Troubling Method is constructed as a dialogue between the three authors, focusing on their work as qualitative, narrative researchers. The authors revisit six previously published works in which they grapple with the contradictions and ironies of engaging in pragmatist, critical, and feminist qualitative research. After a lengthy introduction which problematizes "method," the book is divided into three sections, each with two chapters that are bracketed by an introduction to the issues discussed in the chapters and then a "dialogue interlude" in which the authors deliberate what makes possible the questions they are raising about method and narrative research. The three sections attend to the central premises of "narrative research as being": 1) relationships, 2) listening, and 3) unknowing.
Troubling Method is ideal for introductory or advanced courses in qualitative research, narrative inquiry, educational research, and those aimed at employing critical theories in qualitative and narrative inquiry.
Table Of Content
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Introduction: Getting in Trouble
- Section I: Relationships as Being in the World
- Introduction to Section I (Paul William Eaton)
- 1. The Future of Narrative (Petra Munro Hendry)
- 2. Narrative Inquiry: Stories Lived, Stories Told (Roland W. Mitchell)
- Dialogue Interlude 1
- Section II: Listening as Being in the World
- Introduction to Section II (Paul William Eaton)
- 3. “Soft Ears” and Hard Topics: Race, Disciplinarity, and Voice in Higher Education (Roland W. Mitchell)
- 4. Continuing Dilemmas of Life History Research: A Reflexive Account of Feminist Qualitative Inquiry (Petra Munro Hendry)
- Dialogue Interlude 2
- Section III: Unknowing as Being in the World
- Introduction to Section III (Paul William Eaton)
- 5. Narrative as Inquiry (Petra Munro Hendry)
- 6. “Why Didn’t They Get It?” “Did They Have to Get It?”: What Reader Response Theory Has to Offer Narrative Research and Pedagogy (Becky Atkinson / Roland W. Mitchell)
- Dialogue Interlude 3
- Un-Conclusion: Entangling Narrative
As authors we welcome you to this assemblage in which all of us have been and are always, already present in the narrative becomings that entangle us across time, space, and place. The mapping of this territory/assemblage is no easy task given that it is not of our own making. Narratives are agents in their own right. We are implicated in narratives whose trajectories intersect and diffract in ways we can never trace, nor is that what we seek to do in this book. The story we tell is not a linear one in which we reflect on our “experience” or “stories” as a site of revelation. Instead, as we go to press, we recognize that what we have been doing is practicing/embodying narrative as an ethical/political becoming in which we are present to each other and to our imagined readers. We understand narrative not as a method that leads to description of the world, but as a creative, generative embodiment of becoming in the world. In other words, narrative (and we suggest that all research is narrative) becomes not a method of explication/representation, but a space to embrace ambiguity, precarity, mystery, vulnerability, humility, and stumble in disorientation. Troubling the role of method in conventional narrative research asks us to resist authoritative, final interpretations and instead remember that stories are more than words; they are living beings. Enacting narrative becomes an ethical act, as well as an ontological and epistemological one. ← vii | viii →
Reframing all research as narrative being~becoming requires us to “trouble method.” The three of us have studied, dialogued, and written about “method” over the course of the past eight years. In the course of our dialogues about method, research, and narrative, we returned again and again to questions that had no answers, to moments of silence and to an appreciation of our growing ability to really listen to each other without needing closure/answers or finality. Narrative research as being is not a “method,” but an ethical relationality seeking to displace the spaces in which research has functioned to dehumanize/categorize through making stories, words, and lives objects to be cut, analyzed, and reduced to knowledge. This rupture and reordering of things is no small matter; it is the difference that makes a difference. In this spirit of listening and dialogue, we trouble traditional narrative research, focusing on narrating (as a verb) rather than presenting narratives (a noun). We have engaged in a process of narrating our practices of research as a means to generate more uncertainty, more questions. This spiraling consists of the eternal return, acknowledging that we have not progressed in our thinking, but are in fact always already suspended in a web of relations from which we cannot extract ourselves. Narratives are not independent objects we can step outside of to serve as reference or representation of some “reality.” This means that you, as a reader, are already entangled with this space. So, we invite you to trouble method and narrative research alongside us. Listen for your own potential resonances of discomfort with method and representation. Dialogue with yourself, others, and the text about these ideas. Entangle with the ambiguity and difficult tensions that arise through our reflections, dialogues, and perturbations. Narrating is the act of being~becoming through which we collectively will trouble the limitations of a narrative inquiry rooted solely in epistemology, commodification, dehumanization, and discords of disrupted relationality.
We would like to express our gratitude for permission to reprint the following chapters.
Hendry, P. M. (2007). The future of narrative. Qualitative Inquiry, 13(4), 487–498. Qualitative Inquiry by SAGE PUBLICATIONS, INC. Reproduced with permission of SAGE PUBLICATIONS, INC. in the format Book via Copyright Clearance Center.
Mitchell, R. (2009). ‘Soft ears’ and hard topics: race, disciplinarity, and voice in higher education. In A. Y. Jackson & L. A. Mazzei (Eds.), Voice in qualitative inquiry: Challenging conventional, interpretive, and critical conceptions in qualitative research (pp. 77–96). New York, NY: Routledge. Reprinted with permission of publisher. ← ix | x →
Reprinted by permission of the Publisher. From David J. Flinders and Geoffrey E. Mills, Theory and Concepts in Qualitative Research, New York: Teachers College Press. Copyright © 1993 by Teachers College, Columbia University. All Rights Reserved.
Hendry, P. M. (2009). Narrative as inquiry. The Journal of Educational Research, 103(2), 72–80. Reprinted by permission of the publisher (Taylor & Francis Ltd, http://www.tandfonline.com).
Atkinson, B., & Mitchell, R. (2010). “Why didn’t they get it?” “Did they have to get it?”: What reader response theory has to offer narrative research and pedagogy. International Journal of Education and the Arts, 11(7). http://www.ijea.org/v11n7/ Creative Commons License. Republished with permission.
Thus my design is not here to teach the Method which everyone should follow in order to promote the good conduct of his Reason, but only to show in what manner I have endeavored to conduct my own.
René Descartes, Discourse on the Method, 1637
Despite René Descartes’ humble disclaimer, method would become the foundation of the modern world—science, reason, and democracy. Discourse on the Method has been called the “dividing line in the history of thought. Everything that came before it is old; everything that came after it is new” (Shorto, 2008, p. 16). This new thought was method and its consequence was modernity. Yet, the fact that “method” emerged at a particular point in history has been obscured given that it now has the force of inevitability. To trouble method is to acknowledge not only that it is the consequence of a particular time and place, but that it is not inevitable, natural, or universal. That method no longer has a complete stranglehold on human thought became apparent in the late 20th century when the interpretive and linguistic turn in the social sciences resulted in a “crisis of representation” that challenged traditional, modernist epistemological paradigms by problematizing the very nature of knowledge as objective and corresponding to any reality (Clifford & Marcus, 1986; Derrida & Spivak, 1977; Foucault, 1980; ← 1 | 2 → Geertz, 1977; Harding, 1987; Lather, 2013; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Lyotard, 1984; Polkinghorne, 1988; Wolcott, 1990). These critiques, while challenging many of the foundations of modernist thought, left the concept of method intact. While the nature of knowledge, objectivity, and power was deconstructed, the question of method revolved around how to extract it from positivist notions of knowledge and reinsert it into antifoundationalist views of knowledge. In other words, how might method be more reflective of knowledge as socially constructed by being more intersubjective, less exploitative, more reflexive, and concede that knowledge is always embedded in language—partial, contingent, and situated. In the Kuhnian sense this was not a paradigm shift. Research was still understood as an epistemology. How knowledge was constructed was troubled, but the construct method, as essential to knowledge production, continued as an inevitable logic of the legacy of modernist research.
The concept of method has remained “tethered to humanism,” with its epistemological and ontological foundations rooted in the deeply held assumption that humans can represent the world through research, language, data, voice, capturing experience, and narrative (Jackson & Mazzei, 2017, p. 718). The untethering of method will require that its entanglement with the master narrative of research as epistemology be troubled. We seek to trouble method as an epistemological project because ultimately, humanistic qualitative inquiry has been complicit in the process of dehumanization through flattening experience as objects/spectacles of observation. Rejecting essentialized, static, coherent, stable, and anthropocentric understandings of experience/knowledge, we have been provoked to ask the question “How might we think about qualitative research without method?” While this question was almost unthinkable in the 1970s and 1980s given the foundational narratives of modernist Western thought grounded in a Cartesian ontological realism based in the concept of method, we are ready to contemplate life without method. Like Deleuze (1983), we recognize that “thought does not need a method” (110).
This book puts into motion the authors’ continuously shifting understandings of their work as narrative researchers by engaging in a recursive process in which we see our writing (previously published texts) as not in the “past,” but as part of the eternal present. This analytic process puts texts alongside each other as part of an assemblage/network in which we do not “reflect” (which implies correspondence/mirroring/objectivity) or even “interpret,” but instead intra-act with our reading/writing/thinking as a relational ethics that destabilizes any epistemological claims. The dynamic spiraling motion of recursion keeps us from settling into any comfortable claims/findings/methods by continually reconfiguring/diffracting ← 2 | 3 → our analysis so as to open up a multiplicity of unexpected readings/questions. Readers will soon recognize we offer no finality, conclusion, or path forward in regard to “troubling” method. We simply perturb the spaces of traditional humanist qualitative research, narrative inquiry, and the assumptions that undergird the work we all feel passionately drawn to in our scholarly and lived experience.
Fortunately, we are not alone in this troubling journey. We have had companions along the way who have resonated with our troubles. Ironically, it is in the field of history of science that scientists have been critiquing the limits of science as method that is objective, foundational, and absolute. Paul Feyerabend (1975) in Against Method argues that “science is an essentially anarchistic enterprise” (p. 17). He questions the belief that simple-minded scientific methods can ever account for the maze of complex, chaotic interactions that make up the cosmos. Feyerabend, like Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (1979) and Thomas Kuhn’s (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, argued that “science” is a social construct produced by a meta-narrative of legitimization through the reduction of method to a technology of knowledge production. They made clear that “science” was just another story. More recent works like Stephen Gould’s (1981) The Mismeasure of Man, Oliver Sacks’ (1985) The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Karen Barad’s (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway, have maintained that science is not a separate and privileged space that is distinct from other interpretive, qualitative research. All research is narrative. For Lyotard (1979), this means that science as narrative, not as a form of legitimation, must concern itself with the undecidable, the limits of precise control, incomplete information, fractals, catastrophes, and paradoxes. Science is producing not the known, but the unknown (p. 60). Research is about “paralogy,” namely generating ideas. Science/method/narrative is not about reducing complexity (positivism), representing the world (signification), or achieving consensus (rationality) but about creating concepts and analytics which offer new and different perspectives on orientations toward the cosmos.
Like cosmic reverberations that we hear only long after their initial sonic resonance, or the traveling of light that we only see after light-years, it has taken the social science field more time to cognize potential issues with, and thereby trouble, “method.” John Law troubled method in social science research as recently as 2004, arguing that “method” creates social reality. Rather than method somehow being an in-agentic, objective force, “method” is political, assembling and disassembling in highly unpredictable ways. Like Law, Barad (2007) questioned the role of measuring apparati in physics, arguing that reality is not representational or ← 3 | 4 → static, but rather predicated on the instruments we design to empirically capture particular modes of being. Others—such as Weheliye (2014), Braidotti (2013), Coole and Frost (2010)—have all brought to the literature base a questioning of rigidifying “method.” Yet, educational researchers have been slower to take up critiques of method. It seems as if qualitative research and narrative research in particular are prone to rigidly adhere to method. However, this was not always the case.
The narrative turn in educational research in the 1980s, often traced to John Dewey, sought to address the critiques of positivist constructs of knowledge by highlighting the storied nature of knowledge (Clandinin, 2013; Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). Narrative is the primary way in which we organize experience. As Bakhtin (1981) maintains, there is an intimate connection between language and the project of self and culture; they both exist in order to mean. There is no identity outside of narrative. Events or selves, in order to exist, must be encoded as story elements. Narrative, as Ricouer (1974) reminds us, imposes on the events of the past a form that in themselves they do not really have. Because these are reconstructions, the original purity of experience can never be achieved. Narrative inquiry thus opened spaces for educational researchers to deconstruct the positivist hold on what counts as knowledge, whose stories can be told, and the very nature of how narrative shapes the world.
Initially each author saw narrative inquiry, and more generally qualitative research, as an alternative to the objectifying, reductionist, and hierarchical tendencies inherent in positivist research. The authors engaged with poststructuralists, feminists, critical theorists, race theorists, pragmatists, and indigenous peoples who critiqued positivism’s hold on knowledge as fixed, grounded in the objective pursuit of universal laws and truths. The inherent power relations embedded in the researcher/researched binary as well as the fallacy of objectivity, reflexivity, validity, and generalizability were also interrogated as “regimes of truth” that buttressed modernism’s hold on positivist understandings of knowledge. Ironically, the authors’ experiences of engaging with narrative research did not ameliorate issues of power, and in fact revealed unsettling dilemmas regarding issues of subjectivity (voice), power (research relationships), representation (correspondence theory), and the very nature of stories as explanatory. The limits of narrative research raised for us troubling questions not just about narrative, but the very constructs of method and research.
Despite the initial allure of narrative research to counter the objectifying tenants of positivist research, we have joined numerous other scholars engaged in qualitative/(post)qualitative research who continue to destabilize conventional ← 4 | 5 → humanist qualitative research by interrogating the following issues: (1) the very project of representation and specifically the ethics of representing the voices/stories of subjects (Britzman, 2000; Jackson & Mazzei, 2008; Lather, 2012; Mazzei, 2013, 2016; Miller, 2005; Pillow, 2003; Wolcott, 2002); (2) the role of data and interpretation in narrative accounts (Barone, 2007; Denzin, 2013; Lenz Taguchi, 2012; Mazzei, 2010; St. Pierre & Jackson, 2014); (3) power dimensions and the potential colonizing impacts of research relationships (Kim & Macintyre Latta, 2010; Trinh, 1989; Tuck & Yang, 2014; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999, 2005); (4) what is left unsaid in the questions we ask and the interpretations we make or miss (Kim, 2016; Richardson, 1997; St. Pierre & Pillow, 2000); (5) what becomes of the more-than-human elements of narrative (Braidotti, 2013; Haraway, 2016; Nordstrom, Nordstrom, & Nordstrom, in press; Petitfils, 2014; Rosiek & Heffernan, 2014; Snaza & Weaver, 2014; Taylor & Hughes, 2016); and (6) what impact the ethico-onto-epistemological turn has on narrative inquiry still dominated by concepts of method and epistemology (Barad, 2007; Lather, 2016; St. Pierre, 2015; St. Pierre, Jackson, & Mazzei, 2016; Tsing, 2015).
For some, addressing these critiques has resulted in narrative researchers seeking to “improve” the conventional methods of research as a means to make inquiry more “collaborative,” “dialogic,” or “representative.” In other words, “stories” and narrative from this conventional, humanist perspective are still full of positivist concepts like validity, bias, subjectivity, data, triangulation, and coding. Conventional, qualitative research still makes stories “objects” of study, and “research” is understood as a “method” resulting in a technocratic approach to narrative inquiry. Alternatively, those engaged in the ontological turn are maintaining that we “forego methods-driven research…to leave conventional humanist qualitative research behind…the ontology of this methodology retains the human/nonhuman, word/thing, representation/the real distinctions, which are unintelligible in new empirical thought” (St. Pierre, 2015, p. 86). In fact, the new materialism, posthumanist, postfoundationalist turn reminds us, ironically, that we are still trapped in the Cartesian ruins of positivism. Thus, we proceed cautiously with terms like the “new” or (posts) given that they assume modernist constructs of time, linearity, and progress.
Given that narrative research is still embedded in the positivist trope of “method,” the questions that we engage are the result of the limits of “stories” to enact an emancipatory project that is embedded in human agency, constructs of progress, and the belief that the world can be named. Consequently, the questions that frame this book are: (1) How might narrative be thought without method? (2) What is made possible and impossible when narrative is constituted as research? ← 5 | 6 → (3) Given that “stories” do not provide unmediated access into another’s world, what are the limits of narrative as an epistemology? (4) In what ways are humanist constructs of subjectivity, power, and agency implicated in the discourses of narrative research? To engage these questions, an emergent process unfolded. Emergence, a concept we borrow from complexity theory, posits that systems arise and self-organize in unpredictable patterns. There is no predetermined plan, no linear causality, to a system’s emergence. Environmental forces, initial conditions, and tiny unmeasurable vibrations will shift systems in radically different directions. This book was not planned. It emerged from a whole series of unpredictable processes that allowed it to self-organize. Somehow it emerged into your hands as a reader, and you are now part of the system as well. There is unpredictability in how the questions here will trouble you.
The following chapters recursively illuminate a number of Petra and Roland’s qualitative research projects that have been central to raising “troubling” concerns not only about the nature of narrative research, but the very construct of modernist, Western “research.” As Petra and Roland began a process of diffracting (Barad, 2007) these chapters—thinking anew about the troubling questions they raised at the time of their original publication, and now in the light of shifting theoretical terrain within social sciences research—they invited their then doctoral student and now research colleague Paul William Eaton, whose research in posthumanist, complexivist research challenged Petra and Roland to further engage, entangle, plug-in, and intra-act in troubling narrative method. The questions with which Paul was engaging—how we tell, make meaning, or construct stories through digital social media spaces—raised new issues about representation, epistemology, and the very process of becoming. Paul began questioning how researchers could “represent” the human experience on and through social media spaces. By their very nature, social media ecologies aim to tell particular stories, but these stories are complicated not only by individual users, but platforms, algorithms, energy fields, and processes most of us do not really have any means of conceptualizing or understanding. Thus, Paul’s questions merged with Petra and Roland’s questions: how do we trouble narrative structures in the digital age? How do we think about narrative research or qualitative research more broadly as an ontological project? These conversations of Paul’s emerging research, with Petra’s and Roland’s retrospective troubling of their own work, self-organized into this text.
The individual chapters were written over a period of time in which Petra and Roland were colleagues in the Curriculum Theory Project at Louisiana State University. Our struggles with enacting our theories of narrative research were often ← 6 | 7 → topics of conversation in hallways, at conferences, and in dissertation defenses. We wrestled with questions of our entrée into academe with ambitions of changing the world. Over time, we questioned whether research can or should serve an emancipatory purpose, and whether such aims are exploitative, rather than ethical. Our initial attraction to narrative was the result of its perceived emancipatory appeal, especially the possibility for more collaborative relationships between researchers, participants, and their shared environment, when compared to more positivist approaches to research (Clandinin & Connelly, 2004; Weedon, 1996). All of us engaged in research projects in which we were sensitive to avoiding exploitative research relationships and in which we hoped to “give” voice to those stories traditionally marginalized (Eaton, 2016; Mitchell & Rosiek, 2005; Munro, 1996). However, we had not anticipated that our participants had their own reasons and agendas for participating in research. First, our desire for collaboration cloaked the impositional nature of our assumptions about the research relationship that ironically reified the very power relationships we were trying to subvert. We wanted nonexploitative relationships—what could be exploitative about that? Second, we had all hoped to co-construct the stories and interpretations with our participants as a way to subvert positivist understandings of knowledge. As we discussed our ongoing research projects, as well as shared our writings, it became painfully clear that we each struggled with the ways that “narrative” research was not fulfilling our desires for socially just, emancipatory, and “post”modern research. We remember…
Across the course of our scholarly work we have attempted to problematize the limits of narrative interpretation as well as the representation of experience through the stories made possible with our participants and the varying types of relationships we engaged, including work in communal/community settings (Fasching-Varner et al., 2015; Hendry & Edwards, 2009); collaborative writing groups (Jipson, Munro, Victor, Jones, Freed-Rowland, 1995; Munro, 1996); and participation in political, faith-based, and social organizations (Mitchell, 2010a). Despite our desires and varying approaches aimed at building ethical relationships in which we could collect and ultimately analyze stories, the problems of interpreting and representing the experiences of others persisted. No amount of co-constructing narratives with participants or other researchers, member checking, or triangulation afforded the representations that research guided by method promised. Consequently, we have come to believe that no matter how emancipatory, reciprocal, or collaborative narrative method is, the project of representation has eluded us. Ultimately, language as representation can never convey the complexity of human experience, particularly when experience is embedded ← 8 | 9 → in complex, always shifting power relations. Consequently, our initial desire to “represent” the stories of “others” through narrative research, particularly those historically marginalized voices, always falls short of our perceived emancipatory intentions.
This tension has driven our inquiry for nearly three decades. Regardless of the theoretical lens or philosophical orientation, like good scholars we engaged in a never-ending quest for social transformation and self-development through our relationships to people and their narratives, read through the “apparatus” of research (Barad, 2007; Foucault, 1980). Be it framed through poststructuralist’s obsessions with the Foucauldian question—what conditions or various modes by which human beings are constituted as subjects produces our stories (Rajchman & West, 1985)—or classical pragmatists’ orientations of social experimentation (Dewey, 1938) in which the stories that we tell about ourselves add to the process of experiential growth, always in the state of becoming (Hlebowitsh, 2006)—the impasse persisted.
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- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Vienna, Oxford, Wien, 2018. X, 242 pp.