Redefining (my) Literature Review

I am working on the ‘lit review’ (and definitions) section of my dissertation this week, and it has been an interesting challenge so far. I come from Sociology, where a proper literature review – reviewing what has been written on a particular topic – usually framing the field or the range of perspectives before adding your own – is a formal process with a relatively homogeneous structure across the field.

In this case, for my dissertation, it is a bit different. I am in a field that does not require a lit review (or methods section for that matter!), but I cannot justify writing on a topic that has such an extensive background. It is also important for my readers to know where I am coming from, what I know about what I am writing about, and acknowledging the history of a topic. As it stands, seeing as I am not ‘required’ to include a literature review as defined by a social science structure, I have made a few decisions about its purpose within the context of my dissertation in my department. To be fair, the inspiration came from this book on dissertation writing. While some may have accused me of procrastination while reading it, it has helped me see the structure of my dissertation – and I don’t just mean chapter breakdown or anything – it really busts out what each bit of your diss should be accomplishing. In talking about the literature review, Dunleavy talks about good and bad lit reviews – the cumbersome review that includes everything under the sun ever written, and the good (read: functional) review that develops the literature in a ‘need to know’ structure for the reader. Since I am using a lot of literature from outside Film Studies, it is important for my committee to understand the ideas that frame my work (so that I can prove that the work I am doing is innovative in respect to what has been done already).

So, I spent the last four days hammering out my lit review, more unconsciously than I realized. I decided to roll my “definitions” bit into the same chapter, so the reader will know within which context I am talking about certain terms. So, I categorized my literature by ‘term’ in order of relevance to the content of my work. Starting with Identity (obviously), I realized I wrote a pretty classic lit review almost by second nature (I have written a few on identity in my academic career….). When it was all done, I broke it up into sections of what it is I want the reader to know about identity and its construction process – within a historical context. Instead of writing a full overview of the lit and situating my work within it, I am using it more as a definitional construct. What is it about identity construction that my reader needs to know so that they understand what it is I am proposing when I am talking about ‘hybrid identity’ construction in video game play? What are the key pieces of work that will demonstrate how thinking about identity construction has changed over the decades (centuries). Once decided, I was able to re-edit the literature to act more as a demonstration than a framing…. make sense?

While it might sound the same, the process (and outcome) is a bit different than what I am used to. It is hard to go against my trained nature of what a research paper (diss) looks like, what parts are necessary, and what are complementary – it is nice to finally be at this stage of my writing – that’s for sure!


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