Theory Practice Method

Posted: September 22, 2008 in Methods, Readings, Review, School
Tags: , ,

I just finished the last of my reading for this week, On Theory, Practice, and Method: Towards a Heuristic Research Methodology for Professional Writing by Patricia Sullivan and James E. Porter.

The main point of the article, so far as I could tell, is that the dichotomy between theory and practice is an ineffectual one; the two should be considered together, because they absolutely inform one another. Also, Theory, Practice and Methodology all refer to things that exist in a continuum. That is, there is more than just one theory, more than one practice, and more than one method.

While this seems like an obvious thing, it’s a very important distinction to make. It’s very important that there be multiple methods. As they write, “research methodology should not be something we apply or select so much as something we design out of particular situations and then argue for in our studies” (301, their emphasis). Seeing methodology as something fluid opens up more possibilities for research.

They say there should not be a distinction, because there can’t be a complete separation of the two. as they say, “we always observe practice through the lens of some kind of rhetorical theory, whether we are conscious of it or not” (304). While this particular quote seems to privilege one over the other (depending on whether the supporting thing is more important than what it supports or the other way around), they do argue the limits of both theory and practice when taken as a whole. What we really need, they say, is praxis.

Thankfully, they define the term Praxis. I keep finding it bandied about as if everyone knows what it means, but I’ve never been sure. Thankfully, Sullivan and Porter write that “praxis refers to a type of conduct that negotiates between positions rather than grounding itself in any particular position” (302, their emphasis). And further that “Praxis is a ‘practical rhetoric,’ focused on local writing activities (practice), informed by as well as informing general principles (theory), and calling upon ‘prudential reasoning'” (305). So Praxis, then, is bridging the gap between theory and practice. Good. That’s settled then.

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