Getting over epistemology and treating theory as a recyclable source of “things”

Year: 2012

Author: Kusznirczuk, John

Type of paper: Refereed paper


When doing social science, the limits of the truth of what I know and what I can know about my objects of interest does not mean that I give up on theory; it just means that I choose to get over epistemology and make the terms under which I use theory very clear.

purpose of this paper, let's say that theory (any theory) is an explanatory principle constituted by the description of its collection of valued objects and their interrelations. In education research, objects of interest include those objects produced by the principles through which we explain the phenomena of teaching and learning, such as Vygotskii's 'ZPD' or Bernstein's 'code.' This paper suggests that we tend to privilege theory and, in so doing, come to reify its objects (like ZPD and code). This paper points out some of the unhelpful consequences of this habit and suggests a remedy.

This paper suggests that our research efforts would be better spent, and our theories more fruitful, if we treated the space in which we theorise less like hallowed ground and more like a playground. It takes up the proposition that the human mind is at its best when playing and that, if we permit ourselves to approach our theories in the spirit of play, the rules of the game can be found in a commitment to a systematic and auditable method founded on material evidence and a shared practice.

The remedy suggested here entails a break with epistemology and a reversal in the way we conventionally treat theory and method so that we privilege method as a shared practice and treat theory as a recyclable source of “things,” valuing it as an organising principle rather than an explanatory one.

By privileging method as a shared practice, rather than theory as transcendent explanation, we make a break from theory-privileged epistemology and treat our understanding independently of any transcendental preconditions of knowledge. Theory is then free to function as an organising principle rather than an explanatory one, making it possible to give substantive answers to questions that can only ever be formulated and tested within the context of theory's explicit presuppositions and the material evidence of its objects and their interrelations.

This paper uses examples of well-known theoretical objects (gravity, ZPD, and code) to illustrate its argument and briefly discusses the application of its treatment in the context of the author's research.