Sunday, 23 January 2011

finding a research voice

It's early stages (how long can I keep saying that?) but I feel like I'm reaching a first 'plateau' in my ownership of my study. Reflecting on the past few months (and nearly a year since I started reading with a purpose) I note a hesitancy to talk about anything with certainty, to take a confident position on authors or to talk about my research with clarity. Although I will no doubt chart the development of these again, for now I am pleased I have some 'handle' on what I am doing. This is different from putting a proposal together, or even being able to name main reference points - this is something about that slow, intangible, messy process whereby I've shuffled and re shuffled thoughts, felt comfortable with questions and uncertainty and feel strongly about some strands or markers along the way. This has been supported through conversation, especially through the #phdchat community on twitter which is proving so useful.

Part of my momentum has come from a connection between the type of study I know I am doing and my professional background. I'm nearly forty (gasp) and have had the pleasure of working with children and young people in community organisations, churches, local authorities and in my own business. I've been in the 'people' business for a while, from a broadly community development and creative perspective. I now realise that I've valued and worked my own with people's stories. My work has been about understanding people in their contexts and where they are (or want to) go. I have found a real resonance with narrative inquiry and that's providing some new found momentum. I'm not 'wired' for complete objectivity and positivist research, but I do love making sense of personal journeys and finding themes, tensions and questions within them.

Of course, PhD study means reading things as part of the process, so I've just been reading "Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research" by D. Jean Clandinnin and F. Michael Connely, published by Jossey-Bass in 2000. It's a classic narrative text and very easy reading (compared to some others I have on the go in territory of pragmatism, identity and so on!). Here's my short list of things I loved about it:

  • Narrative inquiry deals with real people, their instability, change and shifting stories.
  • The inquirer is (usually) located fairly clearly in the research process, so there is an opportunity to weave in my 'position' (as opposed to 'pretending' I have nothing to do with these conversations and interpretations). 
  • The inquiry is careful to note the conditions of temporality, location and generally a note about how things we study are 'in the making'.
  • there are reflections with Schon's (1983, 1987, 1991) 'knowing in action' which does not separate 'thinking' and 'doing'.
  • It has challenged my to reject what Popper called the 'myth of the framework' - in other ways, to develop a relationship with theory that does not lead the study, but offers itself as a resource for a conversation between itself and real lived experience. That's not a universal rule for those of you working with other approaches, but it's needed in narrative inquiry.
  • The authors' suggestion that I be aware of my own autobiographical account and try out telling my own story is helpful to me - so I can be aware of my own 'positioning' in the study, and consequently the stories and meanings others have that may be similar and different.
  • I like the discussion of 'tensions' throughout narrative inquiry especially around the role of theory, relationship with participants, finding a 'voice in the text' and so on.
  • I like the clarity the authors have about writing field texts as a guard against 'smoothing' stories in the re telling and in being able to relate the many strands I will collect as I go on.
  • Lastly (I've got to wrap up somewhere for now) I liked the need to tell and re tell my 'questions' of my inquiry, knowing that engagement with the field will change these - but getting them out there is key to my own understanding of what puzzles me and where I am at in the 'search'.
Postscript: I'm drafting an article for journal submission at the moment and awful as the process has been to get writing again, it has been really helpful in sparking my interest in writing. I'm learning to suspend the self critical voice (for now) and just 'do it'. This has also pushed me on.