[Reader-list] Re: [Urbanstudy] Re: Problematizing Definitions

V NR vnr1995 at gmail.com
Fri Dec 23 02:40:50 IST 2005

Prem writes: "To me the relationship between theory and practice is more to
do with
critique rather than logical foundations." Honestly, I don't understand what
practice is being talked about? The practice of theorizing, or the practice
of culturologists, or cultural practices? Maybe cultural practices. There is
no relationship between theory and practice, in the sense that practices are
not embodiment of beliefs. A theory of telescope helps one make a better
telescope theory: nonetheless, such a theory cant replace the skill of
making a telescope. I know the roots of practical consequences: Marx had  a
better understanding of Capitalism than do contemporary economists. He
explained how Capital works. He also 'predicted' consequences of Capitalism:
for instance, pauperization of labor. Based on such a prediction(s), he
wanted to have a different system. However, his predictions did not take
place, not because his theory is inadequate, but because he made some
idealizing assumptions which didn't take place (here Popper, Lakatos, etc
criticized Marx for wrong reasons: check Fred Mosley's, Leszek Nowak's
works). We don't even have a theory of culture, yet we talk about practical
consequences! Predictions are not necessary for a theory: there is an
asymmetry between explanation and prediction ; nor is the relationship
between theory and practical consequences necessary.

He writes:" Theory on the other hand moves from the specific to the general
- one starts with a specific observation and pushes it towards the wider
question of 'what does it
mean?'.  If I do nothing but theory, my centre of gravity shifts towards
the level of the general (the stereotype of the 'ivory tower academic')"

This shows a naive understanding of what a theory is. The generalization
"All ravens are black" is  a mere generalization, but not of a theory. For
instance, ravens are found that are not black. This counter instance merely
refutes such a generalization. Theories are not like that: whenever a
counter instance is found, one looks for ceteris paribus clauses. For
instance, neo-darwinian explanation tells us why some ravens are not black.

Our observations are driven by our pet hypotheses: what you see depends on
what you looking for; sometimes, you find some observations puzzling(a
charitable interpretation of what does it mean?), because your prior
knowledge, intuitions contradict what you see, hence the puzzlement. This
special case to generalization, of Baconian Induction, does not even account
for our observations in daily life: assume you had a flat tire, what do you
look for on the tire?

'Complicity' of intellectuals seems to be a recurring theme on this board:
what does this 'complicity' explain? Probably, it explains many things: one
of them being misrepresentation of the natives. There is no complicity here:
the intellectual represented, or described, his/her experience of the
native. And the native's description of his experience of the world does not
jibe with the description given by the intellectual. This is a cognitive
dispute; which can be settled by methodological means, rather than by
mantras like 'complicity'. We have two descriptions of the same phenomenon:
Certainly it is possible to decide which description is better. Just because
one is an outsider does not mean the outsider's description is cognitively
superior to that of insider.  Indologists have used such tactics as:
outsider's observations are 'objetive': this shows ignorance on their part;
no observation is neutral; our experience, or observations, is structured by
our pet beliefs, our intuitions, our background theories. So, it is a
question of whether such background beliefs, intuitions, theories are
cognitively superior.
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