Any research project that formulates an object of study, pursues a strategy of investigation, asserts a claim, and proposes action, as all research must, has an underlying analytical framework or theory. A research project that has narrowed the research focus from an area of interest to a topic and later to a tentative claim has drawn on a theory or theories. In most cases, the analytical framework that informs an investigation is more often undisclosed and as a result unexamined, or taken for granted.
Given its neglect, theory often elicits confusion, apprehension, condescension, and dismissal. Mainstream scholars generally fall into a predictable practice when engaging theory. Most often approached in a linear fashion, theory has been dominated by the intellectual historian’s perspective who is consumed with the Western intellectual tradition and its pantheon of notables: Kant, Locke, Hegel, Marx, Lenin, Luxembourg, Gramsci, Freud, and Foucault; schools of thought: Liberalism, Marxism, Psychoanalysis, Feminism, Structuralism, Cultural Marxism, Postcolonial, and Poststructuralism; and ideological camps: Theological, Liberal, Marxist, Anarchist, Negritude, Pan Africanist, Black Power, Chicanismo, and Postmodern. Not surprisingly, privileged concepts such as the Cartesian subject, ideology, hegemony, race, gender, power, and civil society dominate the conceptual landscape. Whether viewed from the perspective of prominent fields, political camps, notable intellectuals, or fundamental concepts the approach to “theory” betrays a development narrative in which specific political projects make grandiose claims about either a liberal or socialist future.
Refusing the trap of ideological enclosure, we prefer to think of theory as an active, engaged, situated process to, as Jorge Gonzalez explains, “formulate an approach to analysis.” Unlike other theoretical conceits, a living theory emerges out of situated struggles and refuses to impose an already determined or imagined future. Living theory privileges collective ways of knowing and struggling, underscoring that any given struggle necessarily produces theory. Ultimately, the task of living theory, as all “theory,” should be to, according to Hardt and Negri, “identify the existing conditions for potential collective struggle and express them as a political proposition.” Thus, all theory presents the current situation in such a way as to propose ways to change those conditions.
El Kilombo Intergalático. "Appendix: Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle." In Beyond Resistance: an interview with Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos by El Kilombo Intergalático, 62-86. Durham, North Carolina: PaperBoat Press, 2007.