Week 13: The role of theory

So how did I get to be such a theory-junkie while hating theory as I do? I needed can openers. Here I was with great data, and I needed to know how the smart people in my field thought about how the world was organized, and whether that map could do me any good in understanding my own data. I only like theory when I can connect it to real-world problems that interest me.

– Luker (page 143; emphasis mine)

This observation of Luker’s really stood out to me, particularly in light of ongoing debates about the balance of theory and practice in our programs. Luker admits that she doesn’t find theory particularly interesting in and of itself, even as a career academic, but rather that its value for her is that it can be used as a tool. She uses the metaphor of a can opener, suggesting that theory can help researchers understand real-world problems. I wonder if the broader metaphor of the toolbox might be even more appropriate – if theory cannot only help us understand problems, but solve them as well. (I also wonder whether it might be possible to take this metaphor a little bit further – perhaps knowing theory but not how to apply it is like knowing how to wave tools around, but not how to use them.)

– Andrea

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One Comment on “Week 13: The role of theory”

  1. clgrr says:

    This is the same quote that stuck out for me this week. Maybe my brain is just oversaturated with theories about research after writing the paper (!) but Luker’s comment was a welcome relief, knowing that I’m not the only one who feels that way. Usually I enjoy reading articles published in “professional” journals about librarianship far more than the in-depth research articles that are assigned in many courses, but while writing the research proposal this week I realized that sometimes the theory part is really interesting when I can see exactly how it helps to explain the issue being investigated. (And it helps even more if it’s an issue I really care about!) Maybe I’ve finally made amends with the theory vs. practice debate.


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