Life History and Narrative

Life History and Narrative

Life History and Narrative

Life History and Narrative


Narrative inquiry refers to a subset of qualitative research design in which stories are used to describe human action. This book contains current ideas in this emerging field of research.; Chapters include a qualitative analysis of narrative data; criteria for evaluating narrative inquiry, linking emotion and reason through narrative voice, audience and the politics of narrative; trust in educational storytelling; narrative strategies for case reports; life history narratives and women's gender identity; and issues in life history and narrative inquiry.; This text is intended to be of interest to all qualitative researchers and education researchers studying forms of narrative.


Planning for a special issue of the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education (QSE) on life history and narrative, and for this book, was begun at the 1992 meeting of the American Educational Research Association. That decision proved to be timely. Since that time, the visibility of life history and narrative work has increased, and its importance has been more widely recognized. A call for papers was issued early in 1993, and over 40 manuscripts were submitted for review. Regretfully, many high-quality papers had to be rejected because of space limitations. We are very pleased, therefore, that this volume includes all of the articles in the special issue along with two additional chapters, including our summary chapter. The book represents some of the best thinking in life history and narrative inquiry. It advances an understanding of the many exceptionally difficult decisions that need to be made in conducting this type of research.

The lead chapter, “Narrative configuration in qualitative analysis” by Donald Polkinghorne, is helpful in situating narrative inquiry in relation to qualitative research in general. Polkinghorne provides a set of definitions that will be especially helpful to researchers new to narrative work. He draws several distinctions (e.g., between narrative and paradigmatic cognition, and between analysis of narrative and narrative analysis) that help clarify theoretical and methodological issues at the heart of this type of inquiry. Polkinghorne also includes criteria for developing and judging narrative analyses.

“Fidelity as a criterion for practicing and evaluating narrative inquiry” by Donald Blumenfeld-Jones makes a case for applying criteria used in judging art to the evaluation of narratives. Linking narrative inquiry to art making, Blumenfeld-Jones establishes the importance of connections between reality (objects) and interpretation (art forms or narratives). He argues that fidelity and believability (rather than truth) are appropriate criteria for judging both art and narrative inquiry.

Catherine Emihovich presents “Distancing passion: narratives in social science.” Emihovich links emotion and reason through narrative voice (including discussions of power relations and ownership), textual organization of narratives, and the politics of metaphor. She argues that how knowledge is framed determines its importance and that narratives can free social scientists from conventional rhetorical forms. She also discusses postmodern ethnography as potentially nihilistic and offers collaboration, consensus building, and the inclusion of multiple voices as ways out of existential dilemmas associated with postmodern social science.

“Audience and the politics of narrative” by Jan Nespor and Liz Barber examines the place of audience in collaborative narrative writing. The authors describe their experiences writing a book with parents of children with disabilities. Calling their collaborative work “resistance narratives,” Nespor and Barber demonstrate how issues of authorship and voice were

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