Ph.D. Update: Literature Reviews, and the Literature Management Process
During the past couple of weeks following my brief time off, the focus has been the identification, selection, evaluation and organisation of literature, and the development of the appropriate documenting procedures of these phases. All of these phases are part of what I call the literature management process. I’ve also been amending the literature review chapters’ structure and layout.
Literature Review Development
Those who have been reading my blog for a long time might remember me talking about different types of literature reviews e.g., meta-analysis and meta-synthesis, and the possibilities of adopting a style suitable for my research. At the time, I was planning a mixed methods methodological approach, which eventually proved to be unworkable. Altering my methodological approach from mixed methods to grounded theory entailed vast changes to engagement with literature. The role and placement of different types of literature is the subject of much debate among grounded theorists. Whilst discussing these debates is way beyond the aim of this blog post, it suffices to state that there is consensus among grounded theorists as to the placement of the literature within a grounded theory thesis: the literature review chapters, and the results and discussion chapters. Each placement entails (in my view) different types of literature, and different purposes. I shall return to further discussion of placements, types and purposes of literature within a grounded theory thesis at a later time.
The style of literature review, as conventionally defined and conventionally placed near the beginning of any Ph.D., thesis, within a grounded theory project is what I suggest (as far as I currently understand) to be narrative and contextualised. I am attempting to use, as mentioned before, the three literature reviews as a progressive narrative. The aim of the progressive narrative, in a nutshell, is to enable the reader to situate themselves within the educational and philosophical backdrop of the research, develop initial conceptual understanding and definitions of the phenomenon of research interest, and come to understand the need and value of the research.
These literature reviews have not changed in purpose since I previously wrote about them on this blog, but they have changed in content. The first chapter now exclusively focusses on discussing society, Education and Pedagogy and the relationships between them in order to provide a backdrop or background to the phenomenon of interest. The first chapter also aims to evaluate existing debates, discussions and theories that explain and describe the way in which Education meets the needs of a modern, post-industrial society, and also to evaluate and discuss pedagogical approaches appropriate for modern learning settings. All discussions shall lead to development of arguments for and against different social, educational and pedagogical approaches, theories and perspectives regarding their suitability for facilitating and supporting the learning phenomenon of interest.
The second literature review shall now exclusively focus on discussing and explaining what I believe to be the core set of initial concepts relating to the general phenomenon of interest, and concepts that have initially defined the direction of the grounded theory analysis. Indeed, some of the changes I have already made to the literature reviews in terms of addressing initial concepts have been the result of initial grounded theory coding of the data as part of the earlier Upgrade Process.
The third literature review shall now exclusively focus on evaluating and critiquing the various existing empirical, analytical models relating to measuring and assessing the phenomenon of interest in various learning contexts.
What has come across as obvious is that you can do your best to define the structure and layout of any literature review by thinking about the initial set of concepts you have developed, or have identified through previous experience or previous readings of the phenomenon of interest. However, you can never really tell with any sense of certainty what the layout shall be till you start reading the literature. It is therefore only through reading the literature and writing the literature reviews that you become fully aware of the form, structure, layout and content the literature review shall and can take. But, I do believe that it is not a waste of time to at least initially outline your literature review based on the concepts you already have, because those initial concepts are your starting points. Again this is a matter of debate among grounded theorists, but I am starting to believe in the importance of having some initial concepts to at least to begin your investigation.
As the theory emerges from the data, concepts can be derived from the theory’s categories, properties and relationships between categories and properties that could act as further inputs into the earlier literature review chapters. More likely however, and more appropriately, these concepts shall guide me in my search for empirical literature that shall be used to verify and validate relationships between categories and properties, and therefore leading to a verifiable, workable, and validated theory. This would be in addition to verification and validation through the grounded theory process of theoretical sampling.
Literature Management Process
During the past couple of weeks I’ve also been carefully documenting the identification, selection, evaluation and organisation phases of the literature management process as so far completed at this time. Therefore, it’s nowhere near complete yet and shall not be completed till towards the end of the Ph.D. as this process is continuous due to the nature of grounded theory research. Even what I have completed now is in addition to previous literature management sessions. It’s only just recently that I’ve had an “ah ha” moment about the way I can write and present the literature management process. A part of this “ah ha” moment is the inclusion of ideas I had been developing several years ago about the way in which software could be used to assist with the evaluation and organisation phases, but these ideas are work in progress and I have yet to test these ideas out, but during the rest of the year I should be able to test some of my ideas.
At some point before my Christmas time off (or at least, before I get to the point where I am referencing Noddy Holder or Roy Wood instead of Strauss or Glaser), I shall be writing a blog series on the literature management process, in accordance to what I know and have experienced up to that point.
Lots on! I shall now more than likely be working on a few key tasks between now and Christmas. Rereading Grounded Theory from the perspective of my new philosophical understanding (becoming aware of the complexity of my own philosophical beliefs: have talked about this before and shall talk more about this in the future). This shall be followed by recoding data that had already been coded, and code more data and therefore, continue to develop the emerging theory. During the rereading of Grounded Theory and recording / coding of the data, I aim to write the first full draft of the first literature review chapter.
Lots to do and plenty of blogging material to come!