Do we have to write an introduction?

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1. In contrast with expressive writings (presenting themselves as a style, as a certain manner to write), sociological, historical or political writings manifest to the reader as the organized demonstration of a synthetic thesis. This is true for a paper as well as for a book or a book chapter. In other words, the author is unfolding, more or less systematically, the many aspects of one thesis in order to be understood and, hopefully, to convince the reader. It follows from this that, in summarizing a text, you must grasp and explain this intention and its unfolding. The only general guideline I can give you is the following: you must discover what the author himself is demonstrating, capture his final intention as well as its inner organization, and explain it. In writing a summary, your relation to the author’s sayings is different from his own. You are not rewriting his text. Consequently, you must not write as if you were Durkheim. This difference between your positions has two consequences regarding the writing of the summary: you cannot state his ideas as if they were yours; you cannot say everything he is saying. There is no method that guarantees to understand. Nevertheless, two guidelines can be followed. First, understanding can be described as a process of deepening what you have already understood. You have to rely on what you understand to understand what you do not yet understand! I am absolutely convinced that when you do not understand, you know it quite well (though misinterpretations may happen). Thus, the onus is on you to face (or not) the problem. Second, understanding does occur in the process of expressing it. I mean: it is when you are demanding from yourself to write what you (think you) understand that this understanding will actually be achieved. Understanding, and the expression of it, is inseparable. This is true for you; this is true for me: I cannot read separately (and thus correct) what you understand and what you write. Without being dogmatic, one can say that the confused expression of an idea expresses very clearly a confused understanding of an idea. Let’s add subsidiary remarks. Can we quote the author? Of course, as long as the quotation does not replace an explanation you should be giving. It must illustrate YOUR explanation. Do we have to write an introduction? Yes. The introduction expresses your knowledge of the fact that everything you are saying is not situated on the same level: the explanations of the author’s central thesis, of its main articulations and of the way you have chosen to summarize them represent three different levels of meaning. Should we make a critique? No. The issue is to understand and explain what somebody says on something. You have to focus on this.

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