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Theory Theory:
A Designer's View*


Thomas Erickson
November 2000



Theory weary, theory leery,

why can't I be theory cheery?

I often try out little bits

wheresoever they might fit.

(Affordances are very pliable,

though what they add is quite deniable.)

The sages call this bricolage,

the promiscuous prefer menage...

A savage, I, my mind's pragmatic

I'll keep what's good, discard dogmatic.


Add the reference to my paper,

watch my cited colleagues caper,

I cite you, you cite me,

we've got solidarity.

(GOMS and breakdowns, social network,

use those terms, now don't you shirk!)

Clear concepts clad in fancy clothes,

bid farewell to lucid prose.

The inner circle understands

but we overlook the hinterlands


Dysfunctional we are, it's true,

but as long as we're a happy crew,

if strangers stare and outsiders goggle,

or students struggle, their minds a'boggle

(Dasein, throwness, ontology


A pity 'bout that learning curve

but whose to blame if they lack verve?

A ludic take on structuration,

perhaps this causes consternation?


I see four roles that theories play:

They divide the world, come what may,

into nice neat categories,

enabling us to tell our stories.

(Info scent sure is evocative,

and cyborg theory's quite provocative)

Our talk in turn makes common ground,

where allies, skeptics may be found.

Prediction's theory's holy grail,

most that seek it seem to fail.


The world is messy, fuzzy, sticky,

theoretically 'tis all quite tricky.

Theories keep it at a distance,

cov'ring up the awkward instance.

(Objects, agents, actor networks,

banish life with all its quirks)

But when edges grate and things don't mesh,

that is when I think my best.

So let not theory serve as blinders,

welcome disruptions as reminders!


Oddly now, I'm theory cheery

I find I have a theory theory!

Neither holy grail, nor deep disgrace,

theory's useful in its place,

(Framing, talking, predicting, bonding,

evoking discourse--Others responding)

Like goals and methods, plans and actions,

theory's situated, not pure abstraction.

So make your theory a public way,

where passers by may pause and stay.


# # #

* Written upon reading a commentary for a special issue of JCSCW on Theory (Version 5)



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