The wheel approach to literatures work


The “wheel” is one way to approach literatures work. The wheel brings different literatures together and helps you write about them. The wheel is not the only way to do complex literatures work. It’s A way.

Think of the wheel as an old fashioned cart wheel. There is a spindle in the middle – or a circle if you think of it diagrammatically. That circle is where you put the topic you are reading about. And do remember, you need to make the purpose of the reading as specific as possible.

Now you add the spokes of the wheel. These are all of the separate literature strands that you hope will contribute to your understanding of the topic. These spokes/strands can be a number of themes in one field. Or the literatures in more than one field.

Once you have sorted out how many spokes you have, and what they are, the next task is to make them into a writing aide. It’s tempting to just list all of the themes in random order. But you can do more than this.

You can construct an argument about why and how these literatures are important for your research. This means choosing a starting point on the wheel, and then arranging your strands/spokes in a clockwise direction. That’s now the order you’re going to write about each spoke/strand.

The most straightforward argument structure to use here is one generally known as ABT. That’s And, But and Therefore. Think of this as

And – all of the literatures that generally work together. ( There’s this and this and this and this)

But – the literatures that contradict, offer new perspectives, redefine, bring new knowledges to the topic (But there’s also these)

Therefore – the implications of putting these two sets of literatures for your or other people’s research. (So …and now)

Ok. So perhaps this all sounds a bit vague. So here’s an example.

I’ve just written a chapter reviewing literatures about topic X. I wanted to know how X had been understood and theorised. After loads of searching, reading, noting and summarising, I identified the ways in which topic X was understood and theorised in my field. Then I went out of my discipline and looked at a number of other fields which also often dealt with X. (Asking the same question, how has X been understood and theorised?)

The interdisciplinary searching led to me locating a set of new understandings and theorisations that weren’t commonly used in my field.

I mapped all of this onto a wheel diagramme. I’ve shown this work here as big disciplinary chunks, but you need to know that each of these spokes/strands was backed by an annotated table of references. So in this case, eight little annotated lists of references, one for each spoke/strand.

Making the visual wheel helped me to think about what needed to follow directly from something else. I actually made a few versions. The wheel acted as a handy shorthand reference point for me as I sorted out the way I would write the text.

I constructed my ABT argument as four moves. It went like this:

  1. Topic X has been around for a long time. Introductory short bit of history of the topic going back to the Greeks.
  2. A. In my field Topic X is usually understood and theorised like this. A substantive section which identified a key text in the 1980s and then looked at how it had been used and critiqued. The section concluded with a short look at newer approaches to the topic in my field.
  3. B. However, in other fields, topic X has been taken up differently. This section outlined some interesting perspectives from other disciplines. Yes my choice here. The literatures used here weren’t exhaustive, this was my reading of the texts that seemed significant and that were of interest to me and potentially others in my field. I had luckily even identified that in one discipline there was now something called X studies with a journal and a book series! This section was organised into sub-sections for different disciplinary approaches.
  4. T. Given 2, it seems it would be pretty useful for my field to take up some of the approaches in 3. This section gave examples of what different approaches to the kinds of problems outlined in 2 might look like, and what these different approaches might offer.

Note that if you were using an ABT structure to talk about your own research, 4 would argue how, where and when you were taking up the combination of literatures.

It’s also worth noting that using the ABT moves in literatures work usually allows you to identify potential contributions – not only establishing the literatures your work will speak with/to but also showing originality (contribution, yay) in the ways in which you have brought literatures together in your own distinctive way.

PS. And But Therefore is from Randy Olson. You can find him on YouTube explaining ABT, and his books are also widely available.