Eclectic.  An eclectic approach is experiential.  I don’t mean to be obscure here, but I was once an academic.  Let me try to spell this out a little more clearly.  You’re reading along in your academic study—perhaps it was assigned to you for a class, or perhaps you have unusual interests, or maybe you want a deeper treatment than you find in Barnes and Noble or on the internet.  In any case, what you’ll often find is academics like to glom onto a theoretician that they follow.  Applying Derrida to this, Lacan to that, and Bakhtin to the other.  In doing so they establish their mastery over complex theory, and earn their ticket into the academy.  You, the poor, curious reader, are left wading through explanations of the theory when what you really want is the content—the actual subject of the book.

My own work has been rightly accused of lacking theory.  Or, more precisely, not following a consistent theory.  It’s eclectic.  That’s because I believe in an experiential approach to research.  I trust my own experience.  Your experience is different, I know.  Trust it.  We learn things through experience.  Perhaps others were raised by parents who read and thought deeply and introduced their children to Deleuze (and perhaps Guattari as well), but most of us weren’t.  And some of us came to trust both raw logic and intense feeling.  We call it instinct in animals, but in people we expect more.  What’s wrong with being eclectic?  It seems to make sense.  If Foucault had it right, shouldn’t it be obvious to all of us?

What’s always amused me about this is that such theoreticians—and I don’t know how you become one without basing your work on your own experience—come and go like fashions.  Ricoeur was the big name a few years back and now I haven’t seen anybody writing about him for a couple of decades, at least in the fields I’m reading.  I tend to read primary material and think as deeply as I can on it.  Yes, I read others who write on the topic and sometimes I’m even quite taken by someone else’s approach.  Still, my experience tends, alas, toward the Baconian—an embarrassment for a vegan, I suppose—that of gathering information and seeing what makes sense of it.  I read the theoreticians from time-to-time and then I read those not classically considered experts.  We’re all in this knowledge game together.  Even Lévi-Strauss and his school.

2 thoughts on “Eclecticism

  1. Jeff Hora

    Hey, Steve…I’ve been doing a BUNCH of reading/learning/head-scratching in the theory-philosophy-analysis field since the end of last year, with the goal of trying to get a handle for myself on what got our society to the spot we’re in. While I’m not near anything that even looks like a shadow of an answer for myself, what you are describing, at least to my “ears” is the stance of pragmatism, which I find really intriguing. While immersing myself in articles and books (Foucault is nuts, and Derrida is so opaque as to be from Mars, but I digress…..) The folks that are making some sense to me include William James, John Dewey, Cornel West, Richard Rorty and Hilary Putnam. My reading of them so far seems to align with your post here…..experience (what works) and the theories that can arise from the experience, as opposed to somehow working out some kind of universal theory (many times with a created vocabulary that doesn’t help much for we who don’t know the ‘secret handshake’ or something like that…..) and then counting or discounting experience and ‘knowing’ accordingly. I appreciate your approach a lot.


    • Thanks, Jeff. I agree with you. The thing about constructing systems around another person’s thought is that when that thinker goes out of favor, so do you. Well, I suppose that’s the fate of us all. I think my approach to things comes from being raised in a pragmatic working-class household. You do what works. We didn’t have the luxury of theorizing and attempting to apply it. And my journey through the educational system never led to a point where one theoretician stood out as the one I must apply. I’m sure this sounds uninformed to most. It is, I hope, at least honest.


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