Showing Theory to Know Theory

Showing Theory to Know Theory

Understanding social science concepts through illustrative vignettes

Volume 1

Edited by Patricia Ballamingie and David Szanto

Showing Theory Press  |  Ottawa, ON, Canada


Showing Theory to Know Theory

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Showing Theory to Know Theory by Showing Theory Press is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


This project is made possible with funding by the Government of Ontario and through eCampusOntario’s support of the Virtual Learning Strategy. Learn more about the Virtual Learning Strategy.

Province of Ontario logo in black and whiteeCampusOntario logo in black and white


Cover design by David Szanto.
Cover and title page photo by Filip Kominik on Unsplash.



In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White famously implore us to show rather than tell what we want to express. In contrast, theoretical work seems perpetually prone to the latter. Nonetheless, abstraction and disciplinary jargon remain useful, synthesizing and communicating complex ideas—at least, to those who are already familiar with the terminology. This book aims to demystify theoretical concepts, making abstract-yet-valuable ideas more accessible by showing rather than telling how they are meaningful and usable in day-to-day situations.

Bringing together a collection of “illustrative vignettes,” Showing Theory to Know Theory aims to help students understand complex ideas without dumbing them down. Each vignette takes form in a different way: concrete, illustrative examples; short, evocative stories; reflexive and intimate poems; illustration, described photographs, and other audio-visual materials. Along with our dozens of contributors, we hope that this volume will be of use across disciplines and community contexts, democratizing theory while linking it to practical, grounded experience.

As a user of this book, it is important to remember that each vignette is not intended to be encyclopedic or exhaustive. Instead, in combination with classroom discussion, they aim to ground learners’ understanding of the term or concept in a specific example. Further nuance and interpretation will come from responding to the questions included with each vignette, completing exercises or additional readings, and having an instructor situate terms within their conceptual lineage.

Ultimately, after reading/viewing and discussing an individual vignette, our hope is that students will be able to articulate, in their own words, the meaning of the term or concept. We also imagine that this book will help learners form and describe connections between theoretical abstractions and concrete examples of how that abstraction is meaningful to lived experience. Eventually, they may identify or create their own vignette, based on an existing understanding of a theoretical concept or term, and draw connections to lived experience and concrete examples. In the long term, and as discussed later on (see Adopting this Book), the community of users around this book may choose to expand it into a larger, more comprehensive collection, mapping the broader relationships among social science disciplines and areas of study.

Overall, we aspire to help learners in both university and community contexts to make the all-important connections between theory and practice, the abstract and the concrete, the world of knowing and the realm of doing. Along the way, may they also develop the critical reading and thinking skills—as well as innovative forms of expression and representation—that are so urgently needed in today’s complex, entangled, and fraught social and political ecologies.

With gratitude,
Patricia Ballamingie and David Szanto

How to use this book


Vignettes are organized alphabetically by the name of the concept or term that the author addresses. While we originally considered a more curatorial approach to the book—for example, creating conceptual, methodological, or epistemic sections—we ultimately chose this more straightforward ordering. As a digital resource, and one that we imagine being used very differently by its different readers, we didn’t want to impose too much structure. That said, within given entries, we also link to other, related vignettes, where our editorial eye suggested such connection making.

Eventually, we hope to hear from our readers about different ways that they have organized the vignettes in their use of this book. We imagine that variable groupings will suggest themselves in ways that are relevant to their own learning needs. To this end, the Zotero-based search and filtering application on our website can help find the most pertinent entries. (Much thanks to University of Ottawa School of Information Studies master student, Swati Sood, for developing the Zotero library.)

Each vignette starts with a one-sentence description of the term or concept that is presented. We interpret these not as ‘definitions’ (since to define a complex term in a single sentence is generally problematic), but as simpler renderings of what follows in the author’s text. While the vignette provides a grounded illustration of the concept, the one-sentence description is more generalized. (Later, discussion questions and exercises may also open the reader up to a more general understanding of the term.)

Similarly, we have foregrounded the authors’ biographies, interests, and positionality to encourage critical reading of each vignette: knowing who (and sometimes why) a contributor has chosen a particular term and illustration is, we believe, important for readers to know in advance of reading the ensuing text. Theory is, after all, always interpreted! This is a key element of helping new learners understand how social science terminology is meaning in pluralistic ways.

Some vignettes involve visuals, some are entirely textual. Some offer abstract interpretations of the term or concept, some dive directly into a straightforward example. In some cases, conducting an exercise is part of ‘reading’ the vignette; often exercises or discussion questions, which follow the main body, will lead to further, hands-on learning about the term or concept.

Several vignettes include links to other entries, showing connectivity among themes and a relational geneaology of terms. Overall, we have attempted to keep references and citations to a minimum, both to encourage authors to maintain an accessible, generalized writing style and to help readers grasp key aspects of the text without extensive distraction. References and additional resources are nonetheless included with each vignette, to allow teachers and learners to explore the term further.

The Website

Our public-facing website,, is one possible entry point into this book, although if you are reading this text, you have already started using the book!

The website offers a useful “filtering” tool based on the Showing Theory Zotero library. Searching for any keyword or term will return all entries in the book that may be relevant to your needs. It also provides a useful way of seeing which vignettes address similar themes, such as race, frameworks of knowledge, or methods in the social sciences.

The website also offers links to the PDF and EPUB versions of the book, which can be downloaded and used in an offline context. The web-based, HTML version of the book not only offers the most dynamic reading experience, but it also requires internet access, which we recognize is not universally available and accessible.

Showing Theory is also available as a print-on-demand textbook, and copies can be purchased from Ingram Spark. While there is a price associated with printed copies, it is solely to cover the Ingram Spark cost; no profit is returned to the publishers, editors, or authors. Please contact us for more details.

What to do if you find an issue/typo/problem

As is increasingly standard for high-quality, openly accessible educational resources (and as required by our funding agreement), Showing Theory is machine-readable and compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2005. All content is designed based on current Universal Design Standards, including alt-text for all graphics and proper text-to-background color ratio.

If, however, you find an issue related to accessibility, or other content that is either in error or problematic in your view, we encourage you to get in touch with us to report the problem. This can also include such minor issues as typos, formatting problems, or broken links. While the book has been extensively reviewed and proofread, mistakes always happen!

How did the book come about?


Beginning with Trish’s initial emails soliciting interest from colleagues, the response to this concept has been overwhelmingly positive. People immediately grasped the urgency for such a collection as “something we needed decades ago,” and recognized its potential value as a teaching resource. David replied immediately, with genuine enthusiasm. He saw it as a concept that had potential and value for a huge community of folks. Within a day he had put together a vignette and started having ideas for broadening the scope. Trish immediately knew she had found a collaborator.

Stars aligned and we discovered eCampusOntario’s Virtual Learning Strategy, through which we received the funding to make this project possible. A Government of Ontario–funded non-profit organization, eCampus works to develop and distribute online learning tools throughout the province. We also received administrative and instructional design support from Carleton University’s Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) team, who have been both expert guides and heartening cheerleaders. Sincere thanks to Valerie Critchley, Andrea Gorra, David Hornsby, Jaymie Koroluk, Patrick Lyons, Laura Ravelo Fuentes, Mathew Schatkowsky, and Dragana Polovina-Vukovic!  We are also grateful to Nancy Snow (Associate Professor, Faculty of Design, OCAD University) for joining us as a Project Consultant, providing pedagogical and design input in the initial stages.

The eCampusOntario funding came with stringent reporting requirements and clearly delineated project deliverables, including adherence to accessibility standards and the use of a Creative Commons license. The latter is important to us as editors and contributors ourselves, because it will allow others to remix and repurpose the book’s content while ensuring that the original creators of each vignette are credited for their work and recognized as its originators. This, along with the book’s digital format(s) and free access, are key components of the open publishing ethos within which Showing Theory was conceived and created.

Publication of this open educational resource (OER), from conceptualization to scoping and team building, development, production, publication, and evaluation, took place over one calendar year, from start to finish, during a global pandemic. While it has not been a simple task, it is nonetheless testament to the power of collaboration and good will, to the flexibility and connectivity of digital tools, and to the promise that open-access publishing offers a new generation of learners.

Submissions and Review


How did we solicit submissions?

In June and July 2021, we distributed our Call for Proposals (with guidelines, a submission template, and sample vignettes) to about 25 different scholarly association newsletters, listservs, and Facebook groups. Disciplines included: anthropology, art and design, critical education, environmental studies, equity studies, food studies, geography, sociology, political economy and political science. Contributions emerged from a broad range of social scientists and practitioners, with the majority coming from across Canada, followed by the United States, and United Kingdom. We are grateful for those that reached us from farther afield, providing additional perspectives and world views. These included submissions from Mexico, Finland, Greece, the Philippines, and New Zealand.

How did we review submissions?

Our rigorous review process aimed at ensuring that the vignettes are as effective and accessible as possible, while also enabling authors to count them towards the narrow metric upon which academics are evaluated—peer-reviewed publications. An editorial review by both editors allowed us to move forward those submissions that fit within the critical social sciences, that were well developed, and that reflected the criteria we had established. Following an initial edit, each piece was sent to one scholarly reviewer with expertise around the given term or concept, and one community reader with similar perspectives but a less academic lens. This aimed at ensuring high-quality content that was also highly accessible to new learners. We are very grateful to our extended network of family, friends, and friends of friends, who served as community reviewers, both for accepting the challenge and offering their critical sensibilities!

In both review cases, reviewers remained anonymous, and their feedback was forwarded to the authors by the editors, often accompanied by additional comments and suggestions for revisions. The close-to-final drafts were then reviewed by one or both editors before moving on to copyediting and production. While it is common in some open publishing contexts to have both the authors and reviewers know each other’s identities (as opposed to the common convention in much academic publishing of conducting “double-blind” peer review), we opted for a more anonymous process here.

Our sincere thanks go out to the large and generous community of reviewers, both scholarly and community: Peter Andrée, Joan Andrew, Samphe Ballamingie, Kelly Bronson, Deborah Carruthers, Michael Classens, Lilly Cleary, Deborah Conners, Aviva Coopersmith, Stephanie Couey, Judith Crawley, Maria Dabboussy, Moe Garahan, Sherrill Johnson, Ali Kenefick, Meaghan Kenny, Irena Knezevic, Katalin Koller, Simon Laroche, Tess Macmillan, Florencia Marchetti, Nancy Marelli, Ajay Parasram, Namitha Rathinapillai, Tabitha Robin, Noah Schwartz, G Solorzano, Michelle Stewart, Kathy Stutchbury, George Szanto, Molly Touchie, Susan Tudin, Pamela Tudge, Annika Walsh, Bessa Whitmore, Amanda Wilson, Dana Zemel, and Trudi Zundel.

Additional thanks to our past and current students, who tested a wide sampling of vignettes and offered their opinions (and testimonials!) about what they read. This group of fearless learners includes: Brent Gauthier, Marie-Hélène Guay, Beatriz Lainez, Melissa Leam-Chen, Tony Horava, Matthew Montoni, Breena Johnson, Catherine Littlefield, and Iain Storosko.

Adopting this book


Our hope is that this book will be of use across multiple contexts, including but not limited to university classrooms and other post-secondary learning environments. Given the increasing cross-disciplinarity of many fields, many vignettes are applicable and address themes from sociology to history, human ecology to epistemology.

Whether or not you use every entry in the book in your classroom (which would be surprising and impressive!), we encourage you to formally register your use of the book using our adoption form. This helps in several ways. First, it will allow us to stay in contact with you, if new or revised editions of Showing Theory are released. In the same way, you can maintain contact with us, to provide feedback on how the book is working for you, or to identify errors or omissions that need to be corrected in future editions. And, of course, knowing how many people are using the book—and where and in what contexts—is important feedback for us. It will help us keep making changes that address real needs, while also supporting future efforts to expand or evolve the project more broadly.

The use of “Volume 1” in our title signals our desire for this project to live and grow beyond its initial conceptualization. The current collection serves as a proof of concept, and we hope others will use it as a springboard to create other similar volumes (focused on thematic, disciplinary, or community-driven categories). We can imagine targeted calls for new volumes themed around Indigenous methodologies, critical race theory, political ecology, and many others. Our contributors covered a wide range of terms—some that we solicited, and some that were proposed through their own interest and expertise. Many concepts, however, remain unaddressed. In this way, we hope to spawn (potentially multi-lingual) future editions, remixes, and/or sub-volumes within other disciplines, fields, or faculties.

To that end, please note that Showing Theory is published under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA license, the content in this book may be reused, remixed, repurposed, and maintained at will, provided that no commercial derivatives are created and that all future editions also carry the “share-alike” (SA) license. Any republication of the content, however, must follow Creative Commons terms.

Accessibility Statement


In accordance with Carleton University, University of Ottawa, eCampusOntario, and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), we have aimed to make this textbook accessible and available to everyone. To that end, Showing Theory to Know Theory was audited for accessibility by a team from the Carleton University Teaching and Learning Services unit. Their report served as the basis for a number of refinements and corrections.

Accessibility features of the web version for this resource

The web version of Showing Theory is designed with accessibility in mind. It has been optimized for people who use screen-reader technology, and all content can be navigated using a keyboard. To the best of our ability, and within the parameters of the Pressbooks publishing platform, links, headings, tables, and images have been designed to work with screen readers.

Other file formats available

In addition to the web version, this textbook is available in a number of file formats, including PDF, EPUB (for eReaders), HTML, and various editable files. You can also purchase print-on-demand copies from Ingram Spark. Please contact us for more details.

Let us know if you are having problems accessing this textbook

While we have tried to make sure that this textbook is as accessible and as usable as possible, there might still be some outstanding issues. If you are having problems accessing this resource, please contact us to let us know so we can fix the issue.

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About the Editors


Patricia Ballamingie is a Professor in the Department of Geography & Environmental Studies and the Institute of Political Economy at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. She has 20 years of experience teaching in the areas of human geography, environmental studies, political ecology and economy, and food studies. Since 2006, she has received seven prestigious teaching awards from a variety of sources, including her faculty, institution, student association, and city. Her program of research focuses on food policy and food systems governance. She served as Project Lead and Co-Editor of Showing Theory.

David Szanto is a freelance academic working across a number of institutions and within several roles. He has 15 years of teaching experience across food studies and communications, touching on the social sciences, humanities, art, and design. A former book editor and marketing-communications professional, he also brings 15 years of experience in the corporate and non-profit sectors. In addition to teaching, David works as a project manager, writer, and editor, and has extensive online and digital development experience. He served as Project Manager and Co-Editor of Showing Theory and is also Co-Editor of Food Studies: Matter, Meaning, Movement.