puff the magic explanation

I don’t know exactly why, but trying to write a paper about theory always leaves me feeling vaguely unsettled. I know theory is important, I know empirical research can’t get us where we need to go all by itself, and I do have some ideas that I think are worth developing.

But for some reason whenever I try to write about theory I can’t quite escape the feeling that I’m just making stuff up.

6 thoughts on “puff the magic explanation”

  1. I am working on what will hopefully be my first ever real conference submission right now (for ASA), and I know what you mean. My argument is mostly theoretical, based on a few primary empirical bits and secondary sources. I have the feeling that I am making things up but then again… isn’t that the point? On the other hand, it’s a bit disturbing that things I make up might count as knowledge someday.

    Disturbing, but kinda cool. I mean, what’s the fun of having a license to know (PhD) if you aren’t going to use it to create knowledge?

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  2. I guess that’s why I love theory. Having to develop that logic, based on what’s gone before, but making it new. I find it helpful to feel that I’m making it up less to create a logic flow chart:
    A–>B
    B–>C
    C–>D

    Hypotheses A –>D, B–>D or whatever (with the real arguments of course). Then I can look at it and say “See, I’m not just pretending.”

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  3. This reminds me of an exchange a colleague once had in the classroom, viz:

    S: Where is that in the textbook?
    P: It’s not; it’s the argument of a paper I’m working on.
    S: It’s not in the textbook?
    P: No. It’s an argument of mine.
    S: You mean you’re just making it up?
    P: Well, in a sense, yes. But in another more important sense, no.
    S: I’m not comfortable with going beyond the textbook like this.
    P: Where do you think the stuff in the textbook comes from? Out of the ground in Nebraska or something?

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  4. Where do you think the stuff in the textbook comes from? Out of the ground in Nebraska or something?

    Given how textbook authors are sometimes chosen and how little peer review is involved, I suspect that’s not as far from the truth as some of us would like to believe.

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  5. kieran,

    i’d like to think that you’re underestimating this student and that rather than having an almost magical belief in textbooks, the student was actually noting that ad hoc pedagogy implies that the discipline suffers from a weak paradigm.

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