Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Recognising Participants' Professional Identities through Analysis of Narratives in Educational Action Research/Reconociendo Las Identidades Profesionales De Los Participantes a Través del Análisis De Narrativas En la Investigación-Acción Educativa

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Recognising Participants' Professional Identities through Analysis of Narratives in Educational Action Research/Reconociendo Las Identidades Profesionales De Los Participantes a Través del Análisis De Narrativas En la Investigación-Acción Educativa

Article excerpt

Introduction

Over the past 10 years, much has been said about utilising postmodern approaches in the context of Action Research (AR). In order to explore the possibility of enriching AR, our research implements such an approach. Of course, this choice determines how we understand concepts such as 'discourse', 'subject', 'identity', 'research data and their analysis'. In the postmodern framework, knowledge and representations of the world are not reflections of an objective reality, but rather constitute products of discourse. Subjects are fundamentally historical and cultural beings, whose views and knowledge about the world are produced by historically situated interactions. Their identities are socially constructed, in a relational and historical context full of overlapping networks of relations that shift over time and space, characterised by fluidity and contingency and tied in with notions of discourse and power (Edwards & Usher, 1994).

The aim of our paper is to investigate whether and how the process of deconstructing narratives in AR, under certain conditions, can contribute to recognising participants' professional identities, reveal their interpretations and representations, and thus provide them with rich feedback for reflection. To that end, apart from the relevant theoretical framework, we also present AR undertaken by a group of school headmasters.

We chose narrative inquiry for three reasons:

1. This approach moves away from 'a position of objectivity defined from the positivistic, realist perspective towards a research perspective focused on interpretation and the understanding of meanings' (Pinnegar & Daynes, 2006, p. 9). As a study of how professionals (here the headmasters) (re)form their experience, narrative inquiry reflects the postmodern perspective of plural knowledge construction and the legitimation of personal interpretation.

2. In order to reveal identities of AR participants, we need a research method reflecting the same epistemological principles with educational AR. Both narrative inquiry and AR meet two main epistemological criteria: the need to transcend the boundaries between research and practice (Webster & Metrovam, 2007, p.10) and the need for practitioners to participate in producing, expanding, reshaping and disseminating practical knowledge (Heikkinen, Huttunen, Syrjäälääm, & Pesonen, 2012, p. 18).

3. A narrative is mainly a way for narrators to perceive experience, to organise their social practices and construct the meaning of their self- and world identities. Thus, narrative, as the making of meaning from personal experience via a process of reflection (Caldinin & Connelly, 1990, p. 245), can reveal both personal meanings and the interpretive framework in which meanings are formed and identities constructed.

Narratives, educational action research and participants' professional identities: Definitions and interrelations

We approach narratives as texts in which human beings organise their experiences of their world, depending on their past and present, their values, and also on the context of the story being narrated, the people it is narrated to, the narrator's purpose, etc. Moreover, as social constructions, narratives necessarily depend on their social context (Sikes & Gale, 2006, p. 27) and its dominant discourses: 'Narratives [...] capture both the individual and the context' (Moen, 2006, p. 57).

Aiming to analyse the action researchers' perceptions, we focus on their narratives as an important parameter of educational AR development. Throughout an AR project, from diagnosing the situation to evaluating their intervention and redesigning it, participants narrate. Through their narratives, they represent and interpret - in a specific way - both the educational context and their intervention in it. These narratives imply participants' specific perspectives, their personal theories and practical knowledge, which in turn denote specific choices; 'the starting-point of narrative thinking is that the research report is a narrative story produced by the researcher, not an imagelike replica' (Heikkinen, Huttunen, & Syrjäälää, 2007, p. …

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