Kip Jones

KIP JONES, an American by birth, has been studying and working in the UK for more than 20 years.
Under the umbrella term of 'arts-led research', his main efforts have involved developing tools
from the arts and humanities for use by social scientists in research and its impact on a wider
public or a Perfomative Social Science.

Jones was Reader in Performative Social Science and Qualitative Research at
Bournemouth University for 15 years.
He is now a Visiting Scholar and and an independent author and scholar.

Kip has produced films and written many articles for academic journals and authored chapters
for books on topics such as masculinity, ageing and rurality, and older LGBT citizens.
Jones' most recent work involves working with Generation Z youth to tell their stories using
social media.
His ground-breaking use of qualitative methods, including Auto-fiction, biography
and auto-ethnography, and the use of tools from the arts in social science research
and dissemination are well-known.

Jones acted as Author and Executive Producer of
the award-winning short film, RUFUS STONE, funded by Research Councils UK.
The film is now available for free viewing on the Internet
and has been viewed by more than 14,000 people in 150 countries.

Areas of expertise
• Close relationships, culture and ethnicity
• Social psychology, sociology
• Ageing, self and identity
• Interpersonal processes, personality,
individual differences,
social networks, prejudice and stereotyping
• Sexuality and sexual orientation
• Creativity and the use of the
arts in Social Science

Media experience
His work has been reported widely
in the media, including:
BBC Radio 4,BBC TV news,Times
Higher Education, Sunday New
York Times, International
and The Independent.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Notes on Narrative

Quoc Bao Duong, creatively writes a story based only
on a single image of a specific person in a specific place.
No other information is given. A photograph can capture
a moment just after something has happened,
or just before something is about to happen.
The exercise is to create that story.
We strain to hear the story, almost whispered.  We strain because, as human beings we love stories, particularly when they are told to us …or narrated.  There is a magical quality to listening to a story.  We listen because we want to know how life can be different from ours or how it can be exactly the same.  Stories compel us to listen.

  1.   Strengths of narrative research
The field of narrative within sociology began with The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918-1920; Florian Znaniecki with W. I. Thomas). This approach to life and lived experience was later defined as the autobiographical method in sociology and located in the theory of symbolic interactionism.

One of the reasons that many social scientists turn to biography is the possibility that such investigations present for localised “truths”— one individual speaking her/his “truth” about a specific life to an audience of one (the interviewer) on a particular localised day. That biography, “performed” on a different day and to a wider audience, offers up that personal “truth” to a community that then decides on its legitimacy and relevance, but only for and within that particular community.

This situation leads to the question of whether the initial individual “truth” was transferable (or not).

In the best narrative work, descriptive/interpretive analysis is a story about stories.  When it veers from this basic concept, it goes off course.  When I, as a narrative researcher, look for stories to tell there is another overarching story to tell in how I came to be in this particular landscape in the first place.  What was it about me (my peculiar interface with society, policy, trends, and conventions) that led me on the particular path I took?   If I disclose this half of the circle then the second half makes sense.  It is within the fullness of this circle that the hermeneutic process becomes complete.  Only when I can find myself in an ‘other’ can I begin to understand what is unique and individual about an ‘other’ and ultimately what is distinctive about myself.

Asking a person to tell us about her/his life is just a beginning. By doing this, in a less than perfect way, we are at least starting by participating in the storytelling of the person in her/his world, her/his expectations, successes, failures and dreams.

It is in these moments of shared, extended reality that we connect to what it means to be human and, therefore, reached a higher plane of understanding and a blurring of individual differences.

2.      Storytelling and narrative research - major features and uses What is Narrative?

Qualitative research is no longer the poor stepchild of quantitative enquiries.  Over the past ten years, qualitative research has come into its own, particularly in terms of wider acceptance in academic and policy communities. Qualitative research is always about story reporting and story making. Narrative is a democratising factor in social science research. Interpretations of narrative stories strive to capture meanings behind life events at the individual and family levels, thus illuminating the social contexts of life events.

One of the virtues of qualitative research is its inclusionary nature and ability to give service-users a voice, both through the research process itself (for example, through a wide range of qualitative social science practices that include participatory action research, in-depth interviewing, ethnographic studies, visual anthropology, biographic narrative studies and so forth) and in reports, documents and presentations. The importance of this kind of research cannot be overemphasised, particularly when dealing with the disadvantaged and/or the unheard voice. 

By adopting a narrative rather than an empirical mode of inquiry, we allow ourselves to get closer to the phenomena studied in several ways.  First, the narrative provides access to the specific rather than the abstract; secondly, narratives allows experience to unfold in a temporal way; thirdly, everyday language and its nuances are encouraged; finally, narrative allows personal dynamics to reveal themselves in the actions and relationships presented as well as the reviewers response to them. It is important to remember that even the most quantitative of us still approach work with the ‘hidden agenda’, if you will, of our background, culture, experience, preferences and prejudices.  Part of being post-modern in our approaches includes acknowledging as much of these things as possible and being vigilant in discovering the more hidden ones. By clearing the air in this way, we not only can attempt to produce more transparent data, but also can often find keys to understanding that we may have otherwise overlooked. 

3.   How data is collected in narrative research

  Narrative Research is listening to told stories…
            What is the story of your life?

The use of a biographical approach to understanding human concerns has a methodology that transcends the barriers of self/society as well as those of past/present/future. When a person’s lifetime is viewed as a whole, the idea of their ‘history’ can be apprehended at two levels.  First, the individual has their own history of personal development and change as they ‘process’ along their life course.  Second, a considerable amount of time passes as they move along their life course.  Historical events and social change at the societal level impinge upon the individual’s own unique life history.

Asking a person to tell us about her/his life is just a beginning.  By doing this, in a less than perfect way, we are at least starting by participating in the storytelling of the person in her/his world, her/his expectations, successes, failures and dreams.  I believe that Biographic Narrative Interpretive interviews are successes because they foreground the participants and their lives as she or he recalls them today, thus providing insight into the social construction of their identities but leaving enough space for the interpretation of the final audience, the reader or listener.

4.   Telling the story

We can no longer afford to ignore the great advances made in representation of qualitative data. These have been overwhelmingly demonstrated by the successes achieved in auto-ethnography, poetic enquiry, ethno-drama, film, Performative Social Science and/or other arts-based efforts in research and dissemination.

Narrative methods contribute greatly to the advances made in qualitative research. A narrative style should also be promoted in publications and presentations.
Narrative researchers are natural storytellers and need to foreground this when reporting studies for publication. Qualitative research is always about story reporting and story making, and narrative research (listening to and retelling stories) is a key democratising factor in qualitative social science research.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

"Look what I've found"

How I remember seeing Ethel Merman in a revival of 'Annie Get Your Gun'! She must have been in her sixties then, belting out the Irving Berlin tunes that he wrote specifically for her to sing. 

During intermission we sneaked into an empty box overlooking the stage for the second act. During the curtain calls, I shouted, "Sing out, Louise!" and she looked up and waved at me.

This particular song from the show always was special for me and I never quite knew why. Then recently, I found Jonathan Groff singing it as a kind of gay anthem and then I suddenly knew why.

It's just under two minutes. Utter perfection as a song.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Kip Jones talks about Biography, Auto-biography, and Creativity

The following is a transcript* of Kip Jones’ contribution to interviews on biographic research conducted by Joanna Thurston and Louise Oliver, Jones’ colleagues at Bournemouth University. The pair interviewed Jones for their film, "It's not research, it's just stories!" first screened at the British Sociological Association Auto/Biography Study Group Conference, in December 2018.

Interviewer: How did you first become involved with biographical methodology?

Kip Jones: Using biography as a method started with my PhD. I studied the Biographic Narrative Interpretive Method with Tom Wengraf and Prue Chamberlayne.  At the time, I was having a kind of methodological panic because people at the university were trying to convince me to explore new approaches to research. Nonetheless, I thought I needed to have a method that was strong and that I could defend. In my previous life as a painter, I did very narrative paintings so the narrative component, at least, made some sense to me.

I: How do you face any challenges that come up when conducting biographical research?

K: Well, when I started out, I was a scared PhD student and studying the method at the same time as starting to do the interviews. This made it very difficult to do anything out of the ordinary. I wasn’t initially aware that perhaps the people whom I was interviewing were not going to follow the method exactly as I had been taught! Sometimes that became a problem. One woman said, “I’m not going to answer your (‘single narrative-inducing’) question because it’s against my religion” and she basically tried to shut the interview down. So that was challenging, believe me. I got an interview, but I was panicking during most of it!

At first, I had a very Pollyanna approach to the subject of my PhD interviews, informal care. My assumption was that what informal carers did was out of compassion and altruism. In most of the cases, that wasn’t true at all. It was like “a can of worms” would open up at every new interview. The interviewees would go into their stories of very complex backgrounds, particularly in their childhoods. It turned out that the people whom I interviewed all had one thing in common: they felt unloved as children. That was really counter to what I had expected and a disappointment in a lot of ways for me. It was difficult at first to accept that my premise had been wrong. Nonetheless, I really was learning a great lesson: we do research to discover what we DON’T know, not to prove what we already know or think we know.

I: How do you justify your use of the methodology and how do you justify your choice?

K: Well now I don’t worry about justifying it, I really don’t. I’m driven by my passion for what I’m exploring; that’s what’s important to me. I’m still, however, conscious of being methodologically sound, but not in a prescriptive way. I’ve really learned to trust my instincts in terms of things like ethics. Any good researcher learns to do that, I think.  That’s the stuff that really matters to me. I find it unfortunate that some researchers don’t develop that ‘sixth sense’ around ethics. They would rather go to a committee and have them tell them what’s ethical and what’s not. In doing social research, you’re always going to come up against complex situations. You have to be prepared to deal with that using the skills that you have developed and, yes, your intuition. There will always be choices involved. We really must develop our own ethical compasses.

I’ve become very interested lately in a concept that I call “audience”—that could be a reader of a book or a journal article, or someone viewing a film, or a student in a classroom, or someone in a conference hall. We have a real responsibility to the end-receivers of the work that we are doing. It’s something that’s really important to take into consideration—who’s going to be at the other end of all this research?  Do we take the audience into account when building the dissemination of our research?

I: Can you tell us about your last ‘triumphal experience’ of conducting biographical research?

K: Well, of course the film, RUFUS STONE. When I was beginning to develop Performative Social Science, or using tools from the arts in research, particularly for dissemination, I became interested in the possibility of working with film.  That developed out of experimenting with (or abusing!) PowerPoint and later video. I think that because of my art background the visual was very important to me at that juncture. It still is.  Our team submitted a research proposal for a project on older LGBT citizens who had experience of living in the British countryside. We were successful and got the money for the project, which included the budget to make a film. That was ten years ago and today, the film still has legs, which is amazing. People continue to ask me to show it, do Q&As at various venues, and exhibit the film. The irony is that RUFUS STONE, which is not only about older people, but also older people 50-60 years ago, is seen as relevant to youth today. This fact has inspired a project on Generation Z, sexuality and gender that we are just beginning to get off the ground.

I: How do you feel that biographical research has evolved in the wider research community in terms of acceptance?

K: Once again, I think it’s about story and story is, more and more, a big part of people’s lives. The one thing that became clear to me through this process was that even when I’m telling someone else’s story, I am telling my own story. It’s very important as a researcher to keep that in mind and remember that. Just the simple fact that there is something about us or in our background that makes us interested in a subject or a person whose story we want to hear, what we’re going to include, not include—things like that—it’s so much about us!  For example, a situation that happened to me was a real break-through, an ah-ha moment. A guy started telling his story and when he got about 20 minutes in, I realised that he was telling my story. This is very freaky when that happens and particularly with a method where you can’t say anything! Like, “please stop!” Or “How dare you be telling my story!” I then began slowly to realise was that my own story was part of all of the stories I was hearing.  I had to look at my own past as well. That’s when I started writing about my own life. Because the story of RUFUS STONE is so emotional, I needed to find the poignant components in my own life so that I could imbue the characters with the emotive aspects of their lives for the film’s narrative.

For instance, I started writing about the back-story of the characters, using things that had happened in my childhood. I was writing about Rufus and his grandparents (who are not in the film at all). I thought about my own grandfather and I remembered sitting on my grandfather’s knee, his grandfather clock ticking away in the background. I wrote about that experience of mine as part of Rufus’ memories. I added the fact that the clock would then end up in his parents’ farmhouse where Rufus grew up. In this way, the clock became a central ‘character’ in the film. That all came from my story, my biography, not from any specific person whom we interviewed. Yet, it fit a theme in the film’s story: inheritance (both physical and psychological) from generation-to-generation, the passage of time, and how things change or don’t change over time. So, the whole idea of my ‘self’ being involved creatively in my writing—I’m very comfortable with it now.

I: How would you advise an early career researcher or someone considering using this method for the first time in their research?

K:  In terms of the Biographic Narrative Interpretive Method, I would say, ‘Take the training’. It’s a complicated method and you will feel more confident as a researcher if you have the training behind you. It’s odd, I’m a very creative person and yet, I’m very methodical in the way that I do things. Knowing the rules is necessary in order to be creative. If I get all the ‘instructional’ stuff out of the way, I won’t have as much anxiety. “Am I doing this the right or wrong way?” Eventually, I am confident enough to ask myself, “What would I change? How would I do it differently?”  Remember: you can’t change anything unless you know the rules first. That’s what creativity is all about.  

*This article appeared by invitation of the editors in Sage Publications’ MethodSpace special issue on Creativity, June 2019.