Thursday, June 17, 2010

Theory Matters

I remember having an argument with a really good friend of mine (well
maybe argument is a bit strong of a word) about the importance of
theory. It was while I was getting my undergraduate degree at
Berkeley and I found myself completely enthralled by theoretical
thinkers - everyone from Doreen Massey to Weber to Marx to Gillian
Hart and onward. I wanted to be spend my life engrossed in
contributing to our theoretical world. It was then that I realized I
really wanted to be an academic, a thinker, someone that gets paid to
think and give those ideas back to humanity.

For me it is hard to see the distinction between this world of
physicality and our theoretical interpretation of it. I see nothing
more important then theory. Everything for me is in someway grounded
in theory. Call it ideas, call it perceptions, call it your lens into
life. It is all bound up in a theoretical understanding.

For an academic the hardest part is articulating ones theoretical
ideas. I think my blog may give this away to my readers. I struggle
to articulate my ideas, my theories. I have many and often I wish I
could just sit down and vomit them out onto paper and truly express
them. Sometimes words just seem to stumble me - and I think of myself
often as an artist. I like to think of papers that I write as
paintings. I start with a blank canvas and by the time I am finished
I hope to have a story (picture) that others can relate to and that
my sense, my message, my interpretation is clearly expressed and
shared and transferred.

For me the value of theory becomes even more important in the world
of socio-political-economy. How we understand the meaning of economy,
of democracy, of money or any other social construct - these are
things not like trees or water, but things that we as humans have
theoretically constructed and actualized into a having a material
impact on us - is of critical importance.

I am in the throws of writing my Mphil dissertation. I have sat with
it for many months, unable to write anything clear and cogent. Though
I know what I want to say, I have had conversations, written many
many notes and random scribblings but have failed to put something
together that can be called an academic piece of work.

Well, now I am writing it. I sit in my office 35 hours a week in
North Berkeley attempting to write. Sometimes not getting much done
but other times it flows out.

Anyway, back to my original point. The point I wanted to make about
the importance of theory/ideas. I have been reading about democracy
and democracy as it is understood and came to be constructed in the
USA. It is quite incredible when you realize that a word as powerful
and commonly used as "democracy" has had profound shifts in
theoretical understanding that have had massive impacts on our socio-
economic lives. That the theory of democracy matters is beyond doubt.
Understanding how it has changed, why it has changed and the fact
that it can change again is something that I believe truly empowers us.

We can always change our minds. We can always change the way we think
about ourselves, about our lives and those around us. It of course
becomes much harder when that change has serious impacts on our
individual or collective material lives. This is why I believe
certain ideas become stuck and do not change. This is also why
moments of "conjunctural change" (an idea I got from Prof. Gillian
Hart) are of such importance. Those moments represent incredible
opportunities to insert and change theoretical ideas.

I believe we are in one of those conjunctural moments. I believe most
clearly this can be seen in our financial system. What happens next,
what type of money we create and what type of political-economy that
results in will be driven by theoretical understandings.

I hope that I am able to contribute something of value to that debate
and impact the way that we theoretically construct our lives and our
economies so as to actualize new material conditions, through the
creation of powerful theoretical ideas.

In the mean time I hope I can get this dissertation done!

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