|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.
- 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.