of educational institutions, ranging from small rural elementary schools to very large universities and colleges. It relates also to the varied nature of the problems encountered in schools and colleges, which require different approaches and solutions. Above all, it reflects the multifaceted nature of theory in education and the social sciences: “Students of educational management who turn to organisational theory for guidance in their attempt to understand and manage educational institutions will not find a single, universally applicable theory but a multiplicity of theoretical approaches each jealously guarded by a particular epistemic community” (Ribbins, 1985, p. 223).

    The existence of several different perspectives creates what Bolman and Deal (1997, p. 11) describe as “conceptual pluralism: a jangling discord of multiple voices.” Each theory has something to offer in explaining behaviour and events in educational institutions. The perspectives favoured by managers, explicitly or implicitly, inevitably influence or determine decision-making.

    Griffiths (1997) provides strong arguments to underpin his advocacy of “theoretical pluralism.” “The basic idea is that all problems cannot be studied fruitfully using a single theory. Some problems are large and complex and no single theory is capable of encompassing them, while others, although seemingly simple and straightforward, can be better understood through the use of multiple theories . . . particular theories are appropriate to certain problems, but not others” (Griffiths, 1997, p. 372).