Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lit Review as Scholarly Activity

This week we read about lit reviews, much to my surprise!  Why I should be surprised that there are articles about lit reviews, I don’t know, but I was. I think part of the problem is that there is one term, “lit review” for two distinct genres.  There is the lit review section of a research article and the lit review section of a dissertation.  These two sections do both look at previously published literature on the topic, but other then that, their purposes can be quite distinct.  For an article, a lit review is almost never comprehensive; the purpose of a lit review in an article is to show that the author is familiar with the previous work in the field and to outline the approach this article will take.  For a dissertation, there can be several purposes of the lit review, according to David Boote, Penny Belle, and Joseph Maxwell.  According to Maxwell, Boote and Belle believe that a dissertating scholar must show a mastery of the discipline by incorporating a comprehensive lit review.  Maxwell’s own view is that mastery can be demonstrated as the scholar discerns relevant from non-relevant articles; this act of discernment, more than completeness, shows that a scholar has mastered a discipline.  
If the dissertation is being used as a comprehensive exam, as the authors maintain that some lit review sections are, then the lit review section has a purpose apart from its purpose within the dissertation.  I believe that some of the disagreement between Maxwell and Boote and Belle can be attributed to lack of clarity about the purpose of the lit review within the dissertation.  In Qualitative Research, Robert Stake similarly distinguishes between conceptual and systematic lit reviews.  Rather than having a “right” and a “wrong” way to do a lit review, as the authors above argued, Stake links the conceptual review, which he describes as bridging disciplines, to qualitative research, while a systematic (i.e. comprehensive) review of literature within a discipline is used more commonly for quantitative research.
The article that I loved, however, on the lit review, was written by Shirley K. Rose, and entitled “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”  Rose uses Kenneth Burke’s concept of identification to describe citation practices as a means of identification or division as the author of the article or dissertation seeks to establish identity within the disciplinary community.  By citing better-known scholars, the aspiring scholar moves into one or another “camps,” a choice which the rest of the disciplinary community can easily identify by the positions of the scholars cited.  My only complaint about this article is that Rose wrote it before I could think of it.  

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