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43, 79, 111

Clearly, there are many ways in which information from a qualitative research
project can be delivered, ranging from the instant to the fully analysed and from the
formal presentation to the more relaxed discussion. Appropriate choice of method
of delivery will be influenced by a number of factors, including client preference, the
type of project and, of course, time constraints. No matter which type of method of
delivery is used, however, there is consistent agreement among practitioners and
buyers on the need to tell a story, to set the findings in the context of a narrative
that makes sense to its recipients and which has a logical conclusion. If the research
results cannot be given this structure then they need to be revisited and subjected
to further analysis to reveal where the gaps are, why they are occurring, if they can
be addressed or, if not, how can they be explained. Informal story construction
begins during the analysis process the headings we choose to sort and group our
observations, the models we use to make sense of what is going on are the early
stages of narrative structure, although they will almost certainly be considerably
modified in the final version of results delivery. Some advise early identification of
storyline in information analysis (see Smith and Fletcher 2001). There is merit to
this view but, as ever, the qualitative market researcher is always conscious of
maintaining the balance between on-going interpretation and keeping an open
mind. Early storyline construction functions almost organically, developing and
altering with the input of further analysis and thought. Introducing conclusiveness,
however (although, in fairness, this does not seem to be what Smith and Fletcher
are advocating), runs the risk of moulding the rest of the data to fit the story. So,
though story construction in qualitative research does begin at the analysis
stage, such construction is more about informally identifying and exploring the
merits of possible storylines rather than devising the final plot and denouement.
Taking this line of early story construction further, it could almost be argued that
construction begins as soon as a brief is taken and a methodological approach is
designed by identifying areas of enquiry we are already limiting the potential
scope of the plot. The trick is to make use of, not be restricted by initial frameworks
whilst the fieldwork and analysis of a research project is going on. The point at
which the results are pulled together into a coherent and logically conclusive
whole that will clearly communicate to its end-users is the point of formal story
construction. The historical significance of narrative is far older and greater than its
role in qualitative market research. Clearly, however, a research report or debrief
is not a work of fiction and the narrative is doubly anchored by a grounding in the
objectives and in an ultimate focus on outcome. Figure 6.1 offers one suggestion
about how this narrative structure might be viewed. The vital need to believe and
trust in the essential honesty of qualitative market research has been discussed
already. Moreover, however valued the interpretative aspect is, it must be based in
the research findings. That is not to say that other knowledge and experience is not
a valuable input, but it is not the only input, and communication of interpretation

and conclusions needs to make this clear the authorial voice needs to be
identifiable in the narrative.
Grounding in Objectives Clearly, the story of a research study needs to take full
account of the research objectives to ensure that they are addressed in the final
output.
This is the point in the interpretation process/activity at which we have to discard
the merely interesting for the really important. It is worth noting here that the brief
may have been modified over the course of the project (because of, for example,
external circumstances, early research indications etc.) and the researcher has to
be clear (and to communicate clearly) about how and why it has changed and the
effect this has had on the entire research process (changes in sample, scope of
enquiry, stimulus material, analysis framework, reporting guidelines, for example).
The good researcher will also recognise and add issues that may seem to be outside
the original brief but which add insight and understanding. S/he will make sure that
covert (stated) as well as overt (unstated) objectives are covered and devise the
best (most firm but diplomatic) way to do this in terms of final form and content.
Finally, it is crucial to remember that grounding the narrative in the objectives does
not mean using the research objectives as the structure for the narrative. Objectives
tend to consist of a list of information requirements research feedback is not best
communicated in a list of answers, but rather as a carefully constructed argument
leading to a plausible and usable conclusion. Here is one buyers definition of good
research output narrative:
It leads people to the answer in a way such that they think they got there on their
own, rather than simply being told. Thats much better than, This was the question
and, This is the answer.
Delivering research results in this way leads to a greater sense of ownership by its
recipients. It does, however, require a certain amount of ego suppression on the
part of the qualitative researcher. Outcome Focus Writing the debrief (or whatever
form the feedback takes) is arguably the first point (since the briefing) in the project
at which the researcher actively confronts and uses his or her knowledge and
understanding of what the client can and cannot do. Thus, even when the research
reveals important issues, which need to be shared and explained, recommendations
should be framed in the context of the clients capabilities. This may involve
anticipating or suggesting alternative scenarios.
Writing the debrief (or whatever form the feedback takes) is arguably the first point
(since the briefing) in the project at which the researcher actively confronts and
uses his or her knowledge and understanding of what the client can and cannot do.
Thus, even when the research reveals important issues, which need to be shared
and explained, recommendations should be framed in the context of the clients
capabilities. This may involve anticipating or suggesting alternative scenarios.

Gilmore, Geraldine. Delivering Results in Qualitative Market Research : Delivering


Results in Qualitative Market Research. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2002.
ProQuest ebrary. Web. 16 November 2016.
Copyright 2002. SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.

By now it has become hard, if not cumbersome, to trace the exact origins of the
often cited turn to narrative. Open to debate is whether it started as an adherent or
in opposition to the French structuralist theories of the midto late 1960s (Herman,
Jahn, & Ryan, 2005, p. ix), or whether it started with the 1981 publication of the
special issue of Critical Inquiry (entitled On Narrative), or whether its
breakthrough came in publications in the late 1980s by Bruner (1986), Polkinghorne
(1988), Sarbin (1986). The question also arises as to whether the turn to narrative
was foreshadowed a few years earlier in the field of social history with the
influential article by Stone (1979). However, although the exact historical origins are
not clearly identifiable, it nevertheless is commonly agreed upon that over the
course of the last 40 years or so a seemingly unbounded wave of narrative
theorizing has emerged. In addition, this wave of narrative theorizing was quickly
followed by abundant empirical investigations that sought to analyze all kinds of
aspects of individuals and social lives by use of narrative methods. Ever since,
narrative has become a powerful tool and a method of analysis in a number of
rather divergent disciplines such as anthropology, communication, cultural studies,
history, law, linguistics, medicine, psychology, and sociology. Different
methodological traditions have been called in under the header of narrative as a
new root metaphor (e.g., ethnography and ethnomethodology, hermeneutics,
literary interpretation, sociolinguistics, cognitive and psycholinguistic experiments,
to name a few), resulting in what can be called a narrative boom, or frenzy, as one
of my colleagues prefers to put it. A series of interdisciplinary books (e.g., Frontiers
of Narrative, published by the University of Nebraska Press; Theory and
Interpretation of Narrative, published by Ohio State University; Narratologia,
published by de Gruyter; The Narrative Study of Lives, published by Sage and
continued by APA Books; and Studies in Narrative, published by John Benjamins) and
a number of new journals with narrative in the title started spawning spawning (cf.
Image & Narrative, Journal of Narrative & Life History, Journal of Narrative Theory,
Narrative, Narrative Inquiry). In addition, the number of narrative monographs and
It appears as if the turn to narrative was carried by at least two different promises.
Apart from the multi-disciplinarity of theories and approaches there seem to be two

strands in theorizing and methodologically approaching narrative that emerged


when trying to answer the question as to what makes narratives so attractive and
what the facilitating factors were in the original turn to narrative. While one strand
focuses predominantly on what narratives of personal experience represent about
aspects of life, embracing the ideography and uniqueness of subjective accounts,
the other strand is predominantly interested in the kinds of social, cultural, or at
least communal, templates that seem to be the guiding forces for how sequences of
events are arranged and particularized. In other words, it seemed as if there were
two forces behind the narrative turn, both orienting inquiry away from more
traditional, positivist arrangements of doing research and both different in terms of
their ontological presuppositions, though often not much differentiated in ensuing
empirical investigations. The former, which I would like to call the person or
subjectivity-centered approach to narrative, is interested in the exploration of
narratives as personal ways to impose order on an otherwise chaotic scenario of life
and experience. By way of eliciting, listening (and analyzing) these narratives,
narrative inquiry opened up insight into the particularistic and ideographic means
by which individuals describe their experience as ordered and meaningful. Although
this may not always be possible, as in the face of particularly traumatic
experiences, this at least is the promise that narrative inquiry within this framework
seemed to be making. Approaching narrative with this orientation is antithetic to
traditional positivist ways of approaching life, meaning, and everyday events from a
nomothetic and objective perspective that traditionally aims for theory-driven and
generalizable accounts. Studying narratives within this framework builds on the
assumption that life and experience are storied, with narrative as an ontological
presupposition.
Bringing out peoples stories, hearing them share their experiences, validating their
subjectivity, and thereby participating in relevant aspects of these peoples lives
was spearheading the turn to narrative. In this, one of the promises of the turn to
narrative was to bring back the long-lost subject and move it closer to the center
stage of social inquiry. In contrast, but also with a number of interesting affinities, a
second view of narrative started from the assumption that narratives are preexisting meaningful templates that carry social, cultural, and communal currency
for the process of identity formation. This orientation, which I will contrastively call a
social or plot orientation, centers more strongly on the communal ordering
principles that seem to be handed down from generation to generation in the form
of communallyshared plot lines, making their way into the lives of ordinary people
and their stories of personal experience. These communal principles, also called
master narratives or dominant stories, are assumed to guide communities and their
participating members in terms of how to think, feel, and act. As such, this approach
to narrative was more interested in action and collective identity and opened up
innovative ways of rethinking the concept of human agency within the territory of
communal practices. Narrative within this strand of theorizing is antithetic to the
traditional positivistic ways of intending to explain human action and social identity

in terms of social variables such as gender, race, or age. Following this orientation
of what narratives are promising for the study of human lives, we are more likely to
end up with a better understanding of social/communal sense-making principles
that are at work when stories are shared particularly the way they are negotiated
and practiced in communal settings with others.
Narrative State of the Art. Amsterdam, NL: John Benjamins Publishing Company,
2007. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 16 November 2016.
Copyright 2007. John Benjamins Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
In sum, it seems as if the turn to narrative was spearheaded by two quite different
orientations, one in which the narratives are elicited and analyzed as stories that
belong to and are owned by the story-tellers. These narratives are considered
special and unique because they express the tellers personally owned, very
unique, experiences. Within the framework of the second orientation, narratives are
not owned by the individual teller at least not in the same way. Rather, the stories
told, even if they deal with very personal and unique experiences, always are part
of larger, communally shared, practices of sense-making and interpretation, and
therefore belong to those who have engaged previously in establishing these
frames for sense-making and interpretation. However, both of these orientations
seem to have joined forces giving an opportunity to reunite what seemed to have
fallen aside in traditional positivistic social science inquiry: the active role of the
subject as an agent in the construction of social practices on one hand, and on the
other, the role of social practices as constitutive of ways of thinking, feeling, and
acting at the level of individual choices.
Narrative State of the Art. Amsterdam, NL: John Benjamins Publishing Company,
2007. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 16 November 2016.
Copyright 2007. John Benjamins Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Looking back, the turn to narrative has impacted in a number of promising ways on
rethinking the dynamics between the individual and the social and has become a
center piece of qualitative inquiry in the social sciences and humanities. In an effort
to look back and take stock of what has been accomplished within these last forty
years in the fields of narrative inquiry, I started to approach leading narrative
researchers with whom I had the opportunity to meet over the year 2005 at a
number of rather diverse conferences and meetings. Starting in February 2005, at
the Georgetown Language & Identity Conference, followed by the Huddersfield
Narrative & Memory Conference in March, the Jean Piaget Society in June, the
International Pragmatics Conference in July, the International Congress for the Study
of Child Language in July, the American Psychology Association in August, the
International Society for Cultural and Activity Research in September, the Modern
Language Association in December, and in a number of colloquia and workshops in
the US, Asia, and Europe, we were able to table and begin to discuss three

emergent questions: (i) What was it that made the original narrative turn so
successful? (ii) What has been accomplished over the last 40 years of narrative
inquiry? (iii) What are the future directions for narrative inquiry? What became
apparent in these discussions was a broad range of interests in narrative as a tool
and as a discipline to do inquiry resulting in the need to bring together the
differences and commonalities that broadly speaking unite and separate
narrative studies. This in turn resulted in the plan to collect a number of short
contributions that reflect on the present state of narrative inquiry with the purpose
of critically taking stock and proposing new venues for future directions.
Narrative State of the Art. Amsterdam, NL: John Benjamins Publishing Company,
2007. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 16 November 2016.
Copyright 2007. John Benjamins Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Narrative research, rooted in interpretive hermeneutics and phenomenology, strives
to preserve the complexity of what it means to be human and to locate its
observations of people and phenomena in society, history and time. Narrative
researchers eschew the objectification of the people that we study and we
understand and espouse the constructedness of our knowledge. Yet different
narrative researchers, situated differently, study different people, make highly
contextualized interpretations and theorize their understandings differently. We are
then met with the problem of building a knowledge base that can amalgamate the
insight and understandings across researchers. This is a problem that has yet to be
taken up directly within narrative research. The practice of narrative research,
rooted in postmodernism, is always interpretive, at every stage. From framing the
conceptual question through choosing the participants, deciding what to ask them,
with what phrasing, transcribing from spoken language to text, understanding the
verbal locutions, making sense of the meanings thus encoded, to deciding what to
attend to and to highlight the work is interpretive at every point. In addition, from
a hermeneutic point of view, there are tensions related to Paul Ricoeurs distinction
between a hermeneutics of faith and a hermeneutics of suspicion (Ricoeur, 1970;
Josselson, 2004). Does the interpreter/researcher privilege the voice of the
participant, trying to render the meanings as presented in the interview or does
the researcher try to read beneath or, in Ricoeurs metaphor in front of the text
for meanings that are hidden, either unconscious or so embedded in cultural
context as to make them seem invisible? From a hermeneutic standpoint, narrative
psychology aims to understand human experience as a form of text construction,
relying on the assumption that humans create their lives through an
autobiographical process akin to producing a story. It is not just the material facts
of a life that are of concern here, but the meaningful shape emerging from selected
inner and outer experiences. Facts, in the naive historical sense, are understood
as created rather than reproduced. This approach has allowed psychology to view
and analyze peoples lives as lived, people whose life experience had been lost in
the search for central tendencies, for statistically significant group differences on

oversimplified measures or in contrived experimental conditions. As the narrative


research agenda has taken hold, we find ourselves with an array of fascinating,
richly-detailed expositions of life as lived, well-interpreted studies full of nuance and
insight that befit the complexity of human lives. The problem that confronts us,
though, is that these studies are accumulating, forming now a mass of studies,
many largely, unfortunately, published only as dissertations, that represent
thousands of person-hours of intensive work. As scholars, we now have to ask
ourselves are we working together to put together a joint multilayered jigsaw
puzzle, each one contributing a piece or are we instead creating a long gallery of
finely wrought miniatures, inviting the onlooker to visit and make of it whatever
they will?

My own scholarly work on the narrative study of lives sits at the interface of
personality psychology, life-span developmental studies, cultural psychology, and
cognitive science. I consider the life story to be an internalized and evolving
cognitive structure or script that provides an individuals life with some degree of
meaning and purpose while often mirroring the dominant and/or the subversive
cultural narratives within which the individuals life is complexly situated (McAdams,
2006a). In that I typically endeavor to identify those psycho-literary themes that
distinguish one life story from the next and to link those different themes to other
features of individual variation in human lives, my research looks and feels a lot like
personality psychology that branch of psychology that focuses on broad
individual differences in human behavior and experience. Indeed, I consider
personality psychology my home discipline, to the extent I have a home, and I have
a much deeper understanding of personality psychology as a discipline than I do of
any other discipline

The influence of narrative Freud wrote about dream narratives; Jung explored
universal life myths; Adler examined narrative accounts of earliest memories;
Murray identified recurrent themes in TAT stories and autobiographical accounts.
But none of these classic personality theorists from the first half of the 20th century
explicitly imagined human beings as storytellers and human lives as stories to be
told. The first narrative theories of personality emerged in the late 1970s and early
1980s, during that same period when the field of personality psychology was
struggling with the situationist critique. Tomkins (1979) proposed a script theory of
personality that imagined the developing individual as something of a playwright
who organizes emotional life in terms of salient scenes and recurrent scripts. In
Tomkins view, the most important individual differences in psychological life had
little to do with basic traits or needs but instead referred to the particular kinds of

affect-laden scenes and rule-generating scripts that individuals construct from their
own experiences as they move through life. In a somewhat similar vein, I formulated
a life-story model of identity, contending that people begin, in late adolescence and
young adulthood, to construe their lives as evolving stories that integrate the
reconstructed past and the imagined future in order to provide life with some
semblance of unity and purpose (McAdams, 1985). The most important individual
differences
between people are thematic differences in the stories that comprise their narrative
identities, I argued, apparent in the storys settings, plots, characters, scenes,
images, and themes. For both Tomkins and my own model, then, coherence and
consistency in human personality, to the extent they might be found anywhere,
were to be found in the kinds of scripts and stories both conscious and
unconscious that people construct about their lives. Both Tomkins and I
emphasized the integrative power of personal narrative how it is that stories put
things together for the person, how they lend coherence to a life by organizing its
many discordant features into the synchronic and diachronic structures of character
and plot. In the context of personality psychologys situationist critique, life stories
served as an alternative to traits in the effort to show that peoples behavior and
experience are guided at least as much by internal factors as they are by the
vagaries of external situations. If the organizing forces for human lives were not to
be found in traits, then perhaps they reside in the internalized stories people live by.

As research advances of the 1980s and early 90s re-established traits as the
dominant constructs in personality psychology, however, narrative approaches
began to assume new roles in the field. Like traits, life narratives speak to the
organization and structure of lives, but unlike traits, narrative approaches to
personality explicitly address issues of context. Strongly influenced by social
constructionist perspectives on the self, leading theorists and researchers such as
Hubert Hermans, Gary Gregg, Ruthellen Josselson, Michael Pratt, Bertram Cohler,
and Avril Thorne developed narrative approaches to personality that placed lifestory construction more explicitly in the contexts of everyday talk and cultural
discourses, that emphasized the ways in which life stories make for multiple and
contextualized selves even as they serve to integrate lives in time, and that
highlighted the roles of gender, class, race, and social positioning in the
construction and the performance of life stories. If narrative theories in the 1980s
aimed, as did trait approaches, to reveal the inner coherence of lives in sharp
response to the situationist critique, by the year 2000 they had managed to
appropriate (and improve upon) some of the main themes in the old situationist
position namely, the emphasis on local meanings, contingent performance, and
the role of historical and cultural contexts in the expression and development of
personality. The ways in which narrative theories and methods have helped to
recontextualize personality psychology in recent years are evident in many different

studies and research programs. For example, researchers have shown how
particular traits and needs are expressed through particular kinds of life stories, and
how traits may combine with narratives to predict psychological well-being and
other important life outcomes. Moving well beyond traits, researchers have
examined how particular values and moral orientations are reflected in and shaped
by life narratives, family stories, and broader community and societal myths.
Narrative approaches have been extensively employed in the study of difficult life
events and major life decisions, revealing how people make sense of adversity and
change and how that sense-making influences the development of personality.
Some researchers have focused on the internal process of life-story construction:
What forms of autobiographical reasoning do people employ in creating a life story?
Are different forms of reasoning related to different levels of psychological maturity
and wellbeing? Other researchers have examined the public performance of lifenarrative: How are life-narrative accounts shaped to fit social contexts? As contexts
change over time, how do peoples narrative understandings of themselves also
change? While narrative approaches have enriched nomothetic research in
personality psychology as evidenced in the studies above, the turn toward narrative
has also revitalized personality psychologys commitment to idiographic research.
With their emphasis on exploring rich, qualitative data about individual lives,
narrative methods have given researchers new tools for examining the
particularities of the single case. Narrative theories of personality have also begun
to supplement the traditional psychoanalytic theories as frameworks of choice for
psychobiography and for the intensive examination of individual human lives. It may
be through narrative approaches that personality psychology will eventually make
significant headway in reconciling its historical divide between nomothetic and
idiographical ways of understanding persons.

Over the past 25 years, narrative studies have impacted personality psychology in
two very positive ways. First, narrative theories suggested new foci for personality
psychologists efforts to find coherence and consistency in individual human lives. In
addition to personality traits, peoples internalized and evolving life stories speak to
the ways in which peoples lives are more than the mere accumulation of situational
influences. Life stories guide behavior and decision making, and they speak to how
people create meaning in their lives. Second, narrative approaches have helped to
re-contextualize personality psychology. Unlike the dominant trait discourses in the
field today, narrative approaches have turned personality psychologists in the
direction of the particularities in the individual life and have opened up new ways to
consider the influences of gender, ethnicity, class, and culture in the development
of personality. A growing number of psychologists today view personality as a
patterning of dispositional traits, characteristic adaptations, and integrative life
stories set in culture and shaped by human nature. Often told by especially caring

and productive midlife adults, the redemptive self is one particular life-narrative
form that enjoys considerable currency in contemporary American life. Inspired by
the turn toward narrative in many other fields, personality psychologists should
continue to explore the different ways in which people make sense of their lives
through narratives, the different kinds of stories that they tell, and the significance
of these ways and these stories for psychological, social, and cultural life.

Over the past four decades, the study of narrative has expanded to raise a host of
interesting questions in a broad variety of fields. The framework developed in Labov
and Waletzky (1967 henceforth L&W) has proved useful for many students of
narrative in following the path of narrative construction. L&W define narrative as a
particular way of reporting past events, in which the order of a sequence of
independent clauses is interpreted as the order of the events referred to. They then
describe the full elaboration of adult narratives of personal experience, beginning
with an abstract, orientation, an evaluation section embedded in the complicating
action, a resolution and a coda. In both fundamental concept and in this elaboration,
narrative construction follows the order of events in time. The following discussion
projects a set of cognitive operations that operate in the reverse order, the
narrative pre-construction that every narrator must accomplish before beginning
the narrative itself. The discussion to follow is based on studies of oral narratives of
personal experience, which are fundamental to the human faculty for story-telling,
but applies more generally to other narrative genres. The framework, already
outlined in Some further steps in narrative analysis (Labov, 1997), is used here to
generate and motivate the earlier L&W narrative framework, and then projected as
a platform for new directions of narrative research.
For L&W, the fundamental concept that distinguishes narrative from other ways of
reporting the past is temporal juncture: a relation of before-and-after that holds
between two independent clauses, and matches the order of events in time. Such
sequences of ordered clauses form the complicating action that is the skeletal
structure of narrative. Here we may begin with a more basic consideration from
which that definition can be derived: we begin with the understanding that a
narrative is about something. A narrative is initiated when a person is impelled to
tell others about something, sometimes by an external stimulus (What
happened?), sometimes by an internal one (Ive got to tell you what happened.).
It is only when that something is an event something that happened that the
speaker will signal to listeners that a narrative is to be initiated. If the something is
a state of being (Im tired) or the location of an entity (Dad is home) what has
been told is a simple report that does not require a further turn of talk. It is well
understood that the initiation of a narrative requires conversational work: the
listeners must be alerted to anticipate an extended turn of talk on the part of the

narrator, and/or the automatic return of speakership after next turns until the
narrative is ended (Sacks, 1992, Labov, 1997). Whatever steps that narrators take
to accomplish this also signal that they have decided that the event is reportable (or
tellable, which I take to be equivalent). There is a great deal to be said about the
concept of reportability for any given event, and its relativity to age and social
context (Fludernik, 1996, Norrick, 2005), but the very concept of narrative demands
that we recognize as an essential first step the decision to report an event, and the
entailment that it is judged to be reportable.
It is also evident that a narrative is more than a statement about a reportable event.
I broke my leg is not a narrative, but an abstract of one. If the event is reportable,
it does not happen every day, as a product of every-day activities. (I got up this
morning.). And if the reportable event is not an expected, every-day occurrence, it
calls for an accounting. The speaker who has made the decision to report it is
normally under a requirement to supply some information on how it came about.
The narrators attention is then directed backward in time, from the reportable
event to a preceding one, driven by the need to answer the question How did that
happen? It follows that a second step necessary to the construction of a narrative
is for the narrator to locate an event that was prior in time to the reportable event
and stands in a causal relation to it (I fell and I broke my leg). This is a recursive
process, since the preceding event may also be reportable and require an
explanation (Why did you fall?) We can then distinguish the initial event about
which the narrative is told, as the most reportable event. That is the normal
situation, though it is not uncommon for one of the preceding series of events to
emerge as more reportable than the one that was first selected as what the
narrative was to be about. This is an important issue in narrative analysis, but it is a
product of complex interactions in the social environment, and for the moment I will
continue to refer to the event of narrative initiation as the most reportable event. It
will be symbolized as e 0 , and the events preceding in this recursive process as e
1 , e 2 The second step in narrative construction is then to construct a
recursive series of events preceding the most reportable event, each linked causally
to the one that follows. From this consideration we can derive the central
characterization of narrative in L&W as a series of clauses that contain at least one
temporal juncture. Thus I fell and I broke my leg. contains one temporal juncture
and qualifies as a narrative. When temporal relations are signaled by subordinating
conjunctions, the same events can be told in any order without constructing a
narrative (When I fell, I broke my leg. or I broke my leg when I fell.) This
recursive chain of events will generate the complicating action in the L&W
framework. But in order to begin the narrative and locate the beginning of the
complicating action, it is necessary to terminate the chain. This is done by locating
some event that is not in itself reportable and does not require an explanation. This
will be called in short the unreportable event. It will be symbolized as e n , where n
is the number of causally linked events in the narrative chain. The third step in
narrative construction is therefore to locate an event for which the question Why

did that happen? is inappropriate, since it is an every-day activity that is not


reportable in itself. (I was coming home. I tripped on the curb, and I fell and broke
my leg.). In narrative construction, this event e n is normally embedded in the
orientation of the L&W framework. This is the section that informs the listener about
the time, place, participants and behavioral setting at the beginning of the
narrative.
Normally we think of the narrative as it is told, beginning with the orientation and
proceeding forward through the complicating action to the most reportable event,
the resolution and the coda. The narrative pre-construction described here operates
in the opposite direction, proceeding backward from the most reportable event e 0
and ending with the unexplained event e n . This is not far from asserting that in
narrative, time is reversible (see Bres, 1991).This is a strong claim, but the evidence
for it is also strong. It is not uncommon for narrators to hesitate before they begin a
narrative by saying Let me see. Where should I begin? Introspection, as well as
the logic of narrative construction, will indicate that no narrative can be told before
pre-construction answers this question. The outline of narrative pre-construction put
forward here assumes that the narrator has free access to a store of event
representations in his or her biographical memory, and that these representations
have a veridical relation to what actually happened in past real time (for a contrary
view, see Hopper, 1997). It remains to be seen how much agreement can be
obtained in the reconstruction of event chains (Labov, 2001, 2004). To the extent
that memory deteriorates, events are forgotten or transformed in memory, the
narrator is no longer in control of narrative construction, and the final narrative
version may be the product of such unconscious transformations. The concept of
narrative pre-construction lays the foundation for further inquiry into how narrative
events are stored in memory and accessed by the narrator, how the narrator makes
selection from that storage, and how that selection is rearranged to transform the
normative significance and evaluation of the events in the interests of the narrator.
Once the pre-construction is complete, the narrator begins to generate the narrative
by formulating the orientation section, in which the unreportable event e n is
embedded along with information on the time, the place, and the participants in the
action. The next step, launching the complicating action, shows that the view of
narrative pre-construction just presented is defective in one respect. The
unreportable terminating event of pre-construction e n can not have a regular
causal relation to the event that follows. Otherwise this every-day activity would
continually trigger reportable events, and it is common knowledge that it does not.
The first event that follows the orientation is normally unpredictable to some
degree. An examination of a particular narrative shows the importance of this
unpredictability. Narrative (1) is Harold Shambaughs account of the Norwegian
Sailor, analyzed in greater detail in Labov (1997): (1) (What happened in South
America?) a. Oh I ws settin at a table drinkin b. And this Norwegian sailor come
over c. an kep givin me a bunch ojunk about I was sittin with his woman. d. An

everybody sittin at the table with me were my shipmates. e. So I jus turn aroun f.
an shoved im, g. an told im, h. I said, Go away, i. I dont even wanna fool with
ya. j. An nex thing I know Im layin on the floor, blood all over me, k. An a guy
told me, says, Dont move your head. l. Your throats cut.
Given the evidence of the narrative as Shambaugh produced it, the chain of events
that he would have had to remember would appear as (2). The verb kept in the
construction kept giving entails that at least two complaints and two refusals were
made. To capture the sense of working backward in time, the past perfect is useful.
(2) e e e e e e e . 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 This Norwegian sailor cut my throat. I had
refused to listen to him twice. He had repeated a complaint that I was sitting with
his woman. I had refused to listen to him the first time. He had complained that I
was sitting with his woman. He had come over to where I was. I had been sitting
with my shipmates drinking. Here narrative clause a forms the orientation,
corresponding to event e n where n = 6. For a sailor in a port, sitting at a table
drinking does not require any further explanation. We can note that the nonreportable event is typically formulated with the progressive aspect, as in clause a.
The progressive focuses upon the action itself, and not its beginning or end points in
time, so that it is not separated by a temporal juncture from the following event e
5 , the approach of the Norwegian sailor. This first following action is presented as
an inexplicable and unmotivated event. This is normal: event e n+1 is the
initiating event of the narrative. Its initiating character is connected with the fact
that the orientation e n has no structural consequences for action. The selection of
the endpoint of pre-construction is a critical step in the organization of the narrative
and the presentation of the narrators point of view. The sequence (2) may have
been all that Shambaugh remembered. But the analysis of Labov 1997 pointed out
that if the narrative chain had been extended further back in time, we might well
have seen that the Norwegian sailor had arrived with a woman who was sitting at
Shambaughs table so that e 5 was not as unpredictable as presented in the
finished narrative (1).
Here narrative clause a forms the orientation, corresponding to event e n where n
= 6. For a sailor in a port, sitting at a table drinking does not require any further
explanation. We can note that the non-reportable event is typically formulated with
the progressive aspect, as in clause a. The progressive focuses upon the action
itself, and not its beginning or end points in time, so that it is not separated by a
temporal juncture from the following event e 5 , the approach of the Norwegian
sailor. This first following action is presented as an inexplicable and unmotivated
event. This is normal: event e n+1 is the initiating event of the narrative. Its
initiating character is connected with the fact that the orientation e n has no
structural consequences for action. The selection of the endpoint of pre-construction
is a critical step in the organization of the narrative and the presentation of the
narrators point of view. The sequence (2) may have been all that Shambaugh
remembered. But the analysis of Labov 1997 pointed out that if the narrative chain

had been extended further back in time, we might well have seen that the
Norwegian sailor had arrived with a woman who was sitting at Shambaughs table
so that e 5 was not as unpredictable as presented in the finished narrative (1). The
narrative work done in generating the orientation is illuminated in another short
narrative, The falling out, told to me this year by a young woman, Melinda D. The
narrative has to do with events surrounding the sudden death of her father Tom D.
Here the events inferred for pre-construction are indicated in a separate column to
the left. (3) The falling out event clause a. Well, Im gonna give you a small history.
b. My fathers best friend, he when we were young
The narrative is one of many that deal with communication from the dead to the
living, a member of the subset in which this communication takes place in a dream.
As such, it has high reportability, and is critically involved in the inverse relationship
between reportability and credibility (Labov, 1997). The credibility of such a
narrative depends on the fact that it was not a response to information received
prior to the dream. In hearing this narrative, the listener does not know until clause i
that Ray did not know that his friend Tom had died until after he awoke and reported
the dream. Clause i therefore strikes listeners as the most reportable event, e 0 .
The dream itself, e 1 , is not as remarkable in itself since it would be expected that
Ray would dream about his friend after hearing of his death. Only when the listener
realizes that Ray had no knowledge of Toms death is the case made effectively for
communication from the dead. If Ray had simply dreamed about his friend Tom at
the time of his death, that would have been a remarkable coincidence. The case for
communication from the dead is strongly reinforced by what Tom said in the dream,
since it is understood that reconciliation is a characteristic move of someone who is
at the point of death (or beyond it). The causal chain identified by Melinda in preconstruction moves backward in time from the report of Toms death e 0 to the
dream e 1 which makes the report relevant, to the surgery and anesthesia e which
led to the dream. The preceding 2

Do we ever learn from others stories? Yes. We profit from others stories when they
are told just in time at a moment when we are ready to compare them to the
stories that define us, to perhaps become more sophisticated about what we know.
When you deeply care about what is being said, you can ponder a story you have
heard and make it your own. Unfortunately, that just doesnt happen very much of
the time. So, the key point is, in order to comprehend, learn from, and remember
what you hear, you have to already think something about what you are being told,
you have to care about it, and it has to cause you to revisit what you thought you
knew, and modify your thought. But then along comes school

Narrative State of the Art. Amsterdam, NL: John Benjamins Publishing Company,
2007. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 16 November 2016.

The oldest and most natural form of sense making are stories or narratives
(Jonassen & Hernandez-Serrano, 2002, p. 66). Stories are how we make sense of our
experiences, how we communicate with others, and through which we understand
the world around us. We watch news stories on television, tell stories of our day at
work, and read or view other peoples stories through text or film. Stories, also
called narratives have become a popular source of data in qualitative research.
The key to this type of qualitative research is the use of stories as data, and more
specifically, first-person accounts of experience told in story form having a
beginning, middle, and end. Other terms for these stories of experience are
biography, life history, oral history, autoethnography, and autobiography.

Since the early 1990s, stories have moved center stage as a source of
understanding the meaning of human experience. Numerous texts on narrative
research, such as a five-volume series of narrative studies, the most recent being
The Meaning of Others: Narrative Studies of Relationships (Josselson, Lieblich, &
McAdams, 2007); a handbook on narrative analysis (Clandinin, 2007); and the
journals Journal of Narrative and Life History and Narrative Inquiry have contributed
to the popularity of this type of qualitative research. First-person accounts of
experience constitute the narrative text of this research approach. Whether the
account is in the form of autobiography, life history, interview, journal, letters, or
other materials that we collect, the text is analyzed for the meaning it has for its
author. Because the text of the story forms the data set for what is analyzed in
this type of research, the philosophy of hermeneutics, which is the study of written
texts, is often cited as informing narrative analysis. Hermeneutic philosophy focuses
on interpretation. Patton (2002) explains:
Hermeneutics provides a theoretical framework for interpretive original purpose. . . .
Hermeneutics offers a perspective for interpreting legends, stories, and other
texts. . . . To make sense of and interpret a text, it is important to know what the
author wanted to communicate, to understand intended meanings, and to place
documents in a historical and cultural context. (p. 114)
Patton goes on to point out that although hermeneutics originated in the study of
written texts. . . . narrative analysis extends the idea of text to include in-depth
interview transcripts, life history narratives, historical memoirs, and creative
nonfiction. Further, the hermeneutical perspective, with its emphasis on
interpretation and context, informs narrative studies, as do interpretivist social
science, literary nonfiction, and literary criticism (2002, p. 115). He also notes
phenomenologys influence, as narratives are stories of lived experiences. As with

other forms of qualitative research, narrative research makes use of various


methodological approaches to analyzing stories (Riessman, 2007). Each approach
examines, in some way, how the story is constructed, what linguistic tools are used,
and the cultural context of the story. Biographical, psychological, and linguistic
approaches are the most common. In Denzins (1989) biographical approach, the
story is analyzed in terms of the importance and influence of gender and race,
family of origin, life events and turning point experiences, and other persons in the
participants life. The psychological approach concentrates more on the personal,
including thoughts and motivations. This approach emphasizes inductive
processes, contextualized knowledge, and human intention . . . [It] is holistic in that
it acknowledges the cognitive, affective, and motivational dimensions of meaning
making. It also takes into account the biological and environmental influences on
development (Rossiter, 1999, p. 78). A linguistic approach, or what Gee (2005)
calls discourse analysis, focuses on the language of the story or the spoken text,
and also attends to the speakers intonation, pitch, and pauses. Gee offers eighteen
questions by which one can build the analysis. Finally, Labovs (1982) linguistic
approach analyzes the structure of the narrative. Here, one summarizes the
substance of the narrative and identifies the events and their sequence of
occurrence, the meaning of the actions, and the resolution or what finally happens.
original purpose. . . . Hermeneutics offers a perspective for interpreting legends,
stories, and other texts. . . . To make sense of and interpret a text, it is important to
know what the author wanted to communicate, to understand intended meanings,
and to place documents in a historical and cultural context. (p. 114)
With so much attention to narrative analysis, there are many examples and
variations on this type of qualitative study. For instance, a comprehensive
discussion of narrative analysis is accompanied by an example from health
geographythat is, how a persons health-related experiences are affected by
physical place (Wiles, Rosenberg, & Kearns, 2005); in another example, Wilensky
and Hansen (2001) had nonprofit executives tell stories to uncover their beliefs,
values, and assumptions about their work.

Types of Documents Different writers categorize documents in different ways. Public


records and personal documents are two common types of documents used in
qualitative research. What Bogdan and Biklen (2007) call popular culture
documents is a third type to be discussed here, along with a fourth typevisual
documentswhich include films, videos, and photography. Visual documents
intersect with popular culture, and even public records and personal documents can
be visual in nature, so in reality the same document can be classified in more than
one way. Physical material documents such as objects in the environment or
changes in the physical setting are not quite as commonly used as the other types,
but nevertheless are a potential source of data for the qualitative researcher.

Moreover, documents can be generated by the researcher for the purpose of the
investigation.
Public Records Public records are the official, ongoing records of a societys
activities. As Guba and Lincoln (1981) note, The first and most important injunction
to anyone looking for official records is to presume that if an event happened, some
record of it exists (p. 253). Public documents include actuarial records of births,
deaths, and marriages, the U.S. census, police records, court transcripts, agency
records, association manuals, program documents, mass media, government
documents, and so on. Locating public records is limited only by the researchers
imagination and industriousness. Auster (1985), for example, demonstrates how
In contrast to public sources of data, personal documents refer to any first-person
narrative that describes an individuals actions, experiences, and beliefs (Bogdan
and Biklen, 2007, p. 133). Such documents include diaries, letters, home videos,
childrens growth records, scrapbooks and photo albums, calendars,
autobiographies, and travel logs. In some ways documents are like observations in
that documents give us a snapshot into what the author thinks is important, that is,
their personal perspective, while observations allow us to see overt behavior. Such
documents can tell the researcher about the inner meaning of everyday events, or
they may yield descriptions of highly unusual or idiosyncratic human experiences
such as can be found in Admiral Byrds report of his experiences alone at the South
Pole or Helen Kellers account of overcoming multiple physical handicaps.
Personal documents are a reliable source of data concerning a persons attitudes,
beliefs, and view of the world. But because they are personal documents, the
material is highly subjective in that the writer is the only one to select what he or
she considers important to record. Obviously these documents are not
representative or necessarily reliable accounts of what actually may have occurred.
They do, however, reflect the participants perspective, which is what most
qualitative research is seeking. In speaking of autobiographies and diaries in
particular, Burgess (1982) notes: The field researcher needs to consider: Is the
material trustworthy? Is the material atypical? Has the material been edited and
refined? Does the autobiographical material only contain highlights of life that are
considered interesting? Furthermore, it could be argued that the material is
automatically biased as only certain people produce autobiographies and keep
diaries; there is self-selectivity involved in the sample of material available; they do
not provide a complete historical record. Nevertheless, such material does provide a
subjective account of the situation it records; it is a reconstruction of part of life.
Furthermore, it provides an account that is based on the authors experience. (p.
132)
An entire study can be based on personal documents. Abramsons (1992) case
study of Russian Jewish emigration is based solely on his grandfathers diaries
written over a twelve-year period. A well-known earlier study of Polish immigrant life

relied heavily upon personal letters written between immigrants and relatives in
Europe (Thomas & Znaniecki, 1927). Many of these letters were obtained by placing
ads in local newspapers asking for them.
Visual Documents Film, video, and photography are visual documents. Of course
these can be found within the categories of documents just discussed. That is,
public records, personal documents, and popular cultural materials can all be in
visual formats. However, within the last decade or so there has been a growing
interest in their use as a data source and as a means of presenting the findings of a
research study (Stanczak, 2007). Likewise there has been attention to methods of
analyzing visual images (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2006; Van Leeuwen & Jewitt, 2001;
Pink, 2006).
Physical Material/Artifacts Physical material as a form of document, broadly defined,
consists of physical objects found within the study setting. Anthropologists typically
refer to these objects as artifacts, which include the tools, implements, utensils, and
instruments of everyday living. Hodder (2003) includes artifacts and written texts
that have physically endured over time as mute evidence in the study of culture.
Such evidence, unlike the spoken word, endures physically and thus can be
separated across space and time from its author,
producer, or user (p. 155). One of the more famous studies using physical material
is the garbage study conducted over a number of years by researchers at the
University of Arizona (Rathje & Murphy, 2001). By sorting through peoples garbage
these researchers have been able to tell a lot about the lifestyle choices of various
socioeconomic groups. For example, lower-income people tend to buy small
containers of name brand products rather than less expensive, large-sized generic
brand products. As part of my observation of an exercise class at a senior center in
Korea (see Chapter Six, Exhibit 6.1, for the field notes), I noticed a number of
framed plaques on the wall. These artifacts, which were translated for me, spoke
to the Korean view of older adults and their learning. For example, one plaque said
Lets transfer seniors good experiences and wisdom to young people. Another
had a list of things older Koreans should do: Help our society; enjoy our life; be
healthy; and participate, even if you are old. These plaques offered additional
evidence of the importance of participation and respect for older adults that I
witnessed in observing the class itself.

Merriam, Sharan B.. Qualitative Research : A Guide to Design and Implementation


(3). Somerset, US: Jossey-Bass, 2009. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 16 November 2016.
Copyright 2009. Jossey-Bass. All rights reserved.
Merriam, Sharan B.. Qualitative Research : A Guide to Design and Implementation
(3). Somerset, US: Jossey-Bass, 2009. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 16 November 2016.

Copyright 2009. Jossey-Bass. All rights reserved.

QUALITATIVE RESEARCH IN SOCIAL WORK


Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
Web. 15 November 2016.
Copyright 2001. SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.
Personal Troubles as Social Issues: A Narrative of Infertility in Context Catherine
Kohler Riessman
Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
Web. 15 November 2016.
Copyright 2001. SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.
Social work practice, in all its diversity, is united by a commitment to social and
economic justice decreasing inequalities and increasing life chances of all
citizens. Social work research can support these values by documenting inequalities
in lives and analysing precisely how social structures and social policies enhance
and restrict opportunities for individuals and groups. In this chapter I focus on the
substantive issue of infertility a `personal trouble'. I examine its relationship to
gender inequality, and one woman's efforts in the face of the stigma of infertility,
made possible by a context of progressive social policies in her south Indian state.
My methodological approach is narrative analysis.

Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
Web. 15 November 2016.
Copyright 2001. SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.
There is currently a large body of research based on a variety of narrative methods,
including applications in social work. The burgeoning literature has touched almost
every discipline and profession, particularly in the USA. No longer the province only
of literary study, the `narrative turn' in the human sciences has entered history
(Carr, 1986; Cronon, 1992; White, 1987), anthropology and folklore (Behar, 1993;
Mattingly and Garro, 2000; Rosaldo, 1989; Young, 1987), psychology (Bruner 1986,
1990; Mishler 1986, 1999; Polkinghorne, 1988; Rosenwald and Ochberg, 1992;
Sarbin, 1986), sociolinguistics (Capps and Ochs, 1995; Gee, 1986, 1991; Labov,
1982; Linde, 1993), and sociology (Bell, 1988, 1999; Boje, 1991; Chase, 1995;
DeVault, 1991; Frank, 1995; Holstein and Gubrium, 2000; Williams, 1984). The
professions, too, have embraced the narrative metaphor, along with investigators
who study particular professions: law (`Legal Storytelling',
Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
Web. 15 November 2016.
Copyright 2001. SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.
74 QUALITATIVE RESEARCH IN SOCIAL WORK 1989), medicine (Charon, 1986;
Greenhalgh and Hurwitz, 1998; Hunter, 1991; Hyden, 1997; Kleinman, 1988),
nursing (Sandelowski, 1991), occupational therapy (Mattingly, 1998), and social
work (Dean, 1995; Laird, 1988). Storytelling, to put the argument simply, is what we
do with research and clinical materials, and what informants do with us.
Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
Web. 15 November 2016.
Copyright 2001. SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.
Narrative analysis takes as its object of investigation the story itself. I limit
discussion here to rst-person accounts in interviews of informants' experience, 1
putting aside other kinds of narratives (e.g. about the self of the investigator, what
happened in the eld, written narratives, media descriptions of events, or the
`master narratives' of theory). My research has focused on disruptive life events,
accounts of `personal troubles' that fundamentally alter expected biographies
(divorce, chronic illness, and infertility), and I draw on the example of infertility
later. Narrative analysis, however, is not only relevant for the study of disruptive life
events: the methods are equally appropriate for studies of social movements,

political change, and macro-level phenomena. Plummer (1995: 174) argues that
`stories gather people around them', dialectically connecting people and social
movements. His investigations of identity stories of members of historically
`deled' groups (rape victims, gays and lesbians) reveal shifts in language over
time, which shaped (and were shaped by) the mobilization of these actors in
collective movements, such as `Take Back the Night' and gay rights groups. `For
narratives to ourish there must be a community to
hear;...forcommunitiestohear,theremustbestorieswhichweave together their history,
their identity, their politics' (Plummer, 1995: 87). Storytelling is a collaborative
practice, and assumes tellers and listeners/ questioners interact in particular
cultural milieux contexts essential to interpretation. Analysis in narrative studies
opens up forms of telling about experience, not simply the content to which
language refers. We ask, why was the story told that way? (Riessman, 1993).
Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
Web. 15 November 2016.
Copyright 2001. SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.
Study of personal narrative is a form of case-centered research (Mishler, 1999a).
Building on the tradition of sociology articulated most vividly by C.W. Mills (1959),
the approach illuminates the intersection of biography, history, and society. The
`personal troubles' that participants represent in their narratives of divorce, for
example, tell us a great deal about social and historical processes contemporary
beliefs about gender relations and pressures on marriage at a juncture in American
history (Riessman, 1990a). Coming out stories, similarly, where narrators proclaim
their gayness to themselves and others, reveal a shift in genre over time: the linear,
`causal' modernist tales of the 1960s and 1970s give way in contemporary stories
to identities that blur and change (Plummer, 1995). Historical shifts in
understanding and growing politicization occur in the stories of women with cancer
whose mothers were exposed to the drug DES during pregnancy, reecting changes
in understanding made possible by the women's health movement (Bell, 1999). As
Mills said long ago, what we call `personal troubles' are located in particular times
and places, and individuals' narratives about their troubles are works of history, as
Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
Web. 15 November 2016.
Copyright 2001. SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.
much as they are about individuals, the social spaces they inhabit, and the societies
they live in. Attention to the social in a `personal' narrative can embolden social
work research, and unite research and practice around the values of social justice
and equality. What research participants' stories take for granted the `real', the

way things are can be analysed for social meanings and effects. A participant's
understandings of her `troubles' contain the seeds of her social analysis that, in
turn, can be interpreted for the ways it supports and/or undermines larger systems
of domination. The approach attends to contexts (local, cultural, and historical) in
the interpretation of personal narratives. Here, for example, I attend to the locality
of Kerala, arguably the most progressive state in India, which provides opportunities
for women not easily available in other parts of the subcontinent, along with
constraints. The approach leads to insights about lives in context and the workings
of oppressive social structures not portraits of an `authentic' subject or `true' self,
as critics have claimed (Atkinson, 1997; Atkinson and Silverman, 1997).
Constructing social identities in personal narrative I illustrate a social perspective to
narrative analysis with a segment from a research interview. Detailed transcription
is included so that readers can examine the narrative in dialogic exchange. My
theoretical interest is in women's identity construction when they face the `personal
trouble' of infertility. I analyse how a woman performs her social identities in a story:
her `private self' is shaped by contradictory realities gender inequality, on the
one hand, and public policies that foster social justice, on the other. The interview is
from a larger corpus of interviews with married childless women completed during
eldwork in Kerala, south India, in 19934. Interviews, conducted at a single point
in time, were taped and subsequently transcribed and translated where necessary.
My research assistant (Liza) and I conducted them (seven were in English and the
rest in Malayalam 2 ). We encouraged women to give extended accounts of their
situations, including the reactions of others: husband, other family, the neighbours.
We did not interview husbands, so their perceptions of infertility are not included
except as wives represent them. (For a full description of method, see Riessman,
2000a, 2000b.) The woman whose life story I examine I'll call her Asha was
chosen because she is among the oldest in my sample, and probably past
childbearing age. Constructing a meaningful gender identity without biological
children is a major issue for her. Asha lives in India, a strongly pronatalist society
women are expected to marry and bear children but she lives in the state of
Kerala, which has a long tradition of fostering women's autonomy and economic
sufciency. 3 Like other childless women in
Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
Web. 15 November 2016.
Copyright 2001. SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.
Constructing social identities in personal narrative I illustrate a social perspective to
narrative analysis with a segment from a research interview. Detailed transcription
is included so that readers can examine the narrative in dialogic exchange. My
theoretical interest is in women's identity construction when they face the `personal
trouble' of infertility. I analyse how a woman performs her social identities in a story:
her `private self' is shaped by contradictory realities gender inequality, on the

one hand, and public policies that foster social justice, on the other. The interview is
from a larger corpus of interviews with married childless women completed during
eldwork in Kerala, south India, in 19934. Interviews, conducted at a single point
in time, were taped and subsequently transcribed and translated where necessary.
My research assistant (Liza) and I conducted them (seven were in English and the
rest in Malayalam 2 ). We encouraged women to give extended accounts of their
situations, including the reactions of others: husband, other family, the neighbours.
We did not interview husbands, so their perceptions of infertility are not included
except as wives represent them. (For a full description of method, see Riessman,
2000a, 2000b.) The woman whose life story I examine I'll call her Asha was
chosen because she is among the oldest in my sample, and probably past
childbearing age. Constructing a meaningful gender identity without biological
children is a major issue for her. Asha lives in India, a strongly pronatalist society
women are expected to marry and bear children but she lives in the state of
Kerala, which has a long tradition of fostering women's autonomy and economic
sufciency. 3 Like other childless women in
Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
Web. 15 November 2016.
Copyright 2001. SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.
Kerala, however, she faces severe stigma because she is not a mother (Riessman,
2000b). For example, neighbours treat her `like a machi'a word in Malayalam that
has no English equivalent: It refers to a farm animal that cannot breed. In Asha's
narrative, I pay particular attention to social positioning in relation to identity
claims. `The act of positioning . . . refers to the assignment of uid ``parts'' or
``roles'' to speakers in the discursive construction of personal stories . . .' (Harre
and Van Langenhove, 1999: 7). When we tell stories about our lives we perform our
identities (Langellier, 2001; Mishler, 1999). Several levels of social positioning are
my analytic points of entry into the `personal story'. First, it developed in an
immediate discursive context, an evolving interview with a listener/questioner. At
this level, Asha positions herself in a dialogic process. She performs her preferred
identity for a particular audience my research assistant, and me in this case. We
are also located in social spaces and bring views about infertility to the
conversations, positioning Asha. Second, Asha's narrative is positioned in a broader
cultural discourse about women's proper place in modern India, a `developing'
nation that is developing new spaces (besides home and eld) for women to labour.
The narrative is also located in the gender politics of Kerala, where women have
been advantaged by progressive social policies, but also constrained by gender
ideologies. I show how attention to the shifting cultural context, and the proximate
interview context, is essential to interpretation. Third, Asha positions herself in the
particulars of her story in relation to physicians (and medical technology), and vis-a
-vis powerful family members. Taken together, the angle of vision of social

positioning in narrative provides a lens to explore how a middle-aged woman works


to construct a positive identity when she cannot conceive. Asha, who has never
been pregnant, is a 42year-old Hindu woman. She completed secondary school
and is employed as a government clerk. Typical of women in Kerala, she has
beneted from the state's educational policies: girls attend school as often as boys
and, because of similar levels of education, secure government jobs are occupied by
both women and men, in contrast to other states in India. She and her husband,
from a `backward' (Dalit) caste, also receive some food and housing assistance from
the government. On the day we met Asha, she was making her second visit to the
infertility clinic of a government hospital. She had previously gone for biomedical
treatment for infertility in another hospital, as her narrative describes. Biomedicine
is widely available in Kerala's towns and villages; the hospital where she came this
time is the tertiary care centre for a large district. Asha had come reluctantly we
learn in the excerpt (below), but she was not reluctant to be interviewed; we spent
nearly an hour talking together in a private room while she was waiting to be seen
by the doctor. Liza, my 26-year-old research assistant, told Asha we wanted to
understand `the experience of being childless from women's points of view'. The
Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
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open-ended interview was in Malayalam, translated periodically for me, and Asha
said she felt `comforted' by it. Although our questions focused mostly on issues of
infertility and societal response, Asha directed the interview to other topics of
importance to her. During the rst few minutes, for example, when asked about the
composition of her household and other demographic `facts', Asha's extended
responses hint at complexities in gender relations: her husband is 12 years her
junior, and will become unemployed shortly 'we will be managing on my income
alone'. The meaning of these issues only became clear later in the interview. At this
point, Liza asks, `What do you think is the reason why you do not have children?'
We enter the interview at this point. Lisa: Asha: What do you think is the reason why
you do not have children? I think that it must be because I am so old That is my
opinion Other than that, no other problem. There is this [name] hospital in Alleppey
There ^ I had gone there for treatment Then the doctor said that ^ after after doing
a scan the way through which the sperm goes There is some block
AndsotheydidaD&C. When the results came ^ when we gave money to the lab They
said they did not see any problem. After that they said I must take 5 pills.
Itookthem. Then that also did not work. Then they said that I must have an
injection. I had one. They said I must come again after that. After I had the first
injection I was disappointed when it did not work I had hoped that it would be all
right after the first injection. When that did not happen Then I was very much
disheartened. Then when they said to come again ^ Then I didn't go after that. ^

[describes how a neighbour persuaded her to go to Infertility Clinic] ^ If God is


going to give, let him.
Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
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Asha's response takes a classic narrative form: she emplots a sequence of events
related to medical treatment, which she locates in time and place, and she provides
evaluation or commentary on their meanings. Typical of `fully formed', bounded
narratives identied by sociolinguists (Labov, 1982), hers is tightly structured and
uninterrupted by the listener. Asha was 40 years old at the time of the events, had
been married 2 years, and could not get pregnant. We do not know, at this point in
the conversation, why she married so late the average age for women in Kerala is
22 (Gulati et al., 1996). Looking at how Asha positions herself, she answers our
question directly and offers her present understanding of `the reason' for infertility
(`it must be because I am so old'), which contrasts with the technical diagnosis
offeredbyaphysiciansheconsultedinthepast(`thereissomeblock'). It is her location in
the life course, she says, not some internal aw, that is responsible for the infertility.
The narrator is agent, the real expert, wise and realistic about the meaning of age
for fertility; she positions the physicians as `they' the other who depend on
medical technology (a scan, D&C, pills and injections). Her positioning aligns the
listener with the narrator in a moral stance: the `I' knows better than the `other'. As
the knowing subject, Asha deects blame age is not something she is responsible
for. The narrative suggests self-assurance rather than selfblame a marked
contrast to the speech of women visiting an infertility clinic in north India, who
typically said `there is something wrong with me' ( Jindal and Gupta, 1989). Asha
carefully and knowledgeably names every medical procedure. She reports how she
followed the prescribed regime, perhaps because of the setting of the interview and
expectations about us. She positions herself for the medical context she would be
viewed as a `good historian' and `compliant patient'. But biomedicine failed her. It
also failed to make room for her emotions: no one relates to her disappointment in
the narrative performance. Asha became `disheartened' when treatment didn't
work, and did not return to the hospital. In a lengthy episode (not included in the
transcript) Asha performs a conversation with a neighbour in her village, who got
pregnant after treatment at the infertility clinic where our interview took place. `She
told me if I came here [to clinic] it will be alright.' Asha said to the neighbour, `I will
still have this problem of my age.' The neighbour responded by saying she had seen
`people who are 45 years' in the waiting room of the clinic. Asha then agreed, very
reluctantly, to try the clinic, as `a last resort'. As she reasoned, `there will be no
need to be disappointed' because she will have tried everything. Asha concludes
the narrative with a coda that looks to religion rather than science (`If God is going
to give [children], let him'). Like the rst line of the narrative or abstract (`I think it

must be because I am so old'), the coda acknowledges that health involves more
than narrow, technical problems in the body that doctors can x. A theodicy frames
the account
Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
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Copyright 2001. SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.
of infertility beginning and ending it suggesting resistance to the biomedical
model and secular beliefs about health (Greil, 1991). There are several ambiguities
in Asha's sparse narrative. Because the interview was translated from Malayalam,
close examination of word choice is not appropriate but other narrative strategies
can be examined: for example, the characters she introduces in the performance,
and the way she positions herself in relation to them. Absences are striking: there is
no mention of husband or other family members; only once does she
useapluralpronoun(`wegavemoneytothelab').Shedoesnotsaythat her husband
accompanied her for treatment or if he was examined by doctors customary in
Indian infertility clinics. In contrast to the richly peopled stories about infertility told
by other south Indian women, there are few characters in Asha's: anonymous
doctors (`they'), a neighbour, and Asha herself. We get the impression of an
isolated, singular `self', negotiating infertility treatment on her own a picture that
is at odds with the typical family-centred fertility search I observed in other
interviews, and with Indian views of familial identity (Riessman, 2000b). Information
from later in the interview forced me to consider additional meanings, suggesting
other provisional interpretations of Asha's identity performance in the excerpt. As
our conversation progressed, she introduced a series of topics that went beyond the
interview's focus on infertility, enabling the construction of a life story in which the
bounded narrative about infertility can be situated. 4 Her life story is in some ways
typical of the life course of women from the rural areas of Kerala, although in key
respects it is unique. Asha related that her natal family was large, very poor, and
when marriage proposals came for her, the parents could not raise the dowry. Asha
also says she was not interested in marriage (`married life, I did not want it from
childhood on, I was one of those who did not like it'). An independent self is
performed in this utterance, not unlike Asha's identity performance in the infertility
narrative. Resistance to marriage by young women is somewhat unusual in India,
although marriage can be postponed for girls to complete educational careers. For
Asha, however, other events interrupted the inevitable path toward marriage. Both
of Asha's parents died when she was a young woman. She received a small
inheritance when the property was divided among the siblings. With it, she bought a
little gold, secured a small loan, got a job, won some money in the lottery, and
eventually accumulated enough to buy a small piece of land with a thatched hut
(`all of it I bought by myself'). Such autonomous actions on the part of a woman
contrast with stereotypes about women in India, but Asha's actions are not entirely

atypical in Kerala. Government policies are fostering women's power and economic
independence as part of rural development efforts, including micro credit schemes
and enterprises, in addition to afrmative action policies for women and historically
disadvantaged castes (Gulati et al., 1996; Jeffrey, 1993).
Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
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Asha did eventually marry. I asked about her `change of heart' and she educated
me: `if you want to get ahead in the future you must have a husband, a child only
then [do you have] a family; when we become old there must be somebody to look
after us'. Like women in India generally, she needed `a family' to move forward and
receive social recognition to `get ahead'. As she must know, unmarried women
are severely stigmatized in Indian villages, and some migrate to large cities to
achieve anonymity if they remain unmarried. Asha needed a husband to
legitimately have `a family', that is, a child necessary in a country without
universal social welfare programmes for the aged. (Instrumental views about having
childrentoinsurecareinoldagewerecommoninmyinterviews.)Ina
word,Asha'slifechancesareprofoundlyshapedbygenderconstraints, even in the
context of Kerala's emphasis on women's status and independence (Jeffery et al.,
1989; Uberoi, 1993). Asha went to a marriage broker to x a marriage at age 38
an unusual move, necessitated by the fact that her brothers had left the region. The
arranged inter-caste marriage (Asha married `down') concealed a signicant age
discrepancy Asha was 12 years older than her husband which she discovered
later. It may be that she was exploited by the increasingly commercialized world of
marriage arrangements data are sparse here. With the recent inux of foreign
goods into India and increasing consumerism, coupled with high unemployment,
dowry (or the selection of a wife with good earnings) has become a way for poor
families to imagine having more. Asha has a higher level of education than her
husband does and a secure government job; her husband faces unemployment (he
has a sales job and the small enterprise is closing). He, however, expects children.
She performed a conversation with him in our interview that voices his
disappointment: `What kind of life is this, without children? Two people sitting and
looking at each other.' Her inlaws blame her for the fertility problems (`it is my fault
that we do not have children, their son has no problem that is her [mother-inlaw's] opinion'). His family is pressuring her to get treatment a typical
manifestation of gender inequality in perceived responsibility for infertility. Stigma, I
learned in other interviews, falls overwhelmingly on the woman when pregnancy
does not occur, and they face abandonment by husbands who can remarry
(Riessman, 2000a, 2000b, 2001b). Asha intimates this will be her fate (`if we do not
have children, the marital relationship will break up'). In this context, the narrative
episode (excerpt above) makes sense 'as a last resort' Asha decides to try

infertility treatment again, at age 42, even as she wisely knows she is `too old'. The
absence of family and husband in the excerpt masks their large role in the decision.
The husband's absence raises other questions, however. Given the precarious status
of her marriage, is Asha readying herself for life again as a single woman? A reader
might be tempted to read her story as one of victimization a south Indian woman
who faces divorce because of infertility but her narrative performance as a
competent `solo self' suggests a more complex reality.
Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
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My social analysis of a personal narrative highlights several issues in work with
interview narratives. First, they do not speak for themselves. Narrative excerpts
require interpretation, expansion, and analysis 'unpacking' to uncover and
interpret the inevitable ambiguities contained in any form of language. Second,
narratives are situated utterances. They unfold in particular interactions with
particular listeners, and these contexts shape what is said, and what cannot be
spoken. (Remember how Asha educated me on how she needed a family to `get
ahead' in India and achieve status as an adult woman, despite her nancial
independence.) Narrators do not tell their story, that is, reveal an essential self
but a story that shines light on certain aspects of identity, and leaves others in
shadow. A different listener/questioner would undoubtedly see other identities. For
example, Asha performs her competent self for a Western woman professional (me)
and my assistant, Liza a south Indian social worker. For a different audience,
Asha's narrative performance might have included greater sadness, worry, or fear.
We might also ask how her texts might be read by native speakers and others
sharing indigenous gender ideologies. Elsewhere (Riessman, 2000a) I open up this
issue by examining a south Indian woman's narrative that was read differently by
different participants (and the same participant over time). The `translating' nature
of interpretation cannot be ignored in ethnographic research (Clifford, 1997). Finally,
narratives of personal troubles, such as infertility, are situated in cultural and
historical time. Social work research can bring these contexts to bear in the
interpretation of personal stories. Asha's life story, for example, is contingent on
social policies and contemporary rural development efforts, even as it is constrained
by gender ideologies and age hierarchies, including the motherhood mandate and
the power of in-laws over a wife. As Amartya Sen (1999: xii) argues, `There is a
deep complementarity between individual agency and social arrangements.' The
absence of a social movement in India to support Asha's position as a childless, and
possibly divorced woman, is also signicant. Although there are long-standing
feminist interests and organizations in India, the difculties of women who attempt
to live outside of families without children (or outside of marriage) remain private
issues. As Patricia Hill Collins (1997) cautions, individual women may benet from

local resistance practices, but there is no substitute for sustained improvement of


women as a group, which is possible in collective movements that target structural
power. Acknowledgements I thank Liza George, Leela Gulati, and Drs Kaveri
Gopalakrishnan and P.K. Shamala. The Indo-US Subcommission on Education and
Culture,
Shaw, Ian, and Gould, Nick, eds. Introducing Qualitative Methods series : Qualitative
Research in Social Work. London, GB: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2001. ProQuest ebrary.
Web. 15 November 2016.
Copyright 2001. SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.