[Reader-list] Problematizing Definitions

Prem Chandavarkar prem at cnt-semac.com
Sat Dec 24 16:18:39 IST 2005

This is getting very interesting.  Some responses here (culled from 
posts by V NR and Jamie Dow)

> 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. 

I should explain my background here, for it has definitely coloured what 
I say.  I am an architect who spends most of his time in architectural 
practice.  However, as a part and parcel of this I also need to theorise 
about architecture - to reflect on the concept of architecture, how it 
might carry meaning, etc.  But I am also driven to practice architecture 
- to actually construct buildings.  In that sense, within my discipline 
of architecture, the terms 'theory' and 'practice' have specific 
differences and connotations that are widely accepted.  From this 
perspective, I wonder whether this difference is also applicable to 
areas other than architecture.

> 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. 

I realise I have not made myself clear.  Perhaps rather than saying 
'theory' I should have said 'to theorise'.  At moments in our life we 
step back and attempt to integrate experiences into conceptual 
frameworks.  But at other times we spontaneously act, without conscious 
reflection, driven by specific purposes, operating more on the basis of 
tacit knowledge (a la Polanyi) - and this is what I refer to when I say 
'practice' (and again, I should have said 'to practice').

The split between these two modes is not defined - the division is 
fuzzy.  But one could say that we live our lives through conversational 
interaction between these two modes of being.  I am interested in the 
way we move between these two modes - wondering if this movement is a 
worthwhile target of study.

 > But - despite agreeing with everything you say - I don't see how that 
 > clarify things here.
 > The project is clearly one of inquiry (the immediate aim is 
 > not *doing* anything, though that might follow later).

Given what I have said above, I wonder how we can keep 'inquiring' and 
'doing' so separate.

 > 4.3. "What are the traces we leave in space that eventually accrue into
 > memories and symbols?"
 > I don't get the import of the above question.

See my essay "Notes on the Aesthetics of Absorption" available at


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