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A generic term for the interdisciplinary combination of philosophy, literary criticism, and sociology produced by scholars like Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Gilles Deleuze. It is difficult to define theory in an exhaustive manner because it is by nature an inclusive mode of discourse, though its detractors never seem to have any such difficulties. It is perhaps best defined in terms of what it is not: it is not philosophy because it rejects the possibility of one philosophical system being capable of explaining everything; it is not literary criticism because it is not interested in the meaning of specific texts, but rather in the more general problem of how texts are meaningful; it is not sociology either because it is mistrustful of generalizations and does not accept that human behaviour can be quantified. In many respects, however, the term is obsolete because its real purpose was always to stake out the claim for a new way of conceiving both the object and the subject of research in the humanities, and now that purpose has been served, the term has lost its edge. Even so, it is still possible to find people who say they ‘don't do theory’, but they are getting rarer and rarer.

Subjects: Literature

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