Over the course of this blog, we’ll be talking quite a bit about social theories and theory making. These theories have some similarities to scientific theories, but also some differences, so it’s worth stepping back for a moment and contemplating them. In particular, I think it’s productive to reinforce the idea that the theory is not the concept.
What is a theory? In these circles, in these uses, a theory is similar to scientific theory. It is a model used to discuss a concept or body of facts. Unlike scientific theories, social and critical theories reach their best when they explain a large body of observations and are contradicted by no repeatable, empirical observations, but they remain “theories” when they have not yet reached this pinnacle. Science has a separate category, hypotheses, for unconfirmed but educated speculations whose merits are debated in an academic community. Social critics? Not so much.