January 6, 2016
Caine, V., Estefan, A., & Clandinin, D. J. (2013). A return to methodological commitment: Reflections on narrative inquiry. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 57(6), 574-586.
Narrative has become a buzzword in research today. Though the authors acknowledge that diverse opinions allow the field to be enriched, they are concerned that narrative inquiry is being used as a catchall that does not represent the larger ontological underpinnings of its origins. This article is meant to be a refocusing, setting an ontological true north for narrative inquiry.
The authors begin asserting that narrative inquiry is more than a research methodology…it is in fact a narrative view of experience (p.575). When narrative inquiry is viewed solely as a research methodology, it runs the risk of being a one-way street where the researcher holds the power as she gathers the stories of research subjects. When narrative is viewed as an experience, it opens the way for narrative to become something multi-dimensional, co-composed, and changeable within social context. No longer do researchers become the harvesters of narratives, rather researchers acknowledge and live together in the endlessly complex/changeable social world with research participants and from that place of interwoven relationships begin to distill and sense make.
In addition, the authors deem that a “narrative ontology” is key to narrative inquiry. Narrative ontology “implies that experiences are continuously interactive, resulting in changes in both people and the contexts in which they interact” (p.576). The researcher’s lived experience too becomes an important part of the research process because narratives are not received in a sterile lab rather are received in the thick of daily life.
“To engage deeply with experience, an ontological commitment is, then, a relational commitment. It is a commitment to a form of togetherness in research that seems to explore how we are living in the midst of our stories” (p. 576).
In narrative inquiry, the researcher always draws on personal experiences when encountering research puzzles and attention to these personal experiences become the genesis of the relational commitment that is foundational to narrative inquiry.
This was an interesting article for me because previously, when thinking of narrative inquiry, it was more from a place where my participants would tell me their stories, I’d dutifully record/code, and form some larger theory of experience, phenomenon, etc. To me, narrative was a unit of measure and though it might make me feel something…I’d do my best to bracket and stay true to the facts that were presented. After reading this article, I’m thinking that view was reductionist of me.
The idea that narrative inquiry promotes an interweaving of a researcher’s narrative with the narratives of research subjects rather than a bracketing out of researcher’s narrative is very appealing to me. In addition, the idea that narrative inquiry is relationally constructed resonates with me because I tend to think all of life is relationally constructed and understood. In my case, I am researching a topic that I am passionate about and have experience working within. Hearing relationships are okay within narrative inquiry (and indeed even part of its core) makes it attractive.
That said, I wonder how objectivity is achieved within narrative inquiry. Could the relational construct obscure or gloss over the truth of a phenomenon? Or am I only thinking that because I’ve been steeped for so long in the validity of research that retains no fingerprints of the researcher? If narrative inquiry is all about exploring the interweaving of your life as a researcher and the lives of your participants…how can you avoid getting hopelessly tangled up in their lives and vice versa? What is professional (or even mental health) distance as a researcher engaged in narrative inquiry?
Overall by defining its boundaries in general and the importance of a narrative ontology in particular, this article was a good way to begin my narrative inquiry exploration. My overarching takeaway is that not all research that uses narratives is narrative inquiry. If I do want to follow a narrative inquiry focus…I must be prepared for a deep level of engagement, immersion, and co-construction with my participants because research really might be in relationships.