Friday, August 9, 2019

An Alternative Conception of The Literature Review

I hate the term literature review. I have not figured out a better term for it yet, and since it is the accepted nomenclature, I will, in the words of "The Dude," abides.

Yet, the notion of literature review is problematic. It is a remnant from dissertation work, where we form so many bad habits--bad, at least, when it comes to transitioning to articles and books. Since we learned to conduct our literature review during our doctoral days, many scholars hold a wee bit of trauma about the whole concept, and become anxious when approaching it. This anxiety often leads to inertia.

The model of literature review that most of us learn during their dissertations is to include every reference that you can find, so your advisor and committee will not call you out and shame you.  In other words, you try to throw in everything under the sun in hopes of passing!

When writing articles, scholars who internalize and do not deconstruct and challenge this "method" often write literature review sections that are disjointed and disconnected from the rest of their article. Seminal and "the newest" work might only be tangentially connected to what you are trying to accomplish.

And what is it that you need to do in this section, whatever it is called?

You need to tell a story, or interlocking stories, that help the reading understand and contextualize the rest of the article. That is pretty much it. We want literature that provides us with a narrative of the drama of the march of ideas, be they about the substantive area of the paper, methodological issues, or some key contextual factor. If it is done well, this story leaves the reader feeling included in the work, not excluded-they feel as if the literature review, which may have a different title than literature review, was written for them, not as part of some hazing.

And that is that for now-- more later.


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