Sunday, August 14, 2011

Political Theory as Therapy

This is from the first chapter of my MA thesis, with some revisions after 5 years in the "real world" (scare quotes because nothing is real). Also revisions account for the fact that this is a post on its own.

Political theory has always had a bearing on my personal life. Part of the appeal of theory are the answers that it offers for my experience growing up with a right-wing fundamentalist father and a liberal feminist mother. It helped to shape my identty apart form my parents. In this sense, theory has been a sort of therapy, dealing not only with political issues, but with my own issues as a human being, muddling through.

The decision to study political theory professionally (seven years ago!) came almost without thinking. As an undergraduate, I enjoyed the texts that I read. I liked the answers that they provided and the questions they provoked. Arriving at graduate school, I felt an immediate nostalgia for my old theoretical life, which was at once social, personal, and academic. Graduate schol pushed me to forget those experiences (especially the personal), and as a result, I felt frustrated an uninspired.

As I struggled through the graduate-level initiation rite of statistics and learned more about theory,  I began to think of theory as a whole and the role of theorist. I felt disconnected from the life that previously inspired my theory, and I looked for ways to merge the two.

5 years away from writing what you just read (this next part is all new), my perspective hasn't changed; if anything, I am inspired by what I have since experienced. Theory, like therapy, helps me define and diagnose. I turn to it when I am feeling off.  Like some people read Pride and Prejudice when life isn't going well, I read Rorty or Marx. The definitions of the problems and solutions to the world help me to define my personal position.

This is, of course, a terribly pretentious way of dealing with the world. Only it isn't. Or it is. If writing this blog has taught me anything, it's that our methods of dealing with the world must always come into question. One day I find comfort in Marx, the next day I find definition in Habermas, and that fluidity in perspective keeps me sane.

That very fluidity (irony?) is also why reading and writing theory from outside of academia is in some ways more fun and more enlightening. I'm not restricted by having to pigeon-hole myself into a type of research (though if I did, I'd be a liberal theorist with hints of postmodernism). My only restriction is how I feel on a certain day.

Related posts:
I Confess, Politically

Something fun:
Just a few more weeks! Eep!

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