Saturday, April 08, 2006

Idea: The Blog as Dissertation Literature Review

Grad students and former grad students may find "The Blog as Dissertation Literature Review" stimulating. The author uses his blog to discuss his reading (rather than just taking some notes and losing them somewhere on his desk, or relying on memory) and theorizes that not only could a person use such blog entries to compile a literature review, but that having the posts on the blog could encourage discussion with the larger scholarly community.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it seems like a great idea. Blogging about things read certainly forces one to analyze the material, at least in brief. It would help many people organize their thoughts. On the other hand, as the author notes, each discipline has somewhat different needs. If one’s dissertation relies on reading (for example) major works of philosophy and secondary literature analyzing these, a blog-based literature review seems very sensible. Or, if the dissertation involves considerable analysis of other scholars’ ideas and methods, this also seems like a good way to go. For many of us, however, the major theoretical works are relatively few and have been discussed quite a bit in our graduate seminars. More could naturally be said as we grapple with them in a more personal way, but I question whether anyone will want to engage in discourse about these texts with us on our blogs. (Am I being too dismissive here? Do I underestimate the desire to talk about these things?)
Another point that comes to mind is one from that dissertation-writing book of Dawn’s, which I have so delinquently failed to cite. The author warns against spending too much time on the literature review, stating that far too many dissertations have an enormous and excessively detailed literature review and that the student spends so much time on the review that he or she doesn’t get around to thinking hard about the rest of the dissertation. Now, I grant that if one blogs the review over the course of the entire process, the thing might be large but not overshadow the meat of the dissertation; the blog entries would be the original notes, not the chapter itself. But I am in some respects horribly practical, and unless the text I’m reading has a complex argument that is of great significance to my work (not a common occurrence), I am quite satisfied to note that so-and-so looks at nineteenth-century French art from a Marxist perspective or at twentieth-century American art from a social history perspective or shows that collage can be read semiotically.
My literature review is a section of a chapter, not an entire chapter, because most of what I read does not belong in a literature review, but in the footnotes. It is not all that hard to trace the development of literature on Toyen and the interwar Czech avant-garde, because so much of what exists is either introductory or is by the same few scholars. It can and I believe should be summarized. When I address more theoretical matters, it will generally be in chapters that develop these ideas in relation to the art, so that is where I expect to address the ideas of people such as Rosalind Krauss, Martin Jay, and Hal Foster. Or, for that matter, the more theoretical aspects of Czech art-historical contributions.
But whether you choose to blog a literature review or not, the piece is thought-provoking and worth reading.

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Blogger morskyjezek said...

How about the idea of "blog as dissertation"? You can see my progress. It's not exactly what I proposed in my dissertation abstract last fall, but these things always take unexpected directions...

April 09, 2006 8:36 PM  

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