WGS 262Y

2006-2007

Hints on How to Read Theory

 

Theory is a broad term that draws together intellectual efforts to think critically.†† As you will find in this course, there are many writing styles and forms that can count as ďtheory.Ē Theoretical works often have a reputation of being more difficult than other kinds of texts.†† In this course, this will sometimes be the case, but not necessarily.Thinking critically is hard work, both for the author who wrote the text and for us the readers who are trying to learn from it.

 

In this course, you will be reading for the ways texts make arguments or stake a position on a topic.You will not be reading for facts or information retrieval.

 

What you want to know about the texts in this course are:

 

1. What is the problem, concept or question the text is addressing?Try to pinpoint this as precisely as you can.

 

2. What is the central argument or position?Try to restate it in your own words.

 

3. Identify how the text is making that argument? By analogy, by exposing a contradiction, by telling a story, by bringing up an empirical example, by writing from a particular location, and so on?How is the text persuading you or making its case? Keep in mind that an argument may not be presented as a series of logical propositions, but instead may take the form of a narrative, be embodied in the style of writing, or be an explication of a world view or system of thinking.

 

4. What historical conditions is it speaking to?What other positions is the texts in dialogue with or arguing against? What other theories does it building on? When and where was it written?

 

5. Interpret and critically respond to the text based on your own position.Would you argue differently?How?

 

We strongly recommended that you take notes on the readings as you go along.

 

Here are some strategies for reading the texts in this course:

 

Donít give up on a text if you have trouble following it the first time.We recommend that you make a habit of reading difficult texts at least TWO times.

 

The first time, identify what you understand about the texts, and mark what you do not understand for review.

 

Periodically pause and rephrase what you have just understood in your own words.

 

Make a list of crucial concepts to the textís argument. Make sure you are familiar with them. Look up any words or concepts you are not familiar with in a dictionary.

 

Ask yourself if the style that the text is written is important to the argument.

 

The second time, take notes.Pay close attention to passages you find difficult.††† Take notes the second time. Reread difficult passages.It may help to read them slowly or out loud.

 

Keep a dictionary nearby when you do your reading.Donít hesitate to look up words you donít understand.†† Authors are often very particular about which words they choose, and have probably chosen that word for a reason.Ask yourself, why they might have chosen that word and not another?

 

Be sure to read all the way to the end.Do not get discouraged and stop reading.Concepts and arguments can become clearer the more you read.

 

At the end, make a summary or map of the argument.Summarize the main point and how the author got there.What connections does the text make?

 

If you are still having difficulty, set the text aside and try reading it the next day.

 

If you are still having difficulties, try to pinpoint what they are and write them down.Bring specific passages to tutorial or office hours for discussion. If you found a passage difficult, most likely others did too.††

 

Donít be frustrated.The skill of reading theoretical texts takes time. Theoretical works are almost always an engagement in a longer conversation, and by the end of the course you will better be able to situate texts in itineraries of ideas and knowledge making and use theoretical concepts yourself.Remember, lectures and tutorials will also be directly addressing the texts.

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