“Theories”

How theories are like cockroaches.

I don’t like theories, particularly academic theories. They’re like cockroaches. I’m sure cockroaches are polite to their mothers, have an important place in the world, and even that some people find them exciting and fascinating. The same is true of theories. That being said, I don’t like theories any more than I like cockroaches. Just like roaches, theories get everywhere, particularly in academia. I’ll start out reading a perfectly innocent book about archaeology of a certain place, or a history of a region or something, then as I wade deeper in, I realize that the first three chapters detail every theory the author could possibly think of which might have a place in the wider field. Whether they intend to use these theories or not, the author inevitably feels the need to detail the history and evolution of each and every one.

I’m sure some theory is necessary, even or especially in archaeology and ancient history. But I do feel rather strongly that one ought to keep the theorizing* to a minimum. Not to say that one shouldn’t read books on theory, if one is serious about writing academically. However, one should not then include all those theories in one’s work. Theories are to be used, if absolutely necessary, and otherwise ignored. The theory should underlay your conclusions. Those who are versed in theory themselves will know which theory you used, with its attendant history and development, while those who don’t know already quite likely do not care. If they cared, they would know. Simple.

Unfortunately, I can’t include such opinions in my summative literature review on a certain offending book. It would not be received well by those handing out the grades. It also wouldn’t be entirely fair, since this particular book allows these theories in to prove a point very much akin to mine. So, it is here, as an addendum. Said book was terribly interesting, and full of highly useful information…at the end. The beginning I used as a sleep-aid.

*In this instance, I use theory and theorizing to refer to using established theories of discourse or academia (e.g. feminist theory, or Foucaldian theory) to interpret data in a specific way which fits those over-arching theories. One can of course theorize with data without having an over-arching “Theory” as a guide.

Thought for the Week: “But the data came first; and when simple theories of oppression and domination fell short, something more nuanced and sophisticated had to be apprehended.” Lynn Meskell

Currently Reading: The Palmyrenes of Dura-Europos by Lucinda Dirven


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