Those of you who know me will be aware that I have a very theoretical background. A Master’s Degree in European Literature will do that to ya.
But I’m aware that many of you, or well, many people in general, are not even aware of many of these concepts. And I think that’s a pity.
I use Theory every day. When I’m writing blogs, of course. But also while I watch TV or a movie, when I play a game or read books. It’s not even something I do actively anymore; knowing theory has made me critical of what I see around me, more observant of what is interesting or problematic.
And that’s why I believe that cultural theory should not be just for those at university. It shouldn’t be applied only to ‘high Literature’, ‘Art’ with a capital A and fancy journals nobody reads.
It should help everyone look critically at the world.
To give us insight in the media we consume, help us form substantiated idea’s and opinions. To help us try and understand a little better.
Why do we need Theory?
When I refer to Theory, I use it as an approach. A certain set of values, or a concept through which a subject can be interpreted.
Don’t worry, I’ll clarify in a moment. But it’s important you understand I’m not talking about ‘theory’ in the sense of ‘inkling’ or ‘suspicion’ here. That’s a different kind of theory.
I guess ‘thesis’ or ‘hypothesis’ balances best on the edge of the two meanings of the word, but let’s not get into semantics.
Every theory offers a certain perspective. This can be very specialized toward a certain medium or concept, or be as broad as you can imagine. It can even function on a ‘meta’ level, and reflect on itself as it reflects on something else as well.
It’s a lot. See it as tools which you can apply to situations, stories and images in order to understand them. Understand what they want to say, what they represent, why they exist.
In some cases, even how to enjoy them.
Like Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author, theories can involve certain concepts, fledged out with rules, notions and values. They can help make sense of things which at first seem either convoluted, complicated or uninteresting. Or problematic: that’s another angle in which Death of the Author can offer some insight.
Of course I didn’t pick that example at random. Check out my Theory Snippet of The Death of the Author, in which I explain the basics of that theory.
Cultural theory, Accessible
Despite my efforts, this whole plea still probably felt quite vague. Theory this, concept that, ideas and notions everywhere…
Yes. ‘Perspective’ is a very popular word, but how can it help you?
I would argue that being open to other perspectives will help you… well, with everything.
The practice of adapting various theories to approach a certain problem, situation or medium can help us better understand it, but it is more than a tool to be used.
Theory is not always applied; it can also be used as a lens through which a subject can gain different meaning, or contribute to something different than its initial purpose.
Looking at problems and situations from different angles, through different angles, can help you see more opportunities. More interesting elements. More arguments, more depth, more value…
Just more, I guess.
Being able to wield and apply various theories to a situation or subject can help you gain a broader perspective from which more solutions can present themselves. It can help you grow as a person, it can help your career.
I’d say it can even make you happy.
Though that depends on the theory. And how you choose to use it…
But enough of this philosophizing. Because I have news for you.
Since I realized how important I think it is that people have access to these kinds of ‘tools’, I decided I should double down and do something about it.
So I’m going to explain cultural, literary and critical theory right here.
On What’s Annew!
I already started on my first one with my discussion of Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author, and have some more lined up too.
I’m hoping to add some more theoretical insights into my regular blogs too, on occasion.
I just hope to do some good in this complicated, hard-to-understand world.
Whether you use it to find life’s meaning, or to embellish a book report, I’m happy either way.
Some recommended reading I will be referencing for sure:
- David Walton, Doing Cultural Theory. London: Sage, 2012
- Peter Barry, Beginning Theory. An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press. The third edition, 2009.