Friday, March 05, 2010

(my) literature review; a turangawaewae moment

This post starts with the angst of trying to sort out why my lit review section didn't work for me. Previously this post was titled as 10 things I hate about my lit review. I've now, obviously, reviewed this. Ive come to the realization that purposing the lit review section entails establishing a place from which to have voice, hence the use of a distinctly New Zealand and Maori word, turangawaewae, a place to stand, a place of belonging.
Here is the rant I began with, self therapy in the narrative form for what was not exactly a writers block, It was written, i just hated it. Now I have this weird space of not liking this post, but electing not to delete it. It was helpful to me. I'd spent months of not liking my previous lit review section and the hole i was in might be familiar to others so i'm leaving it here. Best wishes if you experience the same sort of darkness in your writing.

1. I wrote it 4 years ago, and everyone has kept writing since then, the field grew exponentially while i data collected, so i have to update it. Its not that I haven't kept reading, i have. Its just as one area grows bigger, other areas are similarly reshaped and so also require reconfiguring. There's an accumulative distortion effect.

2. I wrote it when i thought i was going to study everything. Before i discovered doing more than one ethics application was stupid, so its breadth was enormous and is now unwieldy.

3. It reminds me of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. I would never have read past Captain Corelli's boring first 135 pages if so many others had not said it would be a good book. Sadly a thesis is unlikely to have the alignment of these persuasive others, I cant afford switching the reader off with tedium before they ever get to the main event (my study). Maybe this is a rationale for a split screen approach. Read the top half of the page if you just want the main event, and read below the line if you want the contextual determinants of the writers thinking. Note to self: revisit Annemarie Mol's The body multiple, tedium was not a justification she espoused.

4. So why is it boring? It's boring to me. I've already been there, and am past it. I already 'know' why another approach is of more value than all the one's i previously looked at...and i find it annoying to go back in my thinking and do it all again in detail for the readers benefit. And then i realized something....

5. The thesis (on at least one level) is not for me. It's for the reader. It's a bit like selling a house. If i do it up, its not so i can live there. It's for someone else, and so it has the requisite number of rooms that fit a majority purpose and they are all done beige bland with maybe a little bit of sparkle. Hmmm, time I got over myself?

6. I've just discovered a whole area of interest to how change happens, hidden within the language of workplace learning. Damn. If only....if only i had chosen just this one facet four years ago.... Can i let go of where Ive been? Do I replace all my precious though shoddy words in the hope that this one sip of a holy grail will result in congruence, a trajectory of happiness?

7. I have spent three months or longer, with the lit review on a back burner eating away at me, Ive tried addressing it head on reading, editing, structuring....and Ive tried letting it percolate in the background, bubbling away hoping some alchemy will happen if i don't foreground it in my thinking, but neither time-honoured approach has sorted my dilemma. I don't like what i had written, nor what i have to write of. Do i just suck the lemon and complete it as a tedious distraction in what is otherwise an ok piece of work? No!

8. I have reread the purpose of a lit review. I have reread writings on how to write one. I can do the 'this versus that', 'this is the same as that', 'this is better than that' and 'therefore...' And i am getting a glimmer that this is the problem. The methodology of an actor-network theory is more modest than this...if i were to take the approach of literature as data, i would be saying something else. I would not be making the normative evaluative judgments. I would be talking multiplicity. So maybe that's the problem; I'm sitting with a schizophrenic moment.
I need a section that recognizes multiplicity and partial accounts; a section that reflects the intersections, convergences and divergences.
It's an issue of form and function; of existence and essence. I want a section that maintains congruence with the overall approach.

Phew there were only 8 reasons I hate my literature review section. And I'm now more sorted after blogging my thinking. I can at least now approach the chapter understanding my avoidance.

So on to some wisdom gleaned from this self indulgent rant.

1. The lit review says no one else has done it, or done it quite like this.
2. It makes me visible. A lit review is not all about 'them' its actually about's how come I stand here. A "turangawaewae" moment where I metaphorically position myself within the research field, this is my place, here's where i stand, in this space I have voice.

From Knobel and Lankshear (1999) in a CQU address, I read:

By 'reviewing the literature' we refer to the process of reading and writing about a range of theoretical, methodological, data collection and analysis techniques and tools, and research-based literature in order to craft an argument on behalf of the research design and question(s); one that says, more or less, "here I stand" and these are my informed reasons for choosing this problem area, developing these questions, this methodology, this research design, this theoretical framing and so on. Reviewing the literature for a study therefore serves a number of purposes.
First, reading quickly and widely in the area(s) you have chosen to study alerts you to similar or exact-same studies already done and that address the same problem area and similar questions that grip you. This kind of review can help to minimize redundancy and needless replication of research, or, on the other hand, it can provide you with a study to replicate or 'test out' in a different context or with different kinds of participants.

3. The framing comes from this...hmmm...there's a tension here too. To paraphrase Bruno Latour from a speech given at an aptly named MAD conference on "what's organizing", and which is available on youtube, I can speak of organizing or about the organisation, I can talk of politics or be political. There are layers. I can network in, I can portray a rendering of reality being multiple, and the writing itself is also performative. Writing of intersecting slices and drawing on such slices. Still it sets up a moment in time where there is a convergence on ideas informing the approach taken.
4. This integrates form and function. More than pointing to everything relevant it gives me space to say how and why I'm locking it in place for this study at this moment in time. Its clotting curds for want of a better metaphor.
5. Last piece of advice from Knobel and Lankshear is to avoid the immobilization of infoglut and infoguilt. There will always be more out there...all you have to do is set the boundary and justify it, guilt for not knowing everything is a total waste of life.

Now, back to the lit review, and making it work, and a whole introductory section later positioning the chapter's purpose and my place in this. All's well with the world.


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