Chapter Four: Theory, Methodologies, Methods, and Evidence

Chapter Four Objectives

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This chapter covers related topics: theorymethodologymethod, and evidence. Engagement with a specific theory can help guide your research. For example, Jada applied Critical Race Theory (CRT) to her interpretation of “Sonny’s Blues.” This choice helped Jada establish the parameters of her literature review and allowed her to be strategic when she was searching journals and databases. Having this theory helped Jada interpret Baldwin’s work and helped guide her research process as well. Each theory comes with a set of methodologies, which are assumptions and research practices. For instance, Critical Race Theory often entails an examination of intersectionality: the ways in which identity categories like race, class, gender, nationality, and sexual orientation combine and play out in various situations. CRT may also involve other methodologies such as standpoint epistemology and structural determinism. A CRT research project would require study of the theory and its associated methodologies before you begin your major research efforts into the literary work.

Once you’ve identified a problem you’d like to research and a theory (or theories), you’ll need to choose research methods that are appropriate for your project and some knowledge about how to use them. Research methods are about where and how you search to get answers to your research questions. Are you conducting interviews? Visiting archives? Doing close readings? Reviewing scholarship? You will need to choose which methods are most appropriate to use in your research and you need to gain some knowledge about how to use these methods. The methods module provides a quick overview with descriptions of some approaches that are common in literary studies. How do theory and method differ? A good rule of thumb is that a theory is an explanation and a method is a practice. Freudian theory, for example, is an explanation about human psychological development. Dream interpretation is an example of a Freudian method; it is a procedure for gathering information and understanding what is going on in someone’s mind.

Research methods are all about gathering evidence. This evidence, comprised of facts and reasoning, aims to convince your audience to accept your conclusions about the literary work. The most important piece of evidence in your research is the literary work itself, which is a “fact” that can be witnessed by your audience. Research means finding more facts about the literary work and tying them together with reasoning.

Learning Objectives

The key takeaway from this chapter are:

  • to understand theory’s integral role within literary criticism
  • to understand how theory relates to particular research methodologies and to methods for gathering evidence

Theory is often understood as a lens through which we look at an object (such as a literary work). Each literary theory provides a different lens. Different lenses can make it seem we are reading radically different literary works, even if they are just different readings of the same work. Each theory relates to some research methods more strongly than others. As you explore theoretical approaches, methodologies, and methods, think about the effects of these various lenses and be aware that the theory lens you choose will determine which methods will most help you accomplish your research goals.


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Strategies for Conducting Literary Research Copyright © 2021 by Barry Mauer & John Venecek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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