rn> dialog re: theory & praxis


Richard Moore

Date: Thu, 7 Dec 2000 11:16:02 -0700 (MST)
From: Richard N Hutchinson <•••@••.•••>
To: •••@••.•••
Subject: activism and academia

This thread reminds me of Gramsci's category of "organic intellectuals."

The people who are best positioned to carry out analysis for movement
strategy are activists in the movement.  Some of them, however, develop
this capacity and role more than others, sometimes translating analysis
and theory for the movement's own purposes, and sometimes generating their

A more recent development of this line of thinking is:

Eyerman, Ron and Andrew Jamison.  1991.  Social Movements:  A Cognitive
        Approach.  University Park:  Pennsylvania State University Press.

Eyerman and Jamison analyze movement intellectuals, but they also analyze
movements as cognitive praxis -- a process that subsumes the more
specialized role of certain individuals.


From: "Petros Haritatos" <•••@••.•••>
To: "WSN" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: theory and praxis, academia and activism
Date: Fri, 8 Dec 2000 00:35:19 +0200

These are both significant threads. Here are some inputs on where they

1. Of what use is theory to praxis?

(a) Many people have an itch to do something. For them --people who
"think by doing"-- theory is useful as ideology, providing mental
justification for an emotional urge. They cover a broad continuum, from
the missionary nurse to the intifada youth.

(b) Theory is also appreciated when it shows activists how to be more
effective. They expend energy and are frustrated when it goes to waste.
Theory can help to focus it where it can bring results. Corporations use
MBA training to achieve this, but where are the equivalent institutions
in the opposite camp?

(c) Theory can show to single-issue activists how their own concern is
linked with others. By providing context and perspective, it helps to
move apolitical activists towards political awareness.

2. Of what use is praxis to theory?

An invisible civil war opposes parts of society against other parts. It
is invisible because the better organized camp pretends it is not waging
war, while the other camp is still a nebula, comprising myriad
individual acts of opposition. It includes millions who are not even
aware that they are resisting, thousands of activists, and hundreds of
theorists, very few of whom do field work to to understand what is
really happening "out there". We need to discover how people can be
moved from apathy to activism to a better world. The best way is a
bottom-up empirical approach. Around us, hundreds of (involuntary)
experiments are being conducted -- the question is whether they are
producing new insights for theorists.

If societies possess invisible strengths which are still uncoordinated,
then "theory" is called upon to show how they can be focused into
political strength. I try to cover this topic in a recent paper, to be
published in "Globalization: Critical Perspectives", G. Kohler and
E.J.Chaves (eds.), New York: Nova Science (forthcoming, 2001). The paper
is at www.athenian.net/invisible-strengths.htm

Feedback will be appreciated.

Petros Haritatos, Athens

Date: Fri, 8 Dec 2000 10:32:16 +0000
To: •••@••.•••
From: Paul Broome <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Fwd: theory and praxis, academia and activism
Precedence: bulk
Sender: •••@••.•••


You make some good points. I think we can say, following yours and 
others comments, that theory and praxis could be seen as a mutually 
compatible process, although the latter will always have a more 
visible outcome. Inputs to action or praxis by theory can be made at 
many levels and where successful, can be seen as a 'richening' or 
'deepening' process that adds, qualitatively, to the knowledge of 
activists, and hence, the quality of the outcome of their actions.

Whilst we can see how theory might benefit praxis, it seems that the 
inverse connection is more elusive and difficult to quantify. I don't 
know about the states, but in western Europe, I often wonder how much 
class has to play in a part of this.

You say that millions are not aware that they are resisting - could 
you expand on that for us please?  I think it is easy to argue that 
millions contribute to the dominant order without releasing what they 
are doing - is that not the goal of capitalism? - to create hidden 
dependencies between the public and the multinationals and their 
political apologetics, thus ensuring power and legitimacy that is 
unquestioned and unchallenged by the majority of society. As you say 
- how to encourage people from apathy to activism and thus drive 
change for a better world?

So how do we engage 'doers' with 'thinkers', and more importantly - 
following your comments below - achieve the inverse, especially given 
George Pennefather's comments RE: radical academics?

BTW, a good read on the debate between theory and practice, and 
practical outcomes, can be found in Simon, D & Naaman, A, Eds. (2000) 
"Development as Theory and Practice". Harlow: Addison Wesley Longman 

Cheers, Paul.