Through a ‘Theoretical Lens’: Do We See Better or Differently?

15 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2022 Last revised: 9 Jan 2023

Date Written: September 20, 2022


Abstract: The notion of using a “theoretical lens” to interpret research data 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? This paper looks first at what theory means, then – and in greater detail – what the metaphor of a lens entails, and the implications it has for social science research. 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 in theories of business strategy. The choice of metaphorical lens can determine which theory of truth we employ. Some theories try to help us see better, while others push us to see differently.

[A later, revised version of this paper appears as Nordberg, D. (2022). The lens of theory: Seeing better or differently? International Journal of Organization Theory & Behavior. doi:10.1108/IJOTB-09-2022-0177]

Keywords: lens, theory, philosophy, metaphor, truth, argument, social science research

JEL Classification: A00, L00, M10

Suggested Citation

Nordberg, Donald, Through a ‘Theoretical Lens’: Do We See Better or Differently? (September 20, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Donald Nordberg (Contact Author)

Bournemouth University ( email )

Executive Business Centre, 89 Holdenhurst Road,
Bournemouth, BH8 8EB
United Kingdom


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