by Claire Aitchison, Doctoral Writing: http://doctoralwriting.wordpress.com/2014/05/18/choosing-the-right-theory-is-like-op-shopping/
The analogy that choosing theory is like op-shopping came up years
ago in a writing circle and it has stayed with me ever since.
In Australia, ‘op shops’ or ‘opportunity shops’ are charity shops
that sell second-hand clothes. Not everyone likes op shopping.
people prefer wholly new outfits, others make their own gear. In
general, however, op shops are a great place to get affordable stuff.
But you do have to choose carefully. Not everything there is good value …
in fact, some op shops carry a lot of junk. Nevertheless, for the
discerning shopper, they represent a good way to go: there is a wide
range of pre-loved, pre-tested outfits ready for you to try on.
are all sorts and sizes and shapes and designs. Op shops don’t subscribe
to particular brands or labels. You can discover well-known, familiar
labels, even exclusive labels, but also obscure and un-branded items.
Also, because op shops are generally quite affordable, if you make an
error or change your mind, it doesn’t matter too much - you simply give
it back and it gets recycled again.
Occasionally you do come across something that’s almost new; that
seems hardly to have been taken out of the cupboard before finding
itself in the op shop seeking a new owner. One wonders why it has been
rejected. Surely, originally, someone thought it was just the right
thing, before realising it simply wasn’t suitable.
Perhaps it didn’t
match anything else in their wardrobe. Or perhaps, on closer inspection,
it wasn’t quite what they thought it was.
Sometimes the product is
faulty; but most likely, when they brought it home from the shop and in
the privacy of their own home when they had time to look and think
carefully, they found it just wasn’t right for them after all. Luckily
op shops give you the opportunity for guilt-free rejection. The item has
value, but not to you.
Some items are so well used that they might look a bit tired and
tatty, old-fashioned and past their use-by date.
However, if you look
closely, they may still have some value - perhaps, for example, when
mixed with something new so as to contrast the styles or maybe it’s a
matter of choosing the right accessories? For the right occasion,
despite being old-fashioned, this item might be just the ticket.
An op shop allows you to try on endless numbers of outfits - to mix
and match across styles and eras, to experiment and test out unusual
combinations, to dig out long-forgotten trends, styles and fashions. To
compare the latest and the oldest, the brightest and the lacklustre.
What looks shocking on one person or in one era, looks great on and in
another. Mostly, one doesn’t really know until one tries it on and gives
it a test run. It can be useful to get an opinion from someone else to
see if they think the outfit suits you, if it goes well with the stuff
you’ve already selected.
I spoke with my doctoral student today and she was having trouble
with theory. Although she started off browsing freely, she’d narrowed
the field to choosing between a small group of theorists.
toying around with the usual suspects - Bourdieu and Foucault. There was
some pressure for her to settle on Foucault since others thought that
suited the story she should tell. And there is an argument that Bourdieu
and Foucault go well together.
But she was resisting, saying that
everybody uses Bourdieu and she just didn’t think it was the right
match. And anyhow she was sick of Bourdieu, she was looking for
I thought of the op shop and suggested she think about how these two
might work together - that she try choosing one for the main outfit and
see how the second theorist could complement that.
We talked about her
purpose - what did she want from these theories/ theorists; where could
she go with them? How did she imagine they could work together to
achieve her objectives? But mostly we agreed the answer would come from
trying on the theories, by actually writing the story of the data and
then seeing where, if, and how, those theories would apply.
might be surprised to find they fit well - or perhaps she’ll return them
to the rack and keep looking a while longer.
Would anyone like to share their experience of trying on theories/ theorists?
PS: In keeping with the idea that everything new is old, Cally Guerin drew my attention to this co-authored article
and its reference to the idea of ‘trying on’ different voices as a
strategy used by student writers in the process of becoming authorial.
Guerin, C. & M. Picard (2012) Try it on: Voice, concordancing and test-matching in doctoral writing International Journal of Educational Integrity 8(2).