As part of my preparation for a conversation with other PhD researchers on Thursday, we were asked to read Contextualising the Twin Concepts of Systematicity and Transparency in Information Systems Literature Review (Paré, Tate et al. 2017). While it was rather long and somewhat dense on first reading, I think it will be something I return to. However, it did introduce me to the different “genres”, aims and approaches to literature review. First, the comprehensive articulation of an area or phenomenon without contributing to that body of knowledge. Second, a literature review that attempts to understand and critically evaluate the body of literature in the field including the consideration of different ideas and opinions on the subject. Third, a more quantitative approach of consolidating previously generated data and finally, an explanation and synthesis of the theory leading to an “interpretive explanation”. I found these categories useful and at this stage felt that the second and final descriptions best articulated my current intentions. But, of course, there can be hybrids too. As the title of the journal article suggests, Pare, et al (op. cit.) emphasise the need for a systematic and transparent approach to literature review.
We were guided by our academic leader, that a literature review in the arts is not just about reading. It can also be about looking at photographs, visiting exhibitions, reviewing the work of other artists and viewing collections. She encouraged us to be broadly informed.
I also found the process detailed in Pare et al (op. cit.) and the accompanying top level of the diagram helpful at this early stage in my thinking. They refer to developing a plan for the review process, undertaking the literature search, selecting those works and references most applicable to your thesis, evaluating the quality of the references, identifying key concepts and “analysing, interpreting, synthesising and formulating a conclusion”.
The discussion with other PhD researchers, provided me with some useful experiential information about how the process of producing a literature review might evolve in practice. It was suggested that the literature review did not necessarily need to reside in one chapter of the thesis and a different approach to the format might emerge. Others spoke of how the literature review had emerged through a process of thinking, learning, making and reflection. The process is clearly iterative, and others spoke of a need to be comfortable in that space. In the literature review there is a need to think and research broadly. Trying different processes and methods can be part of the literature review too. There may be some practical investigation. Our tutor encouraged us to “hang on to unknowingness” and retain the question marks. She also stressed the usefulness of misunderstanding – that grey areas can be a benefit. “Stay with the trouble for a while” and find something to argue against to give a balanced view. She explained that we can find ourselves writing in the gap between art-work and academic work and that we might make a feature of the non-traditional position. Finally, she suggested we find ways to talk about our work – at conferences, placements or residences for example. We should seek out these opportunities.
The introduction to the article and meeting with other PG researchers has been very helpful.
Paré, G., et al. (2017). “Contextualizing the twin concepts of systematicity and transparency in information systems literature reviews.” European Journal of Information Systems 25(6): 493-508.