the rationality we routinely adopt in reviewing formal texts belies the personal traits and circumstances and social glue that underpin academic discourse
Guides to writing a dissertation / thesis, particularly within the social sciences, often stress the act of ‘locating’ or ‘positioning’ oneself within the field of research being studied. In interpreting and conceptualising selected arguments we are expected to take sides; to critically evaluate different perspectives, look for synergies, contradictions and gaps in the constructed debate. Whilst this spatial metaphor is largely confined to the context of literature review, it is seen as a crucial component of doctoral study, indicating the student’s development as a critical and reflective researcher, and representing the process of finding her own voice as an independent scholar.
Depending on your research field, some of the authors you reference may be long departed. Many however, will be your contemporaries; living, breathing academics, fellow early researchers, postdocs, supervisors, professors, each with personal perspectives and motivations, influenced by ongoing professional experiences, incentives and constraints. The ‘I agree with x but disagree with y’ type of rationality we routinely adopt in reviewing formal texts belies the personal traits and circumstances and social glue that underpin academic discourse, and the nuances, cliques and politics of faculty and the wider academic field.
How much I wonder, does engagement in Web 2.0 environments indicate these often hidden influences? Does the informality and transparency evident in blogging, Twitter and personal learning networks etc. give us a richer, more authentic perspective? What these practices reveal may not be transferable to the formal structural requirements of the literature review, but they may help us signpost key arguments and their proponents, and give us an ‘edge’ in understanding the social complexities that influence contemporary academic debate.