Ethnographies examine sectioned-out parts of ongoing processes. We may treat these processes as if they had beginnings, middles, and ends, but it's really our engagements with the processes that begin and end. The people and institutions we study don't stop what they're doing when we stop looking at them. The meanings people attach to the things we see, hear about, or experience during fieldwork continue to change. I'm reluctant, then, to summarize the events I've written about within an overarching framework. The chapters add layer upon layer to my characterization of the school, and it would be self-defeating now to reduce this hard-wrought complexity.
I'm also reluctant to end by elaborating a theory supposedly arising from my fieldwork. It's not that I have inhibitions about theoretical writings (e.g., Nespor, 1994). But the extended fieldwork at Thurber has forced me to re-examine my usual ways of doing things. The academic world I work in is fragmented into regions that struggle to insulate themselves from one another by adopting increasingly specialized academic dialects, tightly drawing the lines of their professional associations and special interest groups, and narrowing the scope of the audiences for their texts. And one reason for this fragmentation, or at least one of the things that sustains it, is the acceptance of theory as an autonomous field of discourse, along with the idea that "merely empirical" work exists only to provide illustrations for, or as a means of generating, theory.
Theory-as-an-independent-arena-of-discourse-and-practice is a powerful glue for tying together academic networks, but I found at Thurber it pushed me away from people outside academia. The separation of theory (which usually corresponds to writing about other academic texts) from empirical description (writing about what people say and do) inevitably privileges the former and distorts or reduces the complexity of the latter. I haven't abandoned theory but have tried to imbricate my theoretical work with my attempts to show what was happening at Thurber. And now, instead of rearranging my arguments under a coherent theoretical umbrella, I shake them up one last time.