11 December 2010

Theorising the practice of theory: the ‘at least three layered system’


If there is one thing that upsets me, it’s when people pretend that the theory is the practice. When people, for instance, assume that the practice of a radio station is as it is described in their licence (in countries where the system is based on them). Or if we refuse to acknowledge that country’s immigration policies in practice are not exactly as they are drawn out to be in the law books. Or when the red wine sipping alternative thinkers philosophise about saving the world from their corner table, but then, in the real world, are just babbling on semi-insightful and at best borderline meaningful phrases that sound good only if you have said them yourself, and which have no apparent action connected to them. These are just a few examples, of course, and I must say that I quite like red wine and I am no stranger to pseudo-intellectualism – this blog post is fast turning into exhibit A – but I try not to claim action where action isn’t.

Publishing one old paper this week here on the blog I started thinking about how I have always been interested in how things actually work. Not in theory unless the theory is an extension of the practice. As it should be and I am no authority when it comes to the terminology and definitions of these words, but I have noticed a great confusion around these concepts. That’s why, if only for the purposes of my own world view, I put together my ‘At Least Three Layered Way Of Understanding’ (ALTLWOU if you will). I say at least as because in actual fact it is a description of one cycle of the process of understanding and that cycle will probably repeat itself a good few times, before the best practices are understood only to be replaced with new and improved ideas soon after. That’s the way that it works, and if it doesn’t work like that, I suspect there is a great danger of stagnation and an unhelpful delusion of understanding with nothing to back it up in the real world; a futile argument of confusion. This is not all encompassing system; perhaps ignoring most things, but fits the bill to most things I ever ponder and here’s how it works.

First layer of theory is how things are supposed to work. It is mostly informed by some common practices, but its purpose is to guide rather than understand. Like a law or any regulation. Company policies and varies written and unwritten moral codes. It’s a bit perfect world version of it all and important to understand because it’s part of the process, but on its own it’s a shallow victory – the world we live in is not perfect, see.

Then the second layer; the practice. What is it that we actually do. I have been looking into some radio practices and how they relate to the theory of the style of broadcasting they claim to directly relate to. The answer was, well, they do relate to these ideas loosely, or at least attempt to, but in actual fact there are other things – namely money – that will determine what really happens.

Then the third layer. It is the important one. The second layer of theory which allows us to understand the relationship between the first two layers; why and how do they relate to each others. What does that then leave us with and what next? We are left with a much more holistic idea of our subject.

Then this is repeated as many times as it takes to satisfy one’s thirst to grasp, knowing that even then, there aren’t any absolute truths, but rather, in the end, we just think of something else instead.

I would like to think that what I have written here is a result of this process. It’s not the last cycle if not quite the first either. Practically speaking, what I am trying to say is that when we talk about anything, we must never feel that what things are in theory is enough. One good example of this all is for instance the immigration law, like I noted earlier. Just because there are many types of assistance for the newcomers in theory, doesn’t mean that there are any in practice. At the very least probably not all of those things promised. They are there only in theory. That is why the whole debate that seems so heated in Europe is completely misguided. An ordinary citizen has no idea what people go through to get into country – they perhaps just think that it is what the politicians tell them. The ones in charge say how great the system is and the ones opposing claim it’s too easy to migrate. No one has taken the time to go and have a look at how it actually is. Incidentally one triggering experience for me to write these ideas was to spend some time at the waiting area of the employment office’s immigration department in Helsinki. We take it for granted that things are the way they are explained to us.

So this is also my gift to politicians – although I don’t think there are many of them reading my blog: think again. Unless you are realistic about things you are wasting your time.

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