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What is….narrative research? Research Methods Festival, 2008 Corinne Squire Centre for Narrative Research University of East London

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Presentation on theme: "What is….narrative research? Research Methods Festival, 2008 Corinne Squire Centre for Narrative Research University of East London"— Presentation transcript:

1 What is….narrative research? Research Methods Festival, 2008 Corinne Squire Centre for Narrative Research University of East London

2 Why is narrative research so popular? Apparent universality Interdisciplinarity Bridges theory and practice: academic, yet accessible Said to mediate between modernism and postmodernism Offers different levels of analysis, from microstructure, through content, to large-scale context Thought to enable relations between politics and research Pleasurable

3 Problems of narrative research Universalised expectations about narrative Reification of the narrative object Reduction of lives to narratives Diversity and incompatibility of approaches Lack of generalisability of findings

4 So: what is narrative research ? Narrative research in the social sciences focuses on: Material that symbolises temporal, spatial and/or causal sequences, and that has particular objects/subjects Significance of these sequences (intrapersonal, interpersonal, social, cultural, political) Narrative research in the social sciences studies symbol sequences that are: oral, written, linguistic, paralinguistic, visual, and behavioural Narrative research in the social sciences involves: eliciting, finding or constructing narratives analysing narratives narrative analysis

5 Approaches to narrative Narrative syntax: Studying the structure of naturally-occurring personal event narratives (Labov) defined by narrative clauses; studying the functional structure of narratives (Propp) Narrative semantics: Studying the content of stories that express experiences eg those that map the violation and restoration of canonicity (key/fatal moments): Bruner; those that describe some or all of a biography (Rosenthal); those that include unconscious elements (Hollway and Jefferson) Narrative pragmatics 1: Studying the co-constructed performance, across conversational turns (Georgakopoulou) or interviews (Riessman, Phoenix) of identity stories Narrative pragmatics 2: Studying the gathering-together of interpretive communities through story genres (Plummer); studying the relations between personal and cultural narratives (Malson)

6 Norris’s story (Labov, 1972) a When I was in fourth grade - no, it was in third grade- bThis boy he stole my glove. cHe took my glove dand said that his father found it downtown on the ground (And you fight him?) eI told him that it was impossible for him to find it downtown ‘cause all those people were walking by and just his father was the one that found it? fSo he got all (mad). gThen I fought him. h I knocked him all out in the street. iSo he say he give. jAnd I kept on hitting him. kThen he started crying land ran home to his father. mAnd the father told him nthat he ain’t find no glove

7 Problems with the syntactic approach Individual, thematic and cultural variations (Patterson) in the material that put the universality of (eg) event narratives in question Cognitive focus at the expense of language Significance of the analysis

8 Problems with the semantic approach Content focus at the expense of narrative sequence Content focus at the expense of language Assumptions about the relation between narrative, experience and selfhood Therapeutic assumptions about ‘good’ narratives (temporal sequencing; considering and resolving conflict; expressing and reflecting on emotions; reaching an ending) Elision with politics through emphasis on ‘giving voice’

9 Problems of the first pragmatic approach Assumptions about canonic interaction patterns based on little relevant contemporary sociolinguistic data Assumption of the containment of large narrative patterns within small ones

10 Problems of the second pragmatic approach Need for supporting evidence Lack of generalisability of the genres Neglect of smaller-scale phenomena, such as individual stories Aspects of personal and social experience that cannot be narrated in all stories (Frosh)

11 Short narrative bibliography Andrews, A., Squire, C. and Tamboukou, M. (2008) Doing Narrative Research. London: Sage Andrews, A., Day Sclater, S., Squire, C. and Treacher, A. (2004) Uses of Narrative. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Bruner, J. (1990) Acts of Meaning Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Elliott, J. (2005) Using Narrative in Social Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, London, Sage. Freeman, M. ‘Identity and difference in narrative inquiry, Psychoanalytic narratives: Writing the self into contemporary cultural phenomena’, Narrative Inquiry 11 Frosh, S. (2002) After Words. London: Palgrave Georgakopoulou, A. (2007) Small Stories, Interaction and Identities. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Hollway, W. and Jefferson, T. (2000) Doing Qualitative Research Differently: Free Association, Narrative and the Interview Method, London, Sage. Labov, W. (1972) Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular Oxford: Basil Blackwell; also see his website Malson, H. (2004) Fictional(ising) identity? Ontological assumptions and methodological productions of (‘anorexic’) subjectivities. in M.Andrews, S.D.Sclater, C.Squire and A.Treacher (eds) Uses of Narrative. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction. Mishler, E. (1986) Research Interviewing: Context and Narrative. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Patterson, W. (2002) (ed.) Strategic Narrative: new perspectives on the power of stories. Oxford: Lexington. Phoenix, A.(2008) Analysing narrative contexts. In M.Andrews, C.Squire and M.Tamboukou (eds) Doing Narrative Research. London: Sage. Plummer, K. (2001) Documents of Life 2. London: Sage. Riessman, C. (2007) Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences. New York: Sage Ryan, M-L. (2004) Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press Seale, C. (2000) ‘Resurrective practice and narrative’, in M.Andrews, S.D.Sclater, C.Squire and A.Treacher (eds) Uses of Narrative. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Narrative Inquiry


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