Realist explanatory theory building method for social epidemiology: a protocol for a mixed method multilevel study of neighbourhood context and postnatal depression
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A recent criticism of social epidemiological studies, and multi-level studies in particular has been a paucity of theory. We will present here the protocol for a study that aims to build a theory of the social epidemiology of maternal depression. We use a critical realist approach which is trans-disciplinary, encompassing both quantitative and qualitative traditions, and that assumes both ontological and hierarchical stratification of reality. We describe a critical realist Explanatory Theory Building Method comprising of an: 1) emergent phase, 2) construction phase, and 3) confirmatory phase. A concurrent triangulated mixed method multilevel cross-sectional study design is described. The Emergent Phase uses: interviews, focus groups, exploratory data analysis, exploratory factor analysis, regression, and multilevel Bayesian spatial data analysis to detect and describe phenomena. Abductive and retroductive reasoning will be applied to: categorical principal component analysis, exploratory factor analysis, regression, coding of concepts and categories, constant comparative analysis, drawing of conceptual networks, and situational analysis to generate theoretical concepts. The Theory Construction Phase will include: 1) defining stratified levels; 2) analytic resolution; 3) abductive reasoning; 4) comparative analysis (triangulation); 5) retroduction; 6) postulate and proposition development; 7) comparison and assessment of theories; and 8) conceptual frameworks and model development. The strength of the critical realist methodology described is the extent to which this paradigm is able to support the epistemological, ontological, axiological, methodological and rhetorical positions of both quantitative and qualitative research in the field of social epidemiology. The extensive multilevel Bayesian studies, intensive qualitative studies, latent variable theory, abductive triangulation, and Inference to Best Explanation provide a strong foundation for Theory Construction. The study will contribute to defining the role that realism and mixed methods can play in explaining the social determinants and developmental origins of health and disease.
© 2014 Eastwood et al.; licensee Springer. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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