The Fans of Cultural Theory
In common usage, the word “theory” refers to a “scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena” (OED). But in the humanities, the word “theory” (sometimes capitalized to “Theory”) has a particular usage. For humanities academics (particularly in cultural studies, philosophy, and literary studies), “Theory” is the term used to describe a subset of philosophical writings— those that pay attention to questions of representation and culture, and particularly those written by the philosophers of continental Europe. Among the most influential “Theorists” are Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Gayatri Spivak, Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, Jacques Lacan, Theodor Adorno, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Slavoj Žižek, Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, Jürgen Habermas, Michael Hardt, and Antonio Negri.
Many academics in the humanities—as well as other intellectuals and artists—use Theory in their work. Some go further, and enjoy reading Theory for the pleasure it gives them. And others go further still—not only using Theory and reading it for pleasure, but even integrating it into their everyday lives and identities (calling themselves by titles such as “Foucauldians” or “Marxists”), spending large amounts of time and money on collecting the books and publications of Theorists, and traveling around the world to attend meetings with other people who feel the same way. It is these “Theory fans” who are the focus of this chapter.