Narrative methodology

“Human beings have lived out and told stories about that living for as long as we could talk. And then we have talked about the stories we tell for almost as long. These lived and told stories and the talk about the stories are one of the ways that we fill our world with meaning and enlist one another’s assistance in building lives and communities.” (1) p35

Narrative inquiry is a method of generating data, interpreting data and representing data analysis using narrative.(2) It is based on a uniquely human tendency to create stories: “the primary form by which human experience is made meaningful.” (3) A narrative is not an artefact, but an activity:(3) as the narrator “narrates” their experience, meaning is created. This meaning is fluid, co-constructed through conversation and may be internally inconsistent. Because narrative is not a static object, but a dynamic process, meaning can be elusive: “it presents as a wisp”(2) The skill of narrative inquiry is bringing the “wisps” together: interpreting individual representations of experience to form a coherent story.

Because of this dynamic, changeable process of meaning making, there is a vast field of methodology known as “narrative inquiry”. This study is situated within the dialogic method of inquiry: it is not focussing solely on the events in the story, but the way the story is told in the context of a conversation. With this perspective, reality “is not independent of the knower”: the way stories are expressed, understood and then communicated after analysis is influenced by the unique context of that conversation. This includes the cultural context, the context of the conversation and the interviewer, and the moment in time in which the conversation occurs. It is also known through language, which is context specific and loses a lot of its information content when treated in isolation.(3)

Narrative methodology has several strengths for the purposes of this study. There are parallels between this type of knowing, and the way a consultation occurs, particularly a consultation with a psychological focus. Some forms of narrative inquiry share similarities with narrative therapy, a method that is designed to use personal stories to influence change. (4) Because story, metaphor and conversation are key components of psychotherapeutic strategies, the outcome of this research is likely to translate readily to clinical practice.

Although the purpose of this research is not to conduct therapy, the process of creating narratives has seen as valuable in helping participants build personal identity and agency.(5) Given the traumatic nature of the events under discussion, it is important to choose a methodology that enables the participants to choose the nature and manner of story-telling. The methodology has a rich tradition of working with participants on sensitive topics, and with marginalised communities for this reason.(4)

  1. Clandinin DJ, Rosiek J. Mapping a landscape of narrative inquiry. Handbook of narrative inquiry: Mapping a methodology. 2007:35-75.
  2. Liamputtong P. Research methods in health: foundations for evidence-based practice: Oxford University Press; 2013.
  3. Polkinghorne DE. Narrative knowing and the human sciences: Suny Press; 1988.
  4. Andrews M, Squire C, Tamboukou M. Doing narrative research: Sage; 2013.
  5. Bruner JS. Acts of meaning: Harvard University Press; 1990.