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Thursday, 10 March 2016

The Dinner Party: literature for your Critical Review in M3

I have used the metaphor of the dinner party for some time now to explain the use of literature for Module 3 in the Professional Inquiry, especially in the Critical Review.  Here is this fiction written down as a blog post… I hope it is helpful.

You are the host/hostess of the dinner party. The theme of the party is your inquiry and how it uses ideas, theories, models and concepts from your reading and arts-based research (including visuals and audio-visual and attending performances in person).

I generally think of the dinner party as a formal affair, but yours could be more informal. I would encourage everyone to actually visualise this in your own living space for your own dinner party.

The idea for using literature and research literature in your academic work is like holding a dinner party. You have chosen, through scoping out who is an expert in your area(s), who is important to invite and who is available to come to your dinner party to talk about your work.

You send out invitations to your dinner party, not unlike the invitation to participant that you send your participants. Although for this dinner party the presence of the authors is fictional, some people actually do get to talk to their experts as a part of the inquiry.

These expert people arrive at your door… imagine them ringing the bell and coming into your front room for a cocktail and hors d’oeurves (appetizers).

At the dinner party everyone has made an effort and come prepared to talk about their work and comment on your work. One of your functions as a host/hostess is to being these artists and authors out in conversation and to help them articulate what they mean. The conversation is about ideas as well as practical thinking and doing form the inquiry. I always envision good things to eat on small silver trays and champagne or buck’s fizz. You can have your own menu.

At my dinner party I imagine in winter the fireplace crackles, illuminating the room, and there is the sound of low conversation as artists and authors start to mingle.

You introduce everyone around as they arrive at the party. Some people already know each other and others are meeting for the first time. Small groups gather in conversation, telling other guests in the own words what they do and also you engage people e into conversation. Sometimes artists or authors who have differing views might have a polite debate outlining differences of opinion. Most believe passionately that their views are important, but some of the experts have more authority because of their reputations and their ability to argue their points well in this conversation. Some people you talk to introduce a topic that you might ask other guests ask others to join in on the conversation, others you might take aside to have a private conversation because you are interested in what they are saying and what to go into more detail.

This introduction goes as a summary in the Evaluation where you ‘review’ you literature. A higher level of detail may have to be represented in your appendices at a later time, after the party so you take notes and any quotes you need to illustrate and evidence the discussion.

Then it is time for dinner. Luckily there is someone else there to do all the catering as you are hosting. This is of course free of charge so don’t worry about the bill!

‘Dinner is served’ is announced (think Gosford Park here) and you lead everyone in the dining room. On the way you might have to take some of the more vocal people you have invited into the kitchen if you need to remind them about the rules of engagement at the dinner table, this is to talk about your work as a focus and your voice or interpretation is a part of the conversation. This is your analysis.

Everyone sits down. At my dinner party this happens with a bit of a flourish. 

At your dinner party you are at the head of the table and the meal begins as a way to discuss literature and how it relates to your work. You could first give a small speech about what you are doing and what your found talking to other practitioners. Everyone is invited to talk about your work and see where this conversation leads. You could invite people to speak first or enter into dialogue (think of Cole Porter directing here); it just makes sense that some of the authors say something when certain topics are introduced. You need to lead the conversation.

Sometimes there might be pauses, especially as people go through the course and enjoy their meal. At other times you start a new topic like “what did you think about this particular issue or finding?” and the authors at the dinner are able to help you bring out the meaning by agreeing or challenging your conclusions.

At the end of the meal, as you are finishing off your sweet (desert) and are drinking coffee (it can be decaf), you can summarise what you have learned from the evening’s discussion and bring the proceedings to a close.

It is late now and people have to take taxis home to where they are staying, for me this is in London. Some people are in hotels because they have travelled for the occasion. You thank everyone for travelling to your party and for helping you think about your inquiry.

You wave people off at the door. It has been spectacular and dynamic evening, but tiring.  Certain aspects of the inquiry now makes a lot more sense and you can explain the ideas/theories/concepts more fluently and with greater depth. You also know where your inquiry fits it with other  other bodies of knowledge and expertise and your scripting of the dinner party will hopefully help you explain your professional inquiry.

What a great evening!


FYI there have been other great uses of the dinner party as a metaphor.

Judy Chicago – feminist art


  1. Hi Paula, thanks for this. I feel as though Im being held up by trying to pin people down to carry out my interviews at the moment. However, the way you've linked it all had made me realise I can make a start on the literature review and do the interviews when possible. It's just the start of the dinner party and i will have more to talk about by starting this process of evaluating the literature anyway.

  2. Hi Paula,

    Thanks for this. Its helpful to see how the literature is linked through the whole inquiry and not just a 'literature section'. Thank you for the tutorial last night. I am going to spend some time today and tomorrow 'pinning down' my inquiry questions and then how these will impact upon my interview question.


  3. Hi Paula,
    This analogy is tremendously helpful and I've used it to visualise an actual dinner party inclusive of a seating plan, which I've also blogged about. I particularly like the focus of imagining oneself actually hosting and one's inquiry topic being the central focus throughout- a fact which might drift into the background amongst so many scholarly opinions and views. But in the end any discussion points of course only are useful if they can be related back to my topic. Thanks for sharing this reminder! Lara

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