Week 13: The role of theoryPosted: November 27, 2012
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.)