Lit Review Ponderings

“Read the page, looking for any sentences, paragraphs, or excerpts relevant to the concept you are investigating that are claims or findings about the concept or that state what its components are. Read quickly. You are not reading for deep meaning. You are not reading to remember. Do not try to figure out at this moment what you are going to do with the information….Right now, you are skimming the pages, looking for ideas related to the concepts you identified as relevant to your literature review.” – Foss & Waters, 2016, p. 80

When I read the guidance from the Destination Dissertation handbook, my initial inclination was to follow their advice. I started questioning whether I had been doing it all wrong – whether I had been foolish to be reading full articles, dwelling rather than skimming, trying to really soak the material in rather than read what was just pertinent to my exact question/topic. Maybe I had been doing it all wrong…

But then I realized I am reading for a purpose. I am reading not just to read what people are saying about decoloniality and education. I am reading with the purpose of changing my own mind (+heart+being+doing). I am reading with the purpose of swimming in different waters, to slip into the cracks of modernity, and in swimming in the depths, hopefully find new ways of thinking, seeing, being. New planes of thought (St. Pierre et al; Deleuze & Guattari).

Margaret Wheatley, in the opening to her book Who Do We Choose to Be?, invites readers to engage with dwelling mind as they read her book. Dwelling mind, in a footnote, is elaborated as a concept to have come from Heidigger to contrast with rational mind. Wheatley describes dwelling mind in the following way:

“Most of us have a tendency to read something quickly and then rush into action, to
quickly figure out a response….we rush to fix rather than allow the profound discomprot
that arises from difficult information…

I urge you to let go of the comfort of a quick response and instead, in the spaciousness
of your mind, welcome in everything: thoughts, feelings, sensations. Allow them to just
be there, meeting up with one another, combining and recombining. Nothing is
immediately clear, but given time and the workings of nonlinearity, your ideas and
feelings may self-organize into insights” (Wheatley, 2017, p. 23)

I am reading with dwelling mind (Wheatley, 2017, p. 23). I am reading and sitting with it, I am reading and trying to let it work through me.

During coursework I felt like I was drinking from a firehose. Every quarter – for 12 quarters, 3 years – there was always more reading assigned than humanly possible to read (some worse than others). I took a quarter off before starting dissertation – in part, to work on a consulting project, but in another part, to let my mind settle. I had been consuming and consuming and consuming for three straight years. Like a shaken-up snowglobe, I needed to let my mind settle, not consume so much for a few months, to let the material that I’d been working with the past few years work through me.

I don’t want to drink from the firehose anymore. Too much is wasted, not enough enjoyed. You leave the firehose feeling full and yet not satisfied. I want to sip slowly, enjoy and appreciate the water, drink til I’m satiated and not until I”m bloated with a bellyache. Sip and pause and sip some more when I’m ready.

Will I really understand more about decoloniality and education if I chug (read) everything that has ever been written about it? Might I not learn more if I sit diligently with a few (or a few dozen) writers/thinkers/teachers, and really take in what they’re saying with every fiber of my being?

That is what this calls for – what (I think) decoloniality calls for. It does not call for skimming, for surface-level understanding. It calls for taking it into my being. To living it (or trying to, however imperfectly). Practicing it. Sitting with the complexity and complicity and contradictions and discomfort. Not rushing, taking time, attending, acting.

The Gesturing Toward Decolonial Futures Collective, whose work I deeply admire, talks about our affective investments in modernity, how there’s this “shiny side” to modernity, with its allure of all the pretty and wonderful things and luxuries and comforts that we often don’t really want to delink from, that we don’t want to give up. And they also talk about the colonial habits-of-being that are so deeply entrenched in us, such as addictive patterns of consumption and accumulation.

As I read this, I was thinking about a doctoral program as this massive accumulation of knowledge. That there’s this (false) notion that when you have completed your doctorate, since it is a “terminal” degree, that you have learned everything there is to know in your field. You are an expert.

And you want to know how I feel? I feel like a baby in my field (and I don’t even really know what my field is anymore – it sure isn’t psychology, and I’m not so sure that it’s peace studies anymore). The more I have learned, the less I feel with any degree of certainty that I know. I want a better world, a different world, a world where many words fit (paraphrasing the Zapatistas), a world that is more life-affirming and beautiful and less toxic and more just – but I have less certainty about what that could look like. And it could look like many, many different things.

So, I’m not chugging anymore. I’m dwelling. I’m paying attention. I’m moving slowly and deliberately. I’m taking time to stir and be stirred. 

Because ultimately this process is just as important as whatever outcome it produces – they are not separate. And if I want to see different results, I need to proceed differently. Slowly – not just as a matter of velocity, as my teacher/mentor/committee member Bayo Akomolafe says, but as a way of doing things differently, of listening differently, of hearing the voices at the margins, human and nonhuman alike.

Foss, S. K., & Waters, W. (2016). Destination dissertation: A traveler’s guide to a done dissertation. [2nd Edition]. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Wheatley, M. J. (2017). Who do we choose to be? Facing reality, claiming leadership, restoring sanity. Oakland, CA: Barrett-Koehler Publishers.