Reading Things (Literature Review)
Updated: Jun 3
Need a road map? Pick up some reading on your intended topic in order to help you find your way.
Finding his way with an actual map.
This week I’m skipping over Observation and Interviews in my series on Learning Tools to get to “Reading Things.” I want to share a few resources I have been reading related to my current gardening project. I am working with a local church here in Valparaiso to support community gardens in both Costa Rica and Gary, Indiana.
The church group and I came upon community gardens (and other forms of local agriculture) as we were studying and learning about climate change and refugees. We talked about resources and organizations that have identified local agriculture as a tool for addressing both of these issues.
Our partners in Costa Rica have a garden, and are working to promote gardening in their neighborhood. Secondly, you may remember that one of my first posts on this blog was an interview and visit with Libré Booker of Living Green Garden. In 2021 her goal is to work toward a community garden in Gary, and we are working to support her in that goal.
That’s a little background information. But the purpose of this post is to talk about how reading things is an important part of the learning cycle. We have talked about how we learn from our lived experience, and how we can start asking questions about what we would like to know.
One way to get at those questions is to read things that talk about the questions we have. We might read things that explain terms we would like to understand, provide examples of ideas we are exploring, describe current events related to the topic, or sources that do other actions that we talk about in social sciences. Some of these might be analyze, investigate, observe, demonstrate, document, indicate, propose, establish, maintain, influence, highlight, suggest.
It is worth thinking about what the source you are looking at it hoping to do. For example, a source that is hoping to influence you to do something might be different from one that is hoping to explore all possible angles of an issue. Or a source that seeks to establish a scientific theory will be different from one that is doing a case study (one example) of a particular place.
As I started looking for resources about urban gardens, I wanted to know about how urban gardens work in practice in communities of color. I also wanted to know how agriculture in general fits into the work of racial and environmental justice. Finally, I wanted to learn more about what issues urban agriculture can help to address, such as health disparities, food desserts, and economic opportunity.
Part of the garden in Costa Rica, at Casa Adobe.
So I looked for resources related to these three areas. I found books, government and non-governmental organization websites, blog posts, and journalistic resources. Here are a few that I found on this topic:
Lost Gary, Indiana by Jerry Davich
Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance and Food Access in Washington, DC by Ashanté M. Reese
A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism by Eric Holt-Giménez
Hint: I do not necessarily read every word of every source. Some of them I do. I thoroughly enjoyed Freedom Farmers by Monica White, as it provided a lot of great background information on black agriculture, as well as theoretical reflection on the importance of farming and of resistance in black farming throughout history in the US.
My master's thesis had to do with agricultural resistance in a sugarcane zone in Costa Rica, so I loved reading this book about similar ideas in the US. It wasn't too long, but it provided so much detailed and overlooked historical information.
One great way to use the sources is to find more sources. If the book or article that are you reading is not exactly what you are looking for, look around on the book jacket, or in the references, or in the acknowledgements to find other resources that might better fit your objectives. You might even find something totally unexpected that sets you on a path of discovery that you were looking for all along!
My final word on “reading things.” Don’t just search the internet. Physically go to your public library. Find one or two books through the card catalogue that are what you think you might want. Then go find those books on the shelves. Then stand there, and look at all of the books surrounding the book that you originally picked. I guarantee that you will find many more books that are at least as interesting to you, that you might not have known to look for.
If you ever feel stuck in your idea or your project, try this public library exercise and I know that you will soon get “unstuck.”
Of course, your project will not stop at reading – it must include action, as we will discuss in a future post. But action without information/theory may not be as focused as you might like.
This post in part of my series on Tools for Learning, which I have honed and used in my work in study abroad and cross-cultural education both in Costa Rica and in the university classes I have taught in the US. I love using these tools in my own life, as well as in my research and activism.