The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

A doctoral thesis invariably is filled with technical jargon such as to stymie even the brightest denizen of Lake Wobegon. One section of it, however, provides an invaluable service, and that is its survey of relevant research. This section is usually compact, exhaustive, and conveys a sweep of information in somewhat comprehensible terms. Best of all, it provides byways and side-alleys for those with attention deficit disorder to pursue. An excellent examplar in the recent thesis (highlighted by the indefatigable Varnam) of Elke Rogersdotter, titled Gaming in Mohenjo-daro - an Archeology of Unities.

Examine first, if you will, the following passage from the abstract:
The study tests its way along different paths. The mode of procedure builds on a modified form of grounded theory. In this form, emphasis has been put on the concept of abduction in the version of Bateson. Stress has also been laid on Simmel’s description of the process of understanding. With this reasoning, the researcher’s self is accentuated as an integrated component in the process. The consequence of the modifications is a model in the shape of a grid – a working grid – where the different rows, internally divided up into compartments representing stages of work, constitute different, autonomously working ways. The empirical investigation is based on a critical reading of older excavational documents. Rather than aiming at a systematic division between what is game-related and what is not game-related, the reading is undertaken with the aim of seeing whether this kind of material can be studied despite the problematic appearance of the sources. Through a practical application of the working grid, the bearing capacity of the materials is tested from different angles. In the following theoretical discussion, the grid is utilized in a more theoretical manner in order to reach different aspects of play. The most successful approach builds on the discernment of autonomously working unities in the studied materials. This is based on Simmel’s division between form and content, as well as on the emphasis by Bateson on autonomously working systems.
Wiser minds than mine are probably stumped by 'abduction', 'discernment of autonomously working unities', and the like. The technical aspect of the dissertation continues in this vein. A non-specialist will remain nonplussed.

Note, however, this passage in the survey of literature:
Leaving aside the research history on earlier works, one of the first publications constituting something of a synthesis of board games was the work of Thomas Hyde in the seventeenth century (Finkel 2007b:2). Taking a long step forward, the extensive work undertaken by the ethnologist and anthropologist Stewart Culin (1858-1929) must be mentioned. He was a curator in the Museum of Archaeology and Paleontology, University of Philadelphia, and in the Brooklyn Museum. His large amount of collected information on different kinds of games represents one of the classics in the field (Finkel 2007b:3; Freeman-Witthoft 2007:270; see e.g. Culin 1895, 1992/1907a). His collections included games from Europe and the Orient and from North American tribes. Together with Frank Hamilton Cushing his initial plan was to outline “…the skeleton of aworld-wide panorama of gaming with evolutionary trees going back to common roots in Upper Palaeolithic times” (Freeman-Witthoft 2007:270).
How clear! How crystalline! How much treasure there is in this one paragraph!

I learn immediately that there has been a scholarly tradition of boardgameology. Both anthropologists and historians have been interested in multifarious aspects of games. The Brooklyn Museum has a collection of these artefacts (note to self: go to Brooklyn Museum again). There has been a systematic phylogeny of gaming boards going back to the Stone Age. It is possible to unify the study of board games into some kind of synthesis. And, best of all, I can look up the references should I be interested in pursuing any detail, however ephemeral my interest.

Now that's what I call a good survey of the relevant literature.


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