Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What the heck is theory, anyway?

Now, my recollections of time with the word theory come from middle school and the scientific method. Many things are hypothoses, but most of those don't become theory. We try to destroy a hypothosis to make it stronger, and only the very strong ones get to be come theory.

Or something like that.

This year, I do believe I will be encountering a whole other type of "theory." I am taking a class called "Theories of Mass Media Research: Macro-Social Level." After signing up for this class, I met with the professor.

"Hi," I said. "I was wondering if you could tell me about your class. I'm taking it, but I don't understand what the title means."

She is incredibly nice and told me that the class had a terrible title and assured me I would be just fine.

The class contains 13 boys and three girls. There are two masters students and 14 doctoral students in it. The syllabus contains the frigtening sentence: The examination will be similar to the type of questions you might be asked during qualifying examinations.

While we didn't do anything but go over the syllabus on Monday, that pesky word "theory" kept coming out. Now, I'm not sure what theory is. Is it a sentence, like "All good journalists have strange names like Scooby Ryan or Warren Wheat" (actual names)? Is it a short thing like "agenda setting," a tenet of journalism that Mike Farrell taught me in JOU 301? Is it a way of looking at text through a lense, like Tracy and I did in our ENG 320 class where she was Deconstruction and I was Psychoanalysis? Is it even a thing at all?

The way we were constructing sentences around the word it led me to believe that theory is a nebulous idea that floats above our heads until we gather it in our arms and staple it to our research paper. "We will be exploring theory..." rather than "We will explore a theory" or "the theory of..." Perhaps I'm being an English teacher here and being entirely too picky about articles, but there it is.

Tomorrow, I have to turn in a 2-page getting to know you paper about myself and my research interests. Interests are easy. I know what I'm interested in: media law, especially in terms of how Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier has affected journalism education; new media, including convergence and blogs and such; media and celebrity, although I'm not sure where I would go with that; and narrative journalism. All of these spring to mind immediately, so even if I don't go anywhere near these topics when it comes time for my thesis next year, I at least have a place to start.

But then there's the question: what type of research do you want to do? Are you a quantitative or qualitative person? I had to get Megan to explain it to me -- but I do know that quantitative involves numbers, and numbers are not my friend. Basically, I have no clue. To her credit, she did say that she knew some of us wouldn't know yet. I'm not sure by "not knowing" she means "don't know what the different forms of research are," however.

So it seems I have my work cut out for me in this class. We will be exploring theory. Whatever that means.


Megan said...

Do not freak out over the word theory. Profs in grad school love to throw the word around every chance they get. In layman's terms, it is simply many different scholars opinions of what journalism (or history or whatever) should be and how it should be studied. It's a lot easier to comprehend once you actually start talking about it! :)

Tracy said...

DOn't remind me of deconstruction!!!
But I do still love David Miller. He was one of the best teachers I had in college.