From our experience of here and now, we build up expectations about experience of there, then and times to come. From the particular detail of our own direct experience we construct overarching links of generalisation so that we do not have to start from scratch every morning. Making connections between experiences separated in space and time is fundamental to adaptive behaviour and social communication. If a definition of 'theory' includes 'making sense of', then we cannot live without it.
Theory has no life without experience. It is a set of related statements which offer an explanation for the characteristics of a defined phenomenon. As long as these understandings operate successfully and confirm the ways in which we recognise and refer to our experience, they influence us without demanding further conscious reflection. But when we are faced with situations which, because of novelty, scale, complexity or conflict, require us to go beyond our current understanding, then we have to extend our networks of connections and pay attention to a wider range of interpretations and the experiences from which they themselves are derived.
The epistemological status of a theory and the use that can be made of its explanatory concepts depends therefore upon what it is that requires understanding, which, itself, has to be identified. This may always be a problem, because of the mediation of language, but when the subject, as well as the process, of an inquiry is social, reaching an agreed definition of the subject to be explained may be especially hard. Social relationships and institutions cannot be extracted and manipulated in isolation from the contexts in which their meaning, for both the givers and receivers of information, has been constructed. So the sequence of questions, assumptions, demonstrations, analyses and conclusions that constitute the development of a theory cannot be