I have, at last, completed the first half of the introduction to my new book to some degree of clarity. (Meaning that I will still need to do back to it again and again.)
A key strategy that really helped me to move forward was to find a phrase that could express the core concept that I was looking at and which I could then use throughout without having to keep on explaining.
It was difficult to find this phrase because of the wide array of literature and theory that relates to what I’m thinking about. At the same time, it mustn’t be a phrase that over-simplifies all of these relationships.
The phrase I came up with is ‘Orientalist grand narrative’. It represents the particular slice that I am interested in within the big discussion of neo-racism, Orientalism, Othering, essentialism, the West and the rest, the margins, discourses, narratives, ideology, social construction, and so on and so on and so on.
Of course, I needed to explain how this phrase emerges from all of this. In a thesis, where literature review is expected, the phrase would be introduced briefly in the introduction and then its origins and choice explained in the ‘theoretical framework’ or whatever one calls this sort of thing, from which literature review emerges. In my book, it is sufficient to do all of this in the introduction.
Once the conceptual phrase is established, I can then say how I’ll use it. Wow, I can now say that I’m looking at how the Orientalist grand narrative influenced my perceptions during my stay in Iran, even though I wasn’t aware or if. This is in fact what the book is about. Looking at blocks and threads – the blocks are caused by the Orientalist grand narrative, and the threads are in trying to put it aside.
So, the next thing I have to do to finish my introduction is to describe how the Orientalist grand narrative influenced my upbringing before I went to Iran. I’ve already written quite a lot about this; but at the moment it lacks focus. This is I guess the ‘context’ section that everyone wants to write but which very often makes little sense because it lacks focus.
So now I’m in the first paragraph of this context section. I’m describing something there, but there’s no reference to the Orientalist grand narrative. Well that can’t be right. Is what I’m writing anything to do with the Orientalist grand narrative or not? Well yes, it certainly is; but I haven’t so far explained how. So I look and look and look at the paragraph for ages until it suddenly becomes clear what I have to do. I have to insert a few key statements that make the connection clear. Indeed, this also enables me to develop the argument around what is also there in ways I could not see before. If I can do that at the beginning, the rest should flow.
The important thing about the key conceptual phrase is that it can be, and in fact needs to be, inserted at least once in each section throughout the whole book or thesis. Inserting it properly – i.e. not just gratuitously – with meaning and resonance, and editing the phrases around it to fit, will help pull everything together.