Home > PAR journal > The variety of perspectives in narrative inquiry

The variety of perspectives in narrative inquiry

when I was reviewing my research questions for the qualitative portion of my mixed methods project, I became intrigued by the idea of narrative inquiry as a process to help me make meaning out of the reams of data that I had been accumulating from various cycles of participatory action research with students, faculty, curriculum developers, administrators and senior college leadership in a variety of settings. It looked to me to be the connecting link between undifferentiated data and supportable, meaningful conclusions arrived at in a rigorous, disciplined, informed way. So I started to dig a little deeper into the methodology.

What I found was a very broad and extended family tree of methodologies that were all calling themselves part of narrative inquiry but whose individual distinctions were so great as to make a deeper study necessary to pick the one best suited for me and my research. What I initially assumed would be a simple inquiry into storytelling and meaning making has become a detailed review of theory and may actually cause me to produce a cognitive map of the methodological domain so that I can be satisfied I’ve chosen my method or methods correctly when it comes to interpreting my research data.

After just a brief review of the methodological literature in several collections of books that provide frameworks for doctoral research students I found that the categorization of narrative inquiry within the field of qualitative research varies by author and to a much larger extent than I originally expected. In one such book, Prasad(2005) reports on 19 different varieties of narrative inquiry and takes a sampling of five to give a representative overview of the method. Even the variation between these five show quite a distinctive array of technique, although they do tend to share deconstructionists worldview. Prasad traits narrative inquiry as perhaps the highest level descriptor in the qualitative research hierarchy. Rudestam and Newton (2007) however, see it as simply one of the main branches of qualitative research, coequal with at least six other subcategories. In the Handbook of Narrative Inquiry, Clandinin describes narrative inquiry more like a continence filled with a rich diversity of loosely affiliated Tribes (my dramatization) which share related elements of philosophy and worldview, but in a different mixed depending on the to being compared.

It is clear to me that narrative inquiry is a rich mine full of valuable or to be discovered, and works into an even more useful tool, and thus my interest in it.

In a later post I will describe some of the most prominent distinctions between subdisciplines of narrative inquiry.

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