Theorizing Theorist

“I am a theorist.”

Today I said it out loud for the very first time. It felt affirming, revolutionary, confusing, scary, smart, helpful, unhelpful… bottom line, a lot. Perhaps the most important quality of that statement is the permission it gives me to be me.

I have had a lot of conversations with faculty lately over my confusion about my “methodology.” Or in other words, about what kinds of questions I am allowed to ask, or even expected to ask, about my topic of study (if I am even going to be asking questions at all!). I’m influenced by a wide range of thought… from the most beautifully chaotic works of art inhabiting some of the post discourses, to the most needed defiant critical, emancipatory, and liberatory provocations of what seems to get called critical (social) theory. None of those works of thought provide me with a methodological framework that I feel comfortable taking on as a sole lens through which I will work — they all have strengths and weaknesses (understandably so, given that I don’t believe it is likely for anything to ever be fully comprehensive). Yet I worry that remixing pieces of theories to make them stronger or more aligned with my own perspective/ideas might open me up to attack by theory purists and their relatives. And to make it even more complicated, I am acutely aware of one of those relatives… the more empirical systems of thought that some of my potential funders, employers, and publishers operate within and will be using to judge my work (basically, heavily influenced by the truth-seeking of scientific methodology). While not a perfect binary, theory and empiricism seem to be opposite enough that they don’t always understand each other. I certainly have gotten a number of quizzical looks from empiricists when I tell them that I’m not necessarily going to “study data.”

So then what? The faculty I have consulted with lately have all said the same thing to me, just in their own words and ways: If you do you, and do you well, people will get it. Don’t try to be what you think they want you to be. It won’t turn out as good as if you were being you.

Great life advice turned into great dissertation methodology advice.

Hi, I am Jamila, a theorist. I find it useful to try to think of things in new ways. I am skeptical of most things that claim to be the Truth or a path-to-Truth. I hope my thinking of things in new ways helps you to do the same. Because constantly seeing things in new ways is fun for me, and I hope it can be fun for you, too.

Photo by Andrew E. Weber