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what we did well, what could be better

What we did well:

Our key aims

We produced a resource that addressed the key issues as identified at the start of the project in particular:

  • Relatability and timelinessthe resource could be used any time during the journey in a 'just in time' fashion
  • Being explicit that a theory provides a ‘lens’ not the truth of a situation: we showed how the same event eg labour relations could be seen differently depending on what theoretical stance was taken
  • The 'aha' moments: interviewees discussed their own theoretical insights and how these felt right at particular points in their research
  • Models and framework: These were discussed and a paper by xxx offered which was particular useful in showing ontological basis for a model and an interview with Vaso discussing child psychology
  • Theory can builds on what others have done: this came over particularly well in the interviews

Problems in theorising

  • Writers think they have to sell theories rather than show uncertainty: The interviewees modelled critical awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of their theories and the traditions in which they worked
  • Some literature is inaccessible: Some no doubt remain so. However we selected some articles pitched at an 'entry' level some were more difficult. We offered brief commentaries and focus question on readings and we used different media.
  • Language is always tracking back to shared meanings: the traditions in which colleagues worked came over in the interviews very helpfully.
  • theories are contested in unhelpful ways (so called ‘wars’): we included a section on how to criticise with kindness.
  • people often express too much deference: we showed the theory can take many forms and took pains not to privilege particular approaches, The key was always to ask the user to assess strengths and weaknesses of particular approaches.


  • There was a lot out of material already online: we were able to link and embed a lot of matierial including blogs and you Tube videos access via You Tube and have asked for chapter to be scanned
  • How theories have changed over time: we have used interviewees to explain changes in their fields and the issues which have led to these changes
  • Why such a theory emerged in this context: we used interviewees to describe the context of their research and linked up to wider reading eg Anderson.
  • We have an opportunity to provoke conversation about theory: we create a discussion area for participants
  • We can learn to be assertive in relation to theory: we set out the case for being proactive about theory both in respect to face to face sessions and in the user guide
  • There are ways of presenting theory that help us being overly didactic: we set out to provide ways of exploring theory - we did not produce conventional distance learning material.

What is theory

We succeeded in giving a sense of theory as multi dimensional but with a concern for abstraction and explanation. The task is for students to locate the tradition of theory in which their work sits. This is not an ‘anything goes’ approach but rather a requirement to argue for the value and the shortcoming of a tradition.

We were also able to make a now more commonly expressed distinction between theory and theorising

Structure and materials

The sturutre of the resource made sense and appealed - it offered guidance and flexibility. Other approaches could have been followed. On one hand we could have produced a more structured course (something on the lines of a Moocs perhaps) or ,on the other hand, we could have had a much more open course in which participants would discuss their own materials in an open forum. However we felt our structure reflected our aims.

We accessed a wide range of resources using a mix of media. We made use of freely available resources for example the Social Theory Applied blog and a talk by .. to research students in Wales.

Team working

We worked well together. The timetable really worked for us it allowed for an iterative approach, without feeling up against deadlines. We all developed our understanding of a wide range of literature on theory, the teaching of theory and different theoretical traditions. Those we interviewed could not have been more helpful. They put themselves out to talk to us about theory.

We did everything on time and within budget

What we might have done better

We were not comprehensive and nor could we be in the time we had. We were as a team undertaking research in sociology, education, gender studies, politics and international studies albeit we were carrying out very different kinds of research. We did take care to interview and include examples of work in other areas for example we interviewed colleagues with specialisms in economics and child psychology and we contained examples from these field but we were light on modelling and deductive approaches.

We talked extensively amongst ourselves about the skewing of theory towards white male Anglo Saxon thinkers but I am not sure if our final resource really raised this as clearly as it could. There were debates over language and the problems of translation too which we did not take up.

We could only work within budget for example the filmed interviews should have been a two camera affair and be carried out with greater professionalism. I personally want the role of interviewer to be shared around but for various reasons this was possible. We had to work within budget and we did as we could.