Why is Theory Practical?
After a century of effort, most curators tolerate theory but continue to disdain it. The social psychologist Kurt Lewin said: “There is nothing so practical as a good theory”. His wisdom about theory has been largely misinterpreted. It was a corrective call for a balanced appreciation of both, theory and practice as one feeds the other, though it mildly reminds us that thinking usually precedes an act. A carpenter or a fisherman or any other art would fail without theory. But, the fact that any curator is already a specialist in an academic discipline blinds them to see that being a full time officer of public memory would require at least a theory of its own.
He who thus praised the practicality of theory, also said:"If you want truly to understand something, try to change it". As a curator I have tried to change museums. Being Professor of Museology, I have tried to change curators. I have learned a lot. Yet, change can be produced only if we finally understand that we are but an occupation in a grand profession in making, - that of public memory.
Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) is considered the father of modern social psychology. His work was influenced by Gestalt psychology and stressed the importance of both personal characteristics and the environment in causing behaviour.