Diary of an aspiring theorist.

You know, if I may generalize just a little how my thesis experience has been like:

I think it starts with an extremely loose idea. Not a lit review, not a theory or even a research question. It’s really just a feeling that this fuzzy idea is important. Often, the reason why we like that idea will be arbitrary and not from some sequence of logical deductions. We just affectionately like the idea. Perhaps even, just the way it sounds.

From then on, we dedicate ourselves to understanding what exactly is this idea. What about it fascinates us. And we try to give what was of originally amorphous, nebulous form, some kind of topology. We spend time reading more formalized theories that sort of gets at this idea, usually insufficiently.

At the same time, we also look at the empirical world, looking for traces of this idea, so that we can ground loose abstract ideas in the slightly more concrete form of ‘lived experiences.’ Particularly when a certain empirical thing seems to be well described by this idea, we hold onto that empirical thing as proof and reminder that this idea has analytical purchase.

But, at this stage, there is still so much work to be done. We still do not really know how the idea holds together. It is still only a vague feeling. And we spend heaps of seemingly unproductive (but very enjoyable) time trying to piece together parts of the puzzle.

Then one day, things start to click. I say ‘start,’ because it’s not like all the pieces of the puzzle come together all at once. Instead, we enter a phase where we manage to fit our first two pieces together. From then on, day by day, more of the puzzle makes sense. And that, is the most wonderful feeling in the world.

The thing is, if this is generally how research is done (which is a far cry from what KKV describes in their desire to describe some scientific, systematic, factory-like process), then there needs to be time to just sort of relearn things from scratch, swim in and get lost in ideas to let one’s feelings do the guiding, and to let thinking to follow those feelings. We can find out how they contribute to the scholarly conversation later on. But first, one needs to have that feeling that this loose vague nebulous idea is important.

I suggested earlier that the origins of this idea can appear rather arbitrary. However, I think there is one place that we can look for them – art, as the site in which human beings have tried to represent that which cannot be represented, but merely skimming around the edges of something important. As theorists, we too are a type of artists, in my humble opinion. To get at these ideas, we need to be engaged with our thoughts in a felt way. Not simply in a rational way, but in a poetic way, a poetry of lived experience. What gets us. And then we can work from there.


~ by moz on October 8, 2015.

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