An obsession with theory?

Ron Roberts responds to our November cover feature by Mick Billig.

Reading Michael Billig’s fabulous article (November issue), I was reminded of an incident a few years ago when submitting some work on attitudes to NATO to a political psychology journal. They repeatedly refused to review it on the grounds there was no theory there... this despite the obvious benefit that it involves the first random sample in post-war Bosnia since the war there.

The mantra of no theory was again reeled out by another political psychology journal. I asked the editor who refused to review it what real world events of any significance had theory predicted in political or social psychology for that matter. They declined to respond. We eventually got the piece accepted by a political science journal where it was praised by the US’s chief negotiator in Kosovo.

The event did my career no good. My boss was similarly obsessed with theory and marked down an excellent postgraduate dissertation on the psychological needs of refugees, conducted in the trying conditions of an actual refugee camp, on the grounds that there was no theory. I wonder how many people have had their career adversely affected by the kind of nonsense Billig so aptly identifies.

Ron Roberts
Honorary Lecturer, Kingston University

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