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Richard L. W.

Clarke LITS2306 Notes 01A

1 WHAT IS THEORY?

The word theory is derived from a cluster of related Greek words (not least the verb theorein and the noun theoria [2,TD\"]) associated with the spectators at a theatrical event and the activities in which they engage (including to look at, to view, to contemplate, and to speculate). These were derived in turn from the nouns to theion (the divine) or to theia (divine things) and the verb orao (I see) which implied 'contemplation of the divine,' the latter understood as the principle of harmony and order (or logos) informing the universe. In common usage, the term 'theory' often signifies a conjecture, opinion, speculation, hunch or guess, that is, a view not necessarily based on facts or consistent with reality. The term 'theory' is often also opposed to that of 'practice,' implying a realm of pure ideas divorced from the real world of action. In the positivistic natural and social sciences, a theory is a model of reality thought to be derived largely a posteriori from empirical data, that is, a proposed description or explanation of the interaction of an observed set of natural or social phenomena, capable of predicting future occurrences of the same kind and of being proved or otherwise falsified through empirical observation. In this sense, a theory is a systematic and formalized expression of all previous observations that is predictive, logical and testable. In principle, scientific theories are always tentative, and subject to corrections or inclusion in a yet wider theory. Where the Philosophy of Science mainly examines the logic and what Karl Popper et al. called the 'scientific method' employed in the advancement of such theories, the Rhetoric of Science explores the literary and so-called Science Studies (a synonym nowadays for the Sociology of Science) the social, political, and cultural dimensions of scientific truth-claims. In the arts and humanities (as well as the interpretive wing of the social sciences), Theory (sometimes also referred to as Critical, Cultural or Literary Theory) has emerged in recent years as an umbrella term for efforts to explore those a priori theoretical frameworks through which knowledge is thought to be produced in disciplines such as literary criticism (e.g. how literature and the other arts represent reality), communication studies (how words produce meaning), history (how historians write their accounts of the past), psychology (the nature of the mind, body and self), and so on. (Theory is, from this perspective, further divisible into literary theory in the case of literature, communication theory, and so on.) In the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts, in short, Theory is a generic term for sustained reflection on the subject-matter of and the methods utilised by their various constituent disciplines (hence, social theory in the case of sociology, literary theory in the case of literature, and so on). Whatever their particular focus, theorists are united in the view that theories are not superficial extras which are tacked on to the data which constitutes knowledge. They are, rather, unavoidable and integral components of all information precisely because there is no kind of data (from historical documents to survey results) that are not impregnated with theoretical assumptions which guide their selection, collection and interpretation. Theory may be subdivided in turn into two basic tendencies, that of critique (from the Greek word kritikos) in the social sciences (derived initially from Kant and Marx and associated today with the Frankfurt School of Critical theory and other variants of Marxism) and that of interpretation in the humanities (an off-shoot of developments in literary criticism in particular). Critical theory is a synonym for social theory and is devoted to the analysis, critique and, ultimately, the radical transformation of society as a whole, in contrast to the traditional theories of philosophers oriented only to understanding or explaining it. Literary theory applies techniques developed in the analysis of literary

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS2306 Notes 01A

texts to a variety of other texts (e.g. historical or popular cultural texts) and other kinds of phenomena treated as if they were texts (e.g. films or social structure). Jurgen Habermas clarifies this distinction in Knowledge and Human Interests (1968): literary theory is a form of hermeneutics that produces knowledge via the interpretation of the meaning of human texts and symbolic expressions, while critical social theory produces, by contrast, knowledge designed to shed light on and change the systems of inequality and exploitation in which humans find themselves. From this perspective, literary theory, since it is focused on interpretation and explanation rather than on social transformation, might be regarded as positivistic or traditional, while critical theory is necessarily normative, evaluating the espoused values of society in relation to some norms, values or oughts. He argues, in other words, that there are two basic, sometimes overlapping tendencies in Theory: critical (in the sense of interpretive) theory applies techniques developed principally in the analysis and criticism of literary texts to a variety of other texts (e.g. historical or popular cultural texts) and other kinds of phenomena treated as if they were texts (e.g. films or social structure), while critical (social) theory is devoted to the analysis, critique and, ultimately, the radical transformation of society as a whole, in contrast to the traditional theories of philosophers oriented only to understanding or explaining it (Marx argued that it was not enough to merely interpret the world, the point was to change it). Metatheory is the theory of theory, to be precise, the study of those underlying assumptions which shape particular theoretical perspectives.