Is Queer Theory Really a Theory?

Among all theories that exist in academia, why are queer theory and feminist theory (and probably some others, often collectively called critical theory) often questioned by people saying, “if it’s theory, it must have coherence and logical foundations”?

First of all, queer theory is just an umbrella term for a lot of different theories, just like economic theory and sociological theory are, as well as biological theory, within which a variety of theories exist and, often times, contradict each other.

I mean, all theories, from those in physics to ones in economics, are just speculations, statements, or even, ways of understanding the world. They are not expected to speak to the truth, but to approximate to it and give only a way to look at things based on the information available. Take Newton’s laws and Einstein’s theory of relativity, or maybe superstring theory, as an example. If physicists believed in theory as a language to explain the truth, they would have to choose either one of the theories, because they contradict each other. I mean, they don’t even know whether light is composed of particles or waves! And yet, they still use both light-as-particle theory and light-as-wave theory, because they both WORK in explaining what happens in the world. They switch from one theory to another when the second theory explains better, or sometimes, when it requires less time and calculation even if the result could be slightly more inaccurate than the first theory. See, that’s how theory works. That’s how theory should be understood. Hence, diversity of queer theories.

Reality is way more complicated than theory, and that’s exactly why we need theory, to better understand what’s going on, and yet never succeed in explaining the whole. Theory doesn’t prescribe, but attempts to describe. Which theory to use totally depends on what is to be described. And producing theory is an endless attempt to explain what has not been explained.

As a side note, I want to add that, precisely because theory is created to explain the unexplained, it may often look irrelevant, an armchair kind of thing, to people who have the knowledge of what has been explained and sometimes even believe in the explained. But to some people, a new theory is a language to explain what has been *wrongfully* unexplained, a language that gives them a power to articulate the *unspeakable*, things taken for granted, which they have always been told not to utter.

That’s what I think theory is. And that’s how I think theory should be used, evaluated, and criticized. It’s just like natural science theories that attempt to explain what other theories are incapable of explaining.


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