Editorial: Theory in the ‘real’ world

Throughout my four years at Wilfrid Laurier University, I spent the majority of my time resenting my degree.

I was an English and sociology major with a psychology minor — pretentious enough when you said it with your nose in the air — learning how to foreshadow the inevitable death of Hamlet or explaining the social construct of gender.

I sat through countless hours of class being taught things I was determined would have no value after I left university and went into what the big people call “the real world.”

But a few weeks ago, I went to a panel discussion at THEMUSEUM, which looked at nakedness in the media and how different mediums portray nakedness. This included everything from the use of the words penis and vagina on the radio to showing frontal nudity in a community newspaper.

One of the panellists, who is also my colleague, argued that the reason we as a society have such a hard time accepting nudity in the media is because of our social norms — we follow a social contract that lays out the fine details of how we should behave, especially when something is unconventional.

The more my colleague talked about the way social contracts influence our ability to be accepting, and how these norms create informal rules, the more I remembered those very classes in sociology that taught me exactly what she was talking about.

In four years, I learned everything from social norms and folklores, taboos and constructions, rules and contracts, and most recently in my fourth-year seminar, I learned that all of this is already in place because of something as trivial as language.

Our interactions and our language form everything we see and do — the way we behave, the way we act and how we perceive the world around us.

This is all already decided before we even step foot into a discussion.

As silly as this may seem, the fact my colleague was using something I learned in academia gave me a new perspective on the four years I spent writing countless 3,500-word essays about how hegemonic masculinity is found in the workplace or how white privilege is as much a construction as racism.

She was able to apply something that is theory-based to media, something I am immersed in every day.

I can confidently say I will never go into academia.

I will never teach a class, I will never write an acclaimed research paper and I probably won’t ever mark someone’s exam.

The academic world just isn’t for me, and I am okay with that.

But for me to finally be able to say I learned something I can take into the real world is important.

The theory that is drilled into our heads for four years can be used — you just need to find a way to apply it.

Maybe my theoretical knowledge will never translate into the practical skills I need to write an article or run a newspaper.

I can guarantee my ability to read a novel and analyze the colour of the drapes will not be useful when deciding whom to talk to for a story.

But the critical analysis and understanding of societal roles from the theory I learned as a sociology major can be used if I apply it properly and understand its value.

We as university students spend so much time throughout our degrees hating what we’re learning and saying it has no value.

Don’t worry; I’m guilty of it, too.

But the point in university isn’t to learn practical skills that will be used directly in your respective field.

The point is to find a way to use what you’ve learned to help understand what your job or occupation can do. The point is to find a way to understand the world around you so you can work to either change the stigma, or take advantage of it.

As a recent graduate, take my advice: the next time you walk into your three-hour seminar, don’t resent it.

Find out what you can take from it to have a better understanding of the real world that is just around the corner.


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