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What is Theory?

Methodology Seminar

Amanda Bill

on 10 March 2015

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Transcript of What is Theory?

What is theory ?
First, there's "theory".....
A supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained...: "Darwin's theory of evolution"

A set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based: "....design theory"

Then there's.......
"A Moment of Theory" - a particular way of thinking about topics in the humanities and social sciences - emerged in universities in the 1960s

although these various developments had their differences, they had in common a shared.....

“intellectual attitude or deportment”.

.....an attitude skeptical towards empirical knowledges and ‘ordinary’ experiences' – so called realist approaches.....

… a way of approaching the world based on constant questioning and looking beyond the immediate data and common sense .....

.....this critical self-reflection, or self-consciousness, about what we are doing is what we know as THEORY
“(This) we know as theory. Theory of this kind comes about when we are forced into a new-self-consciousness about what we are doing”
Terry Eagleton, 2007. After Theory p.27 .
But has this form of thinking “run out of steam”?
Bruno Latour...

“entire Ph.D. programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always prisoners of language, that we always speak from a particular standpoint, and so on”

Latour, B. (2004). Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. Critical Inquiry, 30(2), 25-248.
‘Theory’ is an achievement of a particular intellectual persona… (Hunter, 2008)
THEORY can produce
"suspicious minds" and "educated hope"
(Stern, 2012)
- structuralism
- deconstruction
- poststructuralism
'doing Theory' means
using your suspicious mind and educating your hope....
....so as NOT to be caught in a trap of inaction !
“The sign is the union of the form which signifies(signifier) … and an idea signified (signified)”


Jacques Lacan, Claude Levi-Strauss, Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Raymond Williams, Luce Irigaray, Pierre Bourdieu, Edward Said, Julia Kristeva,
Jacques Derrida, Helene Cixous, Jurgen Habermas, Fredric Jameson, Gilles Deleuze......
Cranbrook Academy of Art
It has been fashionable among some at Cranbrook to quote Jean Baudrillard on "object culture" and the "sign function" of objects in an attempt to explain how their designs abet the creation of their owners'domestic myths. Cranbrook thinking soon parts company with Baudrillard, however. His philosophy rejects the whole capitalist manufacturing system. Most designers can't afford to do that and wouldn't want to their future success lies in alliance with the forces of commerce. Cranbrook graduates should recognize (and accept?) that are using "object culture" to fulfill new capitalist fantasies. (Aldersey-Williams 1990: 22 cited in Boradkar 2010:235)
1965 - 1980
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