Theory and Practice
A spectre is haunting the world – the spectre of practice without theory. Imagine, for a second, that you are an avid, inspired dancer. You have grand plans to synthesise the art of underwater basket-weaving into the art of ballet, whilst using the entire dance to perform a postmodern retelling of the fall of Rome and writing that retelling as an allegory to deconstruct Freudian analysis of gender. Cool. The only problem is, whilst you do have a genuinely deep appreciation for ballet, you do not know the first thing about how to actually do it. If you were to go about orchestrating this loony mashup without the aid of the theoretical, (or in other words, the knowledge) you’d fail quite miserably.
Conversely, there is also theory without practice. We all know how socialism works in theory but not in practice, a quirky teenager could digest all the socioeconomic works of the philosophical greats. Smith, Marx, you name it. Thus, if a person lacks either theory or practice in a particular field their work will be a failure. An idea without practice is an idea which cannot sustain itself. If theory is knowledge then practice is experience.
If you find yourself agreeing with everything I’ve just said, tell me this: how can knowledge be gained without experience? How can you gain any practice without theory? In what world can an individual have the knowledge of how to do something but not be able to do it in practice, or the other way around?
There are 2 ridiculous metanarratives I’d like to pick apart today:
- You can be clueless in either theory or practice but excel in the other.
- Practice is derived from a theory/piece of knowledge and a bad theory results in a similarly bad final product, in the form of practice.
Let us return to the ballet appreciator, the very act of appreciation for an art gives the appreciator knowledge of practice. You cannot appreciate the beauty of a ballet dance on any level without understanding what makes it beautiful, or without being able to see the beauty in a ballet dance. (I actually don’t care about ballet at all, choose this topic for personal comedic reasons – dramatic irony but you’re the character. )
The common ideals of both theory and practise are quite grating in my opinion. It is common for all of theory to be reduced to academia. This is done in spite of when, in scientific fields for example, universities are actually hubs for experimentation – where theory is put into practice by actually doing it and new theory is created from the results of experimentation. Practice also receives a stereotypical characterisation of endless perfection of fine motor skills or something which is otherwise metaphysically large or visible like marathon running to improve stamina or playing an instrument. Whilst this can all be understood as practice, for some practice can also be debating someone else with their own theory. As the effect of their actions in a debate is on someone else, and the impressions on the self are external, it can be classified as experience.
As a society we refuse to return the fundamentals to theory. With the rise of climate change and an increasing wealth gap as Marx predicted, it seems capitalism is the idea that is “working in theory, but not in practise”. And to assume that socialist theory hasn’t changed since Mao? Come on.
The distinction of theory and practice doesn’t really exist. Sure, you could be reasonably identified as lacking one or the other, but in truth, they build up each other. You cannot gain a lot of theory without practice, or the other way around. Here is my proposition to you: Interpret theory and practice as a cycle, a process of improvement. Theory allows for practice, which allows for further refinement of theory and so on. Personally, I find this theory to be an excellent addition to the ideas of theory and practice.