Completing and moving on from the literature review is a huge relief and weight off my mind. I feel encouraged that I am on the right track and relieved that the assignment was well received despite my misgivings. It really feels now that CS is gaining momentum and that I am starting not only to get to grip with my topic of consumerism, but also beginning to understand how the dissertation will develop.
Here are a few further thoughts:
What is the ‘big moment’ that captures consumerism now?
Andrew has pointed me towards John Darwell’s work on Meadowhall, describing it as “a big ‘moment’ in the shift from a ‘heavy’ form of capitalism to one that is ostensibly lighter and more mobile and based on ‘information’ and consumption.” Reading this I was immediately struck that it is the uncertainty of the current economic position that interests me – where is the next shift? What will it be? The heavy industry that is described is long in the past and we are now in a position where the ‘temples of consumption’ such as Meadowhall and the Metro Centre seem threatened. The changes from shopping as a physical activity to one focused on leisure and entertainment has been challenged for some time by internet commerce, and this change has been accelerated by the Covid pandemic.
Use of visual examples:
I like the advice that I should reference “how art, culture and photography have documented/critiqued/responded to what [I] am looking at” throughout the essay rather than as a separate chapter. In ‘Capitalist Realism’, Mark Fisher uses cultural references brilliantly throughout to illustrate his points. This is a book I have come back to a number of times and while it may not be something I directly reference, Fisher’s style is something that I am sure will influence me.
The semiotics of consumption is also something that could be a major theme for both my essay and BoW.
I have found the producing the literature review for A2 much more difficult than I should have. Ultimately I have produced an essay that I am not happy with, however, in the final process of completion I hope to have stumbled on a strategy about the way forward for my dissertation.
Initially I intended to write about theories of everyday life – this was a subject that resonated with me during my early reading for CS in texts I was directed to by my tutor. After struggling trying to write A2 on this subject for some time, I eventually realised that I needed to refine my focus as the subject was simply too large to tackle within the confines of the course. (My thoughts about this are here.) Adapting my subject to consumerism/consumption came about organically as this was a theme I was starting to explore in BoW – I was excited that my contextual and practical work were starting to come together. I formulated a structure and plan and decided to concentrate on some key texts so I would not become side tracked. Unfortunately, without a clear idea of what I wanted to focus on in my extended essay, I struggled to keep to my plan – almost everything I read seemed to point me to another source that could be the key text for my research. This is perhaps the most important consideration point for me as I move to A3 and the dissertation proper – how to stop becoming side tracked and remain disciplined about what is important.
Points to note moving to A3:
- It feels like I have amassed a pile of material/texts so far – most of which I have not been able to include in A2. I now need to be more disciplined to decide which ones will be of value for the dissertation, revisit these and discard any that are not of use. I need to be careful about becoming side tracked into potential areas that are interesting but not necessarily relevant – rereading with focus will help with this.
- Note taking
- I have been inconsistent with note taking so far and need to work harder on this, using note taking as a way of interrogating ideas through the process of writing about them. Better notes will also aid with writing the essay.
- Write, review, rework, edit
- This was advice from the CS tutorials with Ariadne Xenou I have been attending (see notes here and here.) There is a definite benefit to doing this and I need to be more disciplined to follow this through.
- Take a position/have a focus
- The main reason I have struggled with A2 is that I have not had a position to work from or question to ask. This is the main area of advice I want from my A2 tutorial, I still do not have a question or title for my essay, but going back to my sources with a stronger focus (my initial idea is to look at the tension between large chain businesses and small sole traders.) Throughout working on A2 I have looked back on other students literature reviews for inspiration and worried about the clarity they displayed and the fact that I have struggled to achieve this. With hindsight I now realise that this is because they have been very clear about the terms of reference they are investigating – something I have failed to set for myself.
Tutorial discussion points:
- What texts are missing? Are there any recommendations?
- Discussion about taking a position and essay title – any advice?
- Thoughts on how to structure the essay.
- Feedback on formatting and presentation of literature review – font, size, spacing, refencing etc.
- Any useful resources to share?
- Any examples of strong dissertations that can be shared?
In this post I want to reflect on the problems I have faced completing my literature review, but most importantly, to work out a way to put these to bed and move forward. It is worth looking back at the strategy I set out for A2 following my feedback for A1:
"Thinking towards the literature review for A2 my approach needs to be - read, think, re-read and refine - by doing this I am sure that the themes I wish to explore in my extended project will come into focus. It is also important to note that the literature review is only a stepping stone towards the final piece and that I can still change direction afterwards and add further sources as I identify them."
The statements here still seem sound and relevant – simply what has gone wrong is that I have failed to refine my subject enough and this has left me tied in knots as I have tried to start writing the essay.
The subject I chose for my literature review was the everyday/everyday life. In my reading, this is something that struck a chord with me – that everyday experience can be simultaneously banal and extraordinary is a fascinating contradiction. Photographically, my work is very much based in the real world and looking at the unusual in everyday life, so pursuing this as a theme seemed to fit well.
When I came to begin writing, things quickly became unstuck however. I had collected a number of sources to write about, thought about my essay structure, decided on key areas I would focus so I could attain the word count, and yet, I found it extremely difficult to get going and the harder I tried the more I felt blocked.
After a couple of weeks of using all my spare time to focus on the essay I realised that I was faced with a choice – either plough on as I had been to put something (anything) together to hit the deadline I had agreed with my tutor, or, miss the deadline, take a step back and evaluate. Although I was initially hesitant to stop, as soon as I had I felt a release of tension that immediately convinced me it was the right decision. The main problem I realised was that I had failed to refine the subject of everyday life which meant I was writing without focus. Also, the subject for my BoW was finally starting to come into view (shopping/retail) I realised that changing the subject of my literature review to consumerism/consumption was the right course of action. This subject was something that featured in my research for the everyday so I would not be starting from scratch, however, I still needed to do a great deal of work to get back on track. So, here is the plan:
- Agree the main texts I am going to look at
- Keep to these and (try) not to be too distracted
- Make better notes as I go
- Start working on my draft essay straight away
- Use the process of writing to try and make sense of the subject
- Don’t try to cover everything
- Signpost areas/texts that could be of further interest but don’t get bogged down with these
- Set a timeline of no more than 4-6 weeks for completion