Nuance Traps [...]

In the article “Fuck Nuance” Kieran Healy argues that the process of theorizing is based on abstraction, and as such must attempt to avoid nuance where possible so that its claims and value (or lack of value) are more evident and debatable. When people present such abstracted claims, they are often accosted by people who say “Well, couldn’t it be both/and?” and “Isn’t it really more complex than that?”

As opposed to “true nuance”, Healy calls these anti-theoretical impulses “Actually-Existing Nuance”:

Actually-Existing Nuance is … like a free-floating demand that something be added. When faced with a problem that is hard to solve, or a line of thinking that requires us to commit to some defeasible claim, or a logical dilemma we must bite the bullet on, the nuance-promoting theorist says, “But isn’t it more complicated than that?”; or “Isn’t it really both/and?”; or “Aren’t these phenomena mutually constitutive?”; or “Aren’t you leaving out [something]?”; or “How does the theory deal with Agency, or Structure, or Culture, or Temporality, or Power, or [some other abstract noun]?”. This sort of nuance is, I contend, fundamentally anti-theoretical. It blocks the process of abstraction that theory depends on, and inhibits the creative process that makes theorizing a useful activity. (Source)

This results in a series of Nuance Traps:

  • The trap of the “fine-grain”. This misidentifies theory as a contest of description. But at some level of Actually-Existing Nuance you are not involved in theory at all anymore — you are merely describing phenomena.
  • The over-extension of theoretical frameworks. In this case theories eat and merge with counter-theories and “prerequisites” until they encompass so much that they are neither refutable or useful.
  • The nuance of the connoisseur. This is the idea that only someone engaged with Actually-Existing Nuance can appreciate the “richness and complexity of the world”. This, again, is a near-complete rejection of the theoretical enterprise.

Mike Caulfield has noted something similar. See Binary Utopian Critique

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