Why theorise at all?

One of the first questions asked by new students of European or political theory in general is why do we concern ourselves with theory? After all, is it not possible to just study the ‘facts’ and day to day goings on of European politics? While, it is certainly true that a small number of political scientists occupy themselves with purely empirical pursuits (looking just at the facts), it remains the case that a full appreciation of the European Union (and certainly European Studies) can only be achieved through an understanding of the theories that explain EU integration and politics.

Why is that?

Well, theorising is useful as it helps to “intellectualize perceptions [sic]” (Rosamond, 2000, p. 5). Theory creates frameworks that codify and make sense of people’s perceptions about European politics and allow empirical evidence (facts) to be tested and put in context.

Furthermore, as any student of politics will be quick to find out, there are no such things as facts in the social sciences. While we might all agree that water boils at 100⁰ Celsius, no such consensus is possible for questions regarding human behaviour. Indeed, scholars’ theoretical positions affect what they write and the conclusions they come to. If we want to understand how scholars studying the same phenomena and sometimes even the same documents arrive at opposite conclusions, we have to take their theoretical backgrounds into account. Understanding someone’s theoretical grounding allows you to understand how they have arrived at a particular point of view about European politics. It tells you about their “basic image of social reality” (Rosamond, 2000, p. 7) and therefore puts into context any information they present as evidence and any assertions they make.

Read the following extract here to find out more about why scholars theorise.

Note in particular what is said about

  1. Theorising as the unearthing of the ‘laws’ of European politics.
  2. Theorising as simplification of complex reality
  3. Theorising as the unearthing and testing of peoples assumptions

Click to read the extract.