Engaged theory is a methodological framework for understanding social complexity. It takes social life or social relations as its base category, with 'the social' always understood as grounded in 'the natural', including humans as embodied beings. Engaged theory provides a framework that moves from detailed empirical analysis about things, people and processes in the world to abstract theory about the constitution and social framing of those things, people and processes.
Engaged theory is one approach within the broader tradition of critical theory. Engaged theory crosses the fields of sociology, anthropology, political studies, history, philosophy, and global studies. At its most general, the term engaged theory is used to describe theories that provide a tool box for engaging with the world while seeking to change it.
One lineage of engaged theory is called the 'constitutive abstraction' approach associated with a group of writers publishing in Arena Journal such as John Hinkson, Geoff Sharp (1926–2015), and Simon Cooper.
A related lineage of engaged theory has been developed by researchers who began their association through the Centre for Global Research at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia – scholars such as Manfred Steger, Paul James and Damian Grenfell – drawing upon a range of writers from Pierre Bourdieu to Benedict Anderson and Charles Taylor. A group of researchers at Western Sydney University describe their work as 'Engaged Research'.