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Pick your paradigm

I have some habits of thought, originating in being a maths/stats geek a very long time ago, that I cannot shake, particularly the need to establish a theoretical paradigm before I can really feel comfortable structuring any literary analysis into a paper. I can know that I am interested in a certain element of a text, and I can start to play around with what other texts might be relevant and how, but until I have something resembling a framework, I can’t go anywhere with it. It is my version of first writing “Let x = …” (and, to be honest, if I could start all my papers that way, I probably would).

I know this is a habit of thought, rather than strictly necessary, as often I’m aware throughout a project that the framework I’ve set up has a shaky foundation, or glosses over too many nuances and fails to differentiate properly. However, I need something in order to get on with the analysis that, in turn, will tell me precisely what I need from the framework (and hopefully how to fix it). There is something of a circular logic to the writing process (although hopefully not to the written argument itself).

As my main romping fields are sex, gender, and identity, I have a relatively well-defined set of theorists with which to begin, but I’m always a little bit worried about both selection bias and my theoretical blindspots. My PhD proposal, if ever it happens and is completed, is going to have an equal, if not greater, focus on aestheticism than sex and gender, and right now I’m edging around the pool of unread texts, just getting up the courage to dive in. This is the scary bit. I’m pretty sure I’ll find something in there that I can mould into a workable framework for what I want to look at, but I do dread learning that either I’ve got things completely wrong or (worse) my thinking is completely obvious and cliche.

Twitter has been a great opportunity to remind myself about where my blind spots are and to learn from the hugely clever people who are tweeting about theory, either casually or purposefully, from the perspective of their own disciplines (e.g. @weboesel from a sociological perspective, and @willbrooker from a film and cultural studies one). In particular, I love @thelitcritguy (see also his tumblr) and his week-long explorations of individual theorists. He’s recently done a Zizek week, and an Eagleton one (storify here). I find it very comforting to have the opportunity to just catch a flavour of the clever thoughts being thought elsewhere!


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