Ten Years of Theory Camp

Posted by Centre News in News 17 Aug 2016

theorycamp copyFor the tenth year in a row, half a dozen Centre College students are gathering each morning with Van Winkle Professor of Sociology Beau Weston to discuss big ideas at The Hub, a popular coffee shop near Centre’s campus. The six students are research assistants in Weston’s Theory Camp, an intensive and collaborative exploration of scholarly texts that takes place for two weeks each August.

This year’s Theory Camp participants include rising sophomore Alexis Becker; rising juniors Jimmy Robinson, Emma Anderson and Brendan Holly; rising senior Christina Colón; and 2016 graduate Jeannie Corbitt.

“The camp is focused on the exploration of sociological theories, but the students who participate in the camp come from different majors and backgrounds,” says Colón, a sociology major. “The diversity of thought and classroom experiences leads to insights and discoveries that would not be made otherwise.”

Participants in this year’s camp are studying two books: Christian Smith’s To Flourish or Destruct: A Personalist Theory of Human Goods, Motivations, Failure, and Evil, and Webb Keane’s Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories.

Both of these books have implications for Weston’s research, which is part of a project supported by the John Templeton Foundation that aims to apply the philosophical movement known as critical realism to social science.

“My research is on why people choose to live in the neighborhoods that they do,” says Weston. “I am hoping these texts can help me think about how different kinds of neighborhoods, and ways of relating to your neighborhood, relate to human flourishing.”

Tackling difficult concepts together builds camaraderie among Theory Camp participants. “This group has really high morale, and we are enjoying developing a shared humor,” says Weston. In addition to bonding over theory and coffee, the group has spent extracurricular time competing as a trivia team at Brother’s BBQ, a local restaurant.

“I’ve really enjoyed and appreciated Dr. Weston’s collaborative approach to Theory Camp,” says Corbitt, who graduated in May with majors in English and Religion. “He stresses his own role as an active participant and learner in the process. It is a unique and valuable experience to watch our professor gain insight into his own research through his conversations with us.”

by Laurie Pierce
August 17, 2016