New Lecture: Theory for the quality of life. Some very positive remarks on the use of theory as a lens

‘At the most general level, theory seems to refer to pretty much anything that is going on in our minds. Despite its slightly imposing implications, theory is actually a word that is used frequently in everyday speech. We say things like “Tim has a theory about that” or “In theory, that might work – but not in practice”. Here theory refers to the realm of ideas. It is opposed to “practice” which itself often appears to mean “reality”. Theory is thinking and practice is doing. This opposition leads many to think of theory as impractical and unreal. (…) Theory, in the academic sense, usually refers to organized and patterned sets of ideas rather than spur-of-the-moment thoughts. Theories are more or less organized ways of ordering the world which exist in our minds and which we share with others. They have a collective and enduring intellectual quality. (…) One metaphor that is frequently used to describe theory is the “lens”. Think of theory as a lens that helps us see some things clearly – it imposes conceptual order on messy reality – it brings an indistinct blur into focus. Theory turns the perceived and experienced world into an “interpreted world”.’ (Cresswell, T. (2013)

Key words: theory | abstractions | critical theory | danger


  • Cresswell, T. (2013). Geographic thought: a critical introduction. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Chapter 1.
  • Fuchs, S. (2001) Against essentialism: a theory of culture and society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. C1 and 2