How literature review is changing my own mindset and perspective

Diving deep in to the literature of specific topics and on narrowly focused subject matter has been surprisingly pleasurable. And unexpected. The presence of the blog as an accompaniment is like a condiment for food for thought. In the month since I began to take blogging again seriously, even with the struggles to write down my thoughts and feelings at the start, I have found a flow, even if its just a trickle right now.

At some point, my writing shifted from the introspective navel gazing inspired by the magic of the Kalevala towards more academic words reflecting the work I was doing in parallel in the real world. And though I would not call the process smooth nor effortless, I cannot deny that being able to come on here and ponder ‘stuff’ has made a difference. To my overall sense of wellbeing, providing a sense that some sort of deep and unrecognized healing was taking place, even if I was not able to identify or articulate it.

In the past ten days alone, I have submitted one abstract for an upcoming conference that I’m rather pleased with; discovered that a literature review on the blog was rather well received and ended up in my scholar profile; and, my utilization of the blog format as a tool to support my dissertation research and doctoral study is constantly being iterated and refined as I learn to leverage the flexibility to customize it for my needs.

In the last two working days, I have experienced little sparks of joy that led me to write this here today. These ‘joy sparks’ occurred when the reading and review of literature I was doing converged with the thinking and talking I was doing with friends & relatives – I’ve been on voice & video calls with Cotonou in francophone West Africa, Nairobi in anglophone East Africa, rural Wales, urban Berlin, unrecognized Hargeisa on the Horn of Africa, and good old Wageningen in The Netherlands in less than a week. Oh, I forgot Bonn and New Delhi.

As my reading and writing progressed on the blog, I found this being reflected in my conversations – I was ideating more deeply and conceptualizing with an awareness of academe in addition to professional practice. And particularly memorable sparks of joy were when at least three different journal article abstract concepts fell into place in the magic of the words being exchanged. There was a sweetness in the serendipity of happenstance that occurred regardless of whether my conversationalist was into academia or not, and unconnected to whether we’d co-author or not.

My brain was sparking with ideas derived from new lenses by which to reflect on old work, and a fresh perspective on the past decade’s body of research and data which had long had me bored by the sameness of the old arguments. I had originally thought I’d write a screed on how literature review was transforming my perspective of the informal economy and the vegetable vendors I’d been working with last year.

That is worth noting down – I do not feel trapped by the old development research arguments on the viability of the informal sector in developing countries, nor do I feel the need to debate the old arguments whether the mama mbogas of Nairobi were vulnerable and marginalized or empowered agents of their own economic stability. Key to this transformed worldview is a special issue of the Global Strategy Journal (2017) that focused on Africa. Simply reading the way the rigorously shortlisted journal articles addressed the African business and industrial context was a revelation and opened whole new doors to the way I would reframe my own work.

An example is Manning, Kannothra & Wissman-Weber’s paper (2017) which begins their abstract with the sentences:

As a latecomer economy, Africa faces persistent difficulties with catching up in global markets. This study examines the strategic potential of community-based hybrid models, which balance market profitability with social impact in local communities.

Shorn of the socially conscious language of development and impact, they frame the very same topic in a way that repositions African business challenges in globally strategic way. This reframing and language also touches upon my recent rant on taxonomy and its implications for the way we approach design and innovation for the continent’s economic ecosystems.

I was immediately moved to reframe the findings from my own recent dataset on the village economy in such an internationally relevant manner, feeling empowered thereafter that I’d found a way out of the gravity well of the language of saviourdom that dominates the discourse. I do not have to push the envelope anymore if I can just chuck it in the recycle bin and leapfrog into a whole new context.

Reference:

Manning, S., Kannothra, C. G., & Wissman‐Weber, N. K. (2017). The strategic potential of community‐based hybrid models: The case of global business services in Africa. Global Strategy Journal, 7(1), 125-149.

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