Revisiting C. Wright Mills' portrayal of grand theory in The Sociological Imagination, I extend his insights to reflect on theory more generally. Mills' critique of Talcott Parsons engages both the conceptual substance and rhetorical style of grand theory. I build on Mills to argue for the value of flexibly moving between (1) levels of generality and (2) registers of language, when using theory. Folklorists acquire theory from interactions in fieldwork as well as from disciplinary training and from larger interdisciplinary conversations. These different kinds of theory represent perspectives embedded in social worlds and associated power relations. Setting these different kinds of theory, with their associated viewpoints, into dialogue generates new formulations. Further, while theoretical concepts often form a specialized vocabulary that is a shorthand for the initiated but impenetrable to lay people, the ideas conveyed through this shorthand can usefully be translated, following Mills, into clear and intelligible language.
|Journal of Folklore Research
|Published - 2008