Chapter 4 Objectives

Barry Mauer and John Venecek


This chapter covers the following topics: research goals, theorymethodologymethod, and research skills. 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 research positions and practices for specific subject areas. For instance, Critical Race Theory often entails an examination of intersectionality as a subject area; intersectionality refers to the ways that identity categories like race, class, gender, nationality, and sexual orientation combine and play out in various situations. To understand intersectionality, a researcher working with CRT can turn to the research practice of standpoint epistemology and structural determinism. Standpoint epistemology takes the position that authority comes from personal experience in social and political contexts. Therefore, while black people may share some experiences, standpoint epistemology looks to the experiences and knowledge of particular people to better understand each person’s perspective. Structural determinism takes the position that each person’s subjectivity is determined to a large extent by structural systems, such as language, that they inhabit. A CRT researcher will look to larger structural systems, such as institutions, languages, and information technologies, to better understand the conditions in which people develop their perspectives. While standpoint epistemology looks to the particular, structural determinism looks to the general.

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.

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.

We use research skills to help us gather the right evidence. This evidence, comprised of facts and reasoning, aims to convince your audience to accept your conclusions about a literary work. The most important piece of evidence in your research is the literary work itself, which is a “fact” that your audience can witness with you. Research means finding more facts about the literary work and tying them together with reasoning.

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 like we are reading radically different literary works; however, they may just be different readings of the same work. A theory relates to particular 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.

Learning Objectives

  • Gain a better understanding of theory’s integral role within literary criticism.
  • Learn how each theory relates to research methodologies and methods.
  • Learn what research skills are needed to gather the necessary evidence.


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