Do I need to defend defining — or just define?

The article I’m currently writing argues that online role-playing games are a form of theater.  That involves providing a definition of theater.  But does such an action need to be defended?  At least in the past, some people have claimed that the act of defining theater is overly limiting; defining is limiting, of course, because that’s what definitions do — but overly?  Should one not define at all, lest one inadvertently leave something out?  Is (as some people think) defining the limits of theater necessarily an act of power and therefore inherently objectionable?  But who does one really help by not defining one’s terms?

Perhaps these worries are unwarranted: the “theory wars” have supposedly ended.  But at the 2015 ASTR conference in Baltimore, there were plenary papers that used the term “performance” so broadly that in one, rocks “performed,” and another never so much as mentioned performance (let alone theater).  I suppose these were considered appropriate for plenaries because “performance” now covers absolutely everything — i.e., the term has been emptied of any real meaning.

In short, I’m troubled by the “state of the profession.”  But maybe that has more to do with the fact that I’ve been semi-disconnected with “the profession” (academia) for 20 years, mainly because I had to switch to another profession, librarianship.

Be that as it may, the issue I’m wrestling with is whether it’s necessary to defend my act of definition — or just do it, and let the chips fall where they may?

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