One of the most defining features of the “genre” of academic writing is that it explicitly connects to, expands on, and engages in a conversation with previously published material. The author of an academic work on a particular topic, whether this work is a book, a journal article, or simply a paper prepared for a class assignment has to be aware of what other authors have written about this topic, their methodologies, their points and arguments, and their conclusions. So, for an easy example, Brian Ruh opens his essay Producing transnational cult media: Neon Genesis Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell in circulation (Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media, 5) with the statement that “In the case of anime and manga, fan response has been a critical factor to how various texts have been adapted and received, and fan activities have been necessary to their transnational flow” – and supports it with references to two book chapters – Anne Allison’s “Can popular gulture go global?: How Japanese ‘Scouts’ and ‘Rangers’ fare in the US” (2000) and Lawrence Eng’s “Anime and Manga Fandom as Networked Culture” (2012), and Marco Pellitteri’s 2010 book The Dragon and the Dazzle: Models, Strategies and Identities of Japanese Imagination: A European Perspective.
So, how does an author find the supporting sources that are necessary for good academic writing? As I described in a previous post, there are several standard techniques and resources for research in anime/manga studies. The resources include library catalogs, and general and subject-specific academic databases, both subscription-based (such as Academic OneFile, the Bibliography of Asian Studies, and the Film & Television Literature Index), and open-access (primarily Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Search). Some of the search techniques that scholars can use include “reference chaining” – directly examining the bibliographies/works cited sections of works already identified using one of the resources I just listed, and simply examining the table of contents of new issues of journals that have previously published materials on a relevant topic.
Although I write about – and work to foster and facilitate – anime/manga studies, my own background is not in film or literature, or Japanese studies. My actual graduate training is in library science (MLS, 2008, then-School of Library and Information Science, Indiana University Bloomington, since then reduced to merely a Department). What does a graduate program in library science actually include? Well, at least the way I structured mine, it included essentially three types of classes. Some (“Organization and representation of knowledge and information”, “Philosophy and critical theory of information”, “International information issues”) were intensely theoretical, the kinds of classes one would expect from a graduate program in the humanities. Others covered what librarians actually do on a day-to-day basis – “Cataloging, “Collection development”, “Evaluation of sources and services”, “Library management” (it’s always important to remember that ultimately, whatever “librarianship” is, a library is a department or a unit or even an independent organization – and also, often, an actual physical location with a budget and a staff). But it was the third group of classes – specifically on both supporting research in particular fields, and on conducting research myself – that helped me most directly to then develop this project as a resource for anime/manga studies.
And one component of these kinds of classes (which included the general “Reference sources and services” and the more specialized “Russian and Eastern European librarianship”, “Social science librarianship”, “Law librarianship” and “Strategic intelligence”) was learning how to approach particular reference resources critically, understanding their strengths – and also becoming aware of their weaknesses and shortcomings. One such weakness actually has to do with the basic design of any given academic database, whether general, or subject-specific. An academic database only cover journals that its editors have specifically selected for coverage; there is no such thing as an academic database that provides access to, or even just information about, every single academic article in every single academic journal that has ever been published. Kelly Blessinger and Maureen Olle demonstrate this in their examination of “the leading general academic databases” (2004, Library Collections, Acquisitions, & Technical Services, 28:3), Kathleen Joswick does the same for psychology (2006, Full-text psychology journals available from popular library databases, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32:4), and I do for law (2010, Indexing and full-text coverage of law review articles in non-legal databases: An initial study, Law Library Journal, 102:1). The bottom line here is that database searches are an effective tool for locating materials on a particular topic – but database searches will inevitably miss some materials that, regardless of the actual topic of a particular search, are likely relevant to it.
With the database searches that I run, I am able to do a good job of building up the annual lists of academic publications on anime/manga. But, as I always make sure to point out, these lists may be extensive, but they cannot be said to be comprehensive. And indeed, to this day, every few days, I come across publications – primarily journal articles – that I certainly should include in a database of academic writing on anime/manga – but that I have simply never seen before.
One such example is Imaoka, Laura Beltz (2010), Consuming and maintaining difference: American fans resisting the globalization of Japanese pop culture, disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory, 19, 73-82.
Should this article be included in a Bibliography of Anime and Manga Studies? Absolutely. Would I have discovered this article had I only relied on academic databases? Would anyone else? Most likely not. (…how did I discover it – a colleague specifically pointed it out).
So, perhaps the conclusion here is that research, whether enumerative (to establish a list) or “purpose-driven” (to come up with sources to use in a particular publication) is always an ongoing, evolving process. Yes, there is always a point and a time when you the author have to stop looking for sources, and start actually producing your own work, but you the author also have to be comfortable with knowing that there are always more materials out than you can ever possibly identify, locate, and gather.