Tuesday, August 13, 2002

One of the things I struggle with when I teach, is how to negotiate between theory and practical studies. The students at the media department tend to spurn the theory as "just theory", while they feel they do something "real" when they create something: write an article for the college newspaper, make a 15 - 30 second piece for the local radio, or perhaps even get their face on television. As long as they can get something "real" for their efforts, they have no urge to understand why it's good or bad, what consequences it might have or what cultural influences have made them write just so. They don't care if they are being manipulated by the establishment as long as same establishment is willing to accept the product they deliver.

It's my job to make them look not only at the product of the media puppets, but also at the strings. The problem is that the strings are only visible through the filter of cultural understanding, ideological criticism, through analysing texts and testing theories. Which, to these students, all lumps into the big bag of "theory". In this case theory means: "books I have to read in order to pass the exams I have to take so that I can get the piece of paper from this College in order to secure a job in a big newspaper/television station/corporation."

This problem of "real" is however very familiar to me. Something "real" in this case isn't exactly a table to put the food on, but it has a lot of the same qualities. It's tangible, it can be displayed, the skill of the craftsman is visible and can be shared through the pleasure others have from using the product, and it's possible to give meaningful feed-back on several levels. "I really liked the pictures" is valid praise for a leaflet, as is: "that was funny", or "nice music" about a radio program. It's however a lot more difficult for the layman to give praise to a theoretical product. "I love the colour of your thesis" doesn't quite cut it, and "I laughed several times as you presented your argument" is not trustworthy either. This means that the most common ways of evaluating a product for the people who are important to the students, are not valid when it comes to the work they do with what they call theory. The product becomes less "real", as it appears to be ruled by different rules, those of a small arena and a group of participants which they relate to out of necessity, not from desire.

Theory appears to be the game, the play-ground we have created for them to play around with toys and tools of the trade is seen as the real world. What I need to do, in order to make the students perceive theory as "real" is to skew their entire conception of what reality is. I need to tone down on the products and emphasis the analysis, change their priorities and shift their alliances and their trust. Wish me luck, it's going to be a busy autumn in Volda.

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