Narrative Research - Methodological Contributions and Researcher Development

Impact: Awareness and understanding, Attitudes and behaviours


As underpinned by an appreciation of the everyday role of narrative in the ways we make sense of our experiences for ourselves and for others, narrative-based research is not new - seminal English-medium texts have flowed from the 1970s onwards. However, the power of narrative - both as a sense-making habit and as the basis of a research approach - was something I stumbled upon accidentally  as part of my doctoral fieldwork research (see below). In my disciplinary area (Education) and in the doctoral training I received, narrative research had only a minimal footprint. From the turn of the century, narrative research became my primary research approach, and it formed a significant part of the Lantern researcher community which I have co-ordinated for nearly 20 years and for which I received a Teacher of the Year award in 2013. Narrative-based research now has a strong footing in the department, and the narrative-based PhD (Education) and D.CounsPsych theses which I have supervised (see links below) contribute to wider understandings of the possibilities for, and complexities of, narrative research methodology. They also intersect with the researching multilingually area of impact given that most of the Lantern doctoral researchers are plurilingual and the contexts and phenomena they research are very often multilingual or are dominated by a language other than English (the language of the students examination at my UK-based, English-foregrounding university).
Origins of my interest
My interest in, and contributions to, narrative research began in my reflections during my sojourns in Greece for the MA TEFL distance learning courseware licensing project with the Hellenic Open University (HOU). In my thesis (Fay, 2004), I report a day in the company of the HOU Vice-President, a day captured in my fieldwork journal in the following extract: 

[Saturday June 21st 1997, afternoon, on the bus to Kalamata]
"... now I am sitting on the old service bus from Patras to Kalamata. Stamatis [The HOU VP] insisted on buying my ticket and finding me a seat and we stood awkwardly by the door saying goodbyes without a clear script for doing so. Finally, we shake hands and [he] bids me 'enjoy the real Greece'. I am ... trying to find my schooldays’ knowledge of Aristotle’s Poetics. The stimulus for this was the name of the beer, Mythos [I was drinking] .... I have a notion (which I must check) that the Greek 'mythos' actually means something like 'plot' and that Aristotle contrasts this with 'praxis' (? action). So what we get is a contrast between isolated actions (e.g. the civil war battle on this hill) and a series of actions, or a plot (like Stamatis' seamless tales on the Corinth road). And in [his] storytelling we access this plot through his narrative re-enactment of the separate incidents. Through this representation of the plot, [he] creates anew the world of Athena, Mavromihaeli, and the rest. And with [his own personal] ... perspective, these tales will have their own [particular] hue ...."

I my thesis, I then reflected on the shaping influence on my doctoral study of this immersion in a narrative world:

"Alerted by Stamatis’ performance to the power of narratives, I began noticing their presence throughout the project, in the stories colleagues were telling each other to explain why and how things were as they were. For example, new members of the HOU 'English’ team were socialised into the team through the explanatory narratives of the original team members, and they shared their experiences of their first Contact Sessions, their first assignment marking experiences and so on through stories about particular incidents and student performances. Their accounts seemed to capture their understandings of what was happening but also their emotional responses to it (e.g. pride at the impressive commitment of students) and their developing practices. Similarly, I realised my reports to [CELSE, i.e. Manchester] colleagues after blocks of fieldwork very often took a narrative form and I used incidents to illustrate what was happening and to articulate my evaluation of the project.

On a more personal level, when I now look back at the many occasions when [my HOU colleague] Eleftheria and I mused over a glass of beer on our way home from the HOU office, I realise we were co-constructing our narrative reminiscences of the early days of the project. This unwinding process embodied our subconscious attempt to understand how we had reached such a point, how things had come to pass as they were.

In sum, I realised the extent of the narrative world of the project in comparison to my earlier concern for the experienced world of the project. I began to believe that I could access and construct understandings of the project through the stories told by some of the participants in it.
Building a narrative researcher community
Thus, my interest in the research possibilities of the narrative meaning-making that is such a deeply-embedded aspect of human experience. 

Supervision narratives with Leah
MusM dissertation
Ladino with Leah
Cordoba with Elena
Lantern community + blog entries
+ Fitri NI series
+ D.CounsPsych supervisions
+ PhD Education supervisions
narrativity of arts-based methods (klezmer)
researcher narratives
Emerald chapter?
Impact dateJan 2000Jan 2024
Category of impactAwareness and understanding, Attitudes and behaviours
Impact levelBenefit