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DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2397.2009.00672.

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I N T E R NAT I O NA L
J O U R NA L O F
Int J Soc Welfare 2010: 19: 272280 SOCIAL WELFARE
ISSN 1369-6866

Perspectives on narrative methods in


social work research ijsw_672 272..280

Larsson S, Sjblom Y. Perspectives on narrative methods in Sam Larsson, Yvonne Sjblom


social work research Department of Social Work, Stockholm University
Int J Soc Welfare 2010: 19: 272280 2009 The Author,
Journal compilation 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and the
International Journal of Social Welfare.
Key words: narrative inquiry, narrative methods, narrative
The narrative turn has entered many different academic dis- research in social work, psychology-based approach,
ciplines and is now also emerging in social work. This article sociology-based approach
focuses on a discussion of the possibilities and limitations of Sam Larsson, Department of Social Work, Stockholm
doing narrative research in social work, including a scrutiny of University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
definitions and of a number of theoretical and methodological E-mail: sam.larsson@socarb.su.se
arguments often used by some of the leading narrative
researchers. Accepted for publication April 25, 2009

and scientific articles written by psychology-based


Introduction
narrative researchers such as Josselson and Lieblich
Narrative research is a very promising approach for (1995, 1999; Lieblich and Josselson, 1994), as well
gaining an in-depth understanding of peoples lives as by sociology-based narrative researchers such as
(Josselson, 1995; Josselson & Lieblich, 1999; Lieblich, Riessman (2002, 2003) and Quinney (Riessman &
Tuval-Mashiach & Zilber, 1998; Riessman & Quinney, Quinney, 2005), have been studied.
2005). However, when adopting a narrative strategy in The selection of narrative researchers was guided by
the field of social work, there are many methodological the purpose of finding authors who have published
questions and theoretical issues that need to be extensively over a long period of time. Researchers in
addressed. The aim of this article is to present a pre- the field of narrative psychology, such as Josselson and
liminary theoretical and methodological discussion of Lieblich (1995, 1999; Lieblich & Josselson, 1994), who
how narrative methods may be used as a research strat- edited six volumes on narrative methods in The Narra-
egy in social work, where some of the possibilities and tive Study of Lives Series, represent one important
limitations encountered will be explored with particular source of knowledge. Others are Atkinson and
focus on psychological and sociological approaches to Delamont (2006) who have edited four volumes on
doing narrative research. the same topic, and the sociology-based researcher
Catherine Riessman who has contributed numerous
important articles on narrative methods over the years
Methodology (see e.g. Riessman, 1993, 2002, 2003; Riessman &
Quinney, 2005).
In order to discuss how narrative methods can be used
in social work research and to examine the possibilities
and limitations of narrative perspectives in this field,
Narrative methods in social work research
two major theoretical and methodological positions in
narrative research are critically examined from the Narrative methods can be used as a methodological tool
aspects of relevance and implications for narrative when carrying out investigation and evaluation in social
research strategies in social work. work practice (Martin, 1995, 1999; Payne, 2005;
One of the positions studied is narrative methods Ruckdeschel, 1999; Shaw & Lishman, 1999). Narrative
grounded in a psychology-based approach, including methods can also be applied as a treatment method in
humanistic and psychodynamic perspectives (see helping clients to consider a reconstruction of their life
Crossley, 2000; Josselson & Lieblich, 1995, 1999; story that may help them to cope with their life situation
Lieblich & Josselson, 1994; Lieblich et al., 1998). The in a better way. There are narrative psychotherapeutic
other position represents a sociology-based approach strategies based on psychodynamic, cognitive and con-
grounded in social constructivism and postmodernism structivist approaches that may be suitable for social
(Crossley, 2000; Riessman, 2002, 2003). Textbooks work practice (see McLeod, 1997; Miller, 2006; Payne,

2009 The Author(s)


Journal compilation 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and the International Journal of Social Welfare.
272 Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
Perspectives on narrative methods in social work research

2006; White & Epstone, 1990). However, in this article the usual professional canon (see Riessman &
the focus is on narrative methods in the area of social Quinney, 2005).
work research, of which there are many examples
(Froggett & Chamberlayne, 2004; Poindexter, 2002;
Riessman & Quinney, 2005). Definitions and perspectives on social work and the
Social work practice and social work research are connection to narrative methods
often based on talk and social interaction with clients. A
In 2007, the International Federation of Social Workers
central area in narrative research is human interaction,
adopted the following definition of social work:
which in turn is also the core of social work. An
important part of both narrative methods and social
The social work profession promotes social change,
work practice is the focus on clients stories and giving
problem solving in human relationships and the
voice to marginalised groups through listening to
empowerment and liberation of people to enhance
their stories. Consequently, narrative methods can be
well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour
of great importance when conducting social work
and social systems, social work intervenes at the
research (Riessman & Quinney, 2005).
points where people interact with their environ-
A narrative strategy in the research process may be
ments. Principles of human rights and social justice
considered a type of case-centred strategy (see Elliott,
are fundamentals of social work (IFSW, 2000,
2005; Lieblich et al., 1998; Martin, 1995, 1999). For
cited in Wilson, Ruch, Lymbery & Cooper, 2008:
example, narrative methods may be relevant when
49).
trying to understand social workers interaction pro-
cesses with their clients and their talk about those According to the influential researcher Elizabeth
clients with other professionals. But it may also be Hutchison (2008), social work is multidimensional
helpful when studying identities, life stories and and involves the complex analysis of the personal,
stories told by minority and excluded groups in environmental and time dimensions of human behav-
society (Halberstam, 2005; Riessman, 2002). Narra- iour. Hutchison points out the need to consider both
tive methods are particularly useful when trying to psychological and sociological perspectives in order to
gain an in-depth understanding of the individual analyse the multifaceted interaction between the per-
(Hollway, Lucey & Phoenix, 2007; Riessman & sonal and situational factors involved in the different
Quinney, 2005). psychosocial problems found in the field of social
Riessman and Quinney (2005) have reviewed how work. However, these dimensions are not to be seen
the concept of narrative has entered social work over in terms of a causal relationship; instead, they are
the past 15 years with special emphasis on research embedded in each other and reveal many possible
applications. They found that there were few studies of analyses in social work practice and research
good enough quality on narrative research in the field (Hutchison, 2008). According to Hutchison, all of us
of social work, in contrast to the volume of narrative are engaged in a process of constructing a personal
research in other academic fields such as nursing, edu- narrative that determines our understanding of our-
cation and other practicing professions (Riessman & selves. However, Hutchison considers narrative theory
Quinney, 2005). A trend reflected in their review is that a relatively new approach in social work practice and
practice knowledge from narrative theory is more the meaning of narrative methods for social work is
developed than the application of narrative methods in not considered in any detail.
social work research. According to Riessman, social An important source in the field of social work is the
work has embraced narrative concepts in research influential text by Malcolm Payne, Modern Social Work
applications to only a limited degree (Riessman, 2008; Theory (2005). Payne also argues for a multidimen-
Riessman & Quinney, 2005). sional perspective when defining and analysing the
Riessman and Quinney (2005) give several tenta- social work field, pointing out the need to consider both
tive suggestions as to how we may understand these psychological and sociological theories in the under-
findings. They consider different explanations. Narra- standing of social work. He also argues for the impor-
tive inquiry is cross-disciplinary and based on tance of listening to histories and narratives from
different epistemologies, theories and methods. The people seeking help and that narratives are a focus for
research is time-consuming and the ethical questions understanding and changing peoples social identities,
involved complicated. One conclusion from their roles and social constructions (p. 162). Treatment inter-
review seems to be that narrative research opens up ventions may reconstruct narratives towards the change
for creative collaborative research. However, narrative construction of future social events (p. 173). Payne
methods represent a challenge in social work research points at important links between the understanding of
because of the great amount of theory, methodology social work and the use of narrative methods. However,
and epistemology involved that typically lies outside the narrative principles for social work are discussed

2009 The Author(s)


Journal compilation 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and the International Journal of Social Welfare 273
Larsson & Sjblom

only to a limited extent and in general terms, and their from Eliot Mishlers work on identity development
implications for doing research is not discussed at all among a group of artists or craftspeople (see Mishler,
(Payne, 2005). 2000). This approach is important for research in social
work because it often deals with long sections of
talk between social workers and clients or between
Definitions of narrative
researchers and informants.
The term narrative carries many meanings and is used Yet despite these differences, there are some
in a variety of ways by different disciplines, but often it common key features in how narratives are defined.
is synonymous with story. As in all stories, multiple One is that they are looked upon as discourses with a
voices and identities come into play. Narrative accounts sequential order, i.e. they are chronological, meaningful
give us access to the identity constructions of individu- and social (Elliott, 2005). For some researchers, the
als and can be a good strategy for giving voice to term histories is used as an umbrella to define life
minority and/or discriminated groups (Elliott, 2005; stories, family stories, oral histories, biographies,
Halberstam, 2005; Josselson & Lieblich 1995; memories, narratives and the like (Martin, 1999).
Riessman, 2002, 2003). However, although Riessman Many researchers also agree that narrative stories
shared the goal of giving voice to unheard groups, she refer to discourses with a clear sequential order that
recommended the researcher to be cautious, emphasis- connect events in a meaningful way (Hinchman &
ing that we cannot give voice, but we do hear voices Hinchman, 1997: xvi) and that they also offer insights
that we record and interpret (Riessman, 2002: 220). about the world and/or peoples experiences of it
Important questions related to definitions of nar- (Elliott, 2005: 3). According to Riessman (2002), nar-
rative are: What is a narrative? What are its defining ration is distinguished by ordering and sequence. This
features and which of its attributes explain its appeal means that one action is viewed as consequential for the
to social scientists? (Elliott, 2005). Narrative analysis next. Narrators create plots from their experiences.
typically takes the perspective of the teller. When They structure their tales temporally and spatially. But
telling a story, the teller takes the listener to past narratives can also be organised thematically and epi-
times, recapitulating what happened then, and there is sodically. Narrators use particular linguistic devices to
always the making of a moral point in the telling of communicate the meaning in their narrative construc-
the story. In comparison with a qualitative interview, tions to their listeners (Ben-Ari, 1995; Riessman,
most of the talk is not narrative but question-and- 2002).
answer exchanges, arguments and other forms of dis-
courses (Riessman, 2002). If one defines the narrative
Narrative methods and the understanding of the self
as a story with a beginning, middle and an end that
reveals an individuals experiences, then narratives Telling a story is a way of telling someone else about
can take many forms (Manning & Cullum-Swan, the self, but also about the tellers identity construc-
1994). In the literature of narrative research, there is tions (Lieblich et al., 1998). Stories convey meanings
considerable variation in how different researchers both about the teller and his or her identity, and about
define the concept of the narrative. Riessman (2002) the social context of which the teller is a part (Crossley,
pointed out that the definitions of narrative often 2000; Wetherell & Maybin, 1996). A person telling a
reflect the academic disciplinary background of the story to a researcher is not only reporting on a set of
researcher. events in a simple way, but also imparting knowledge
In social history and anthropology, the narrative is about how the story evolved. The researcher and the
often defined in terms of a life story approach. In the person participating in the research can be seen as
sociolinguistic tradition, narrative research has often doing a narrative co-production, i.e. they are involved
been grounded in Labovs work (1982), where the nar- in a dialogic exchange producing a story that evolves
rative concept refers to specific, discrete stories that are through the interaction process (Riessman, 2002,
organised around character, setting and plot. Another 2003).
approach, often used in psychology and sociology, When eliciting stories about identity in interviews, it
defines narratives as large sections of talk that are pro- is important to ask the right questions, which in turn
duced in interviews and include the interaction between requires sound theoretical knowledge about the self
the teller and the interviewer. This kind of narrative (Crossley, 2000; Hollway et al., 2007; Josselson &
approach is often characterised by detailed transcripts Lieblich, 1999; Riessman, 2003). Narrative methods
of interviews. The analysis of the structure of the talk in can be seen as a special method of doing research on
its context takes into account the co-production of the identity constructions or identity switches in different
talk between the interviewer and the participant situations (see Josselson & Lieblich 1995, 1999;
(Riessman 2002, 2003; Riessman & Quinney, 2005). Lieblich et al., 1998; Mishler, 1986; Riessman 2002,
Riessman (2002) gave an example of this approach 2003).

2009 The Author(s)


274 Journal compilation 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and the International Journal of Social Welfare
Perspectives on narrative methods in social work research

In the literature of narrative research, narrative Hollway et al. (2007), in considering the relationship
methods are often described as very good strategies to between theory and narrative methods, discuss a
provide access to different identities of individuals or special narrative method called Free Association Nar-
how they experience their inner self. According to rative Interviewing and how it was informed by a par-
Lieblich et al. (1998: 7), personal narratives, in both ticular theory of self. Because the theory assumed that
facets of content and form, are peoples identities. individuals are not aware of everything that makes up
Personal narratives are not only a way of telling their identity, this must be taken into account in the
someone about ones life, they are the means by which production and analysis of concrete narrative data.
identities may be fashioned (Rosenwald & Ochberg, Crossley (2000) made a similar point when focusing on
1992: 1). The psychological research literature the complex relationship between theoretical analysis
describes how the self contains different voices of the self and the use of different narrative methods for
or sub-identities (see e.g. Rowan & Cooper, 1999). the study of the self. In the present authors view, the
According to several narrative researchers, the self is narrative researcher needs to make explicit the kinds of
dialogic and contains many voices and different assumptions of the self that guide the narrative meth-
self-experiences (Crossley, 2000; Josselson, 1995; odological strategies used.
Riessman, 2002, 2003).
One challenge for the narrative researcher when
Psychology-based approaches in narrative research
trying to understand personal narratives and identities
is to get the whole story describing all the different Josselson and Lieblich (1995, 1999; Lieblich & Jossel-
parts of the self (Josselson, 1995). According to son, 1994) have edited a series of volumes on the nar-
Mishler (1992: 37), researchers often focus on a part rative study of lives that mainly consider psychological
identity rather than the individuals total identity. perspectives and their impact on narrative methods. The
Yet to begin with an analysis of part identities may psychology-based approaches focus on understanding
lead to the construction and understanding of the dif- the inner life and the self or identity constructions of
ferent sub-identities and dialogic voices, and also the the teller, where both implicit and explicit processes of
conflicts and contradictions that may exist between communicating are of importance. There is not only the
them (Mishler, 1992). Mishler saw these different part matter of trying to extract as rich a phenomenological
identities as unified by some kind of master identity narrative description from the narrator as possible, but
that connects the different sub-identities (Mishler, the researcher must also try to apprehend the more or
1992: 37). According to Mishler (1986: 68), the most less submerged stories or what is not said in order to get
important aspect of the narrative is that it helps in the whole story or a more complex understanding of the
understanding the quality of mind. In other words, history (Chase, 1995; Crossley, 2000; Josselson &
quality of mind, not plot, is the soul of the narrative Lieblich, 1999; Lieblich et al., 1998). Theories of the
(Mishler, 1986: 81). self that need to be considered as background to a
psychology-based approach to the narrative may be
inspired by a humanistic or by a psychodynamic
approach (see Crossley, 2000).
Theoretical and empirical dimensions of
narrative research
Sociological approaches and social constructivist
When carrying out narrative research, there are many
perspectives on the self
challenges that need to be faced, such as trying to
show more clearly how different kinds of narrative- Crossley (2000) described the postmodernist approach
theoretical considerations are related to empirical data. that sees individuals and the self as enfolded in lan-
There is important literature that discusses both the guage and influenced by postmodernism. According to
theoretical and the empirical levels in narrative Crossley (2000), the task of postmodernism is to
research (Atkinson & Delamont, 2006; Josselson & deconstruct linguistic structures and socio-historical
Lieblich, 1995, 1999; Lieblich & Josselson, 1994; Lie- narratives. The postmodern approach is critical towards
blich et al., 1998; Scott & Lyman, 2006). However, the the inwardness of individuals and this connects to
relationship between the theoretical and the empirical their declaration of the death of the subject, where
levels in narrative research needs to be discussed in there is no essential nature of the self to describe
more detail, especially for the social work field. (Crossley, 2000: 2631). In the social constructivist
Riessman and Quinney (2005) conclude in their critical approach, the psyche, or our inner lives is consid-
review of the use of narrative in social work research ered to be found, not within ourselves, but in the rela-
that there are often methodological problems related to tional spaces between ourselves and others, where the
a lack of direct quotations and narrative descriptions of self or identity is unstable and of fragmentary nature
any length. with constantly shifting boundaries (Crossley, 2000).

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Larsson & Sjblom

This approach is not interested in how a response from interested in, for example, a phenomenon shared by a
a narrator may mirror the psychological or social reality group of individuals. The holistic analysis is more
of events outside the interview context. appropriate when trying to understand the person as a
According to the sociology-based narrative re- whole (Lieblich et al., 1998).
searcher Catherine Riessman (2002, 2003), narrative The second dimension, i.e. the difference between
analysis allows the researcher to make systematic the content and the form of a story, is a question of
studies of personal experiences and to analyse how whether the researcher should concentrate on the
important events have been constructed by the subject. explicit content of an account or on the structure of the
Narrators can position themselves in many different plot, the sequencing of events, its place in time and its
ways, giving themselves, for example, active or passive complexity (Lieblich et al., 1998). However, it may be a
roles in their stories. The narrators create fluid seman- good strategy to combine both these aspects of the
tic spaces for themselves and narrators use particular story. For example, in the analysis of dependency prob-
grammatical resources to construct who they are lems, it may be relevant to consider not only the content
(Riessman, 2002: 702). The individuals and how they of what the drug user experiences when on drugs, but
position themselves according to agency and their also the sequencing of events and the time periods
imagination determine what gets included and when the drug is used. These two dimensions can
excluded in the story, how events are put together and be systematically combined in different approaches
what they mean. Individuals piece together past events (Lieblich et al., 1998). Crossley (2000) made similar
and actions in their personal narratives to claim identi- comments related to form and content.
ties and construct their lives (Riessman, 2002).
The levels of analysing a narrative account
Language and the narrative approach There are great challenges related to the analysis of
narrative accounts. The present authors agree with
According to Riessman (2002), we understand the
Riessman (2002) that it is impossible for a researcher to
meaning of a narrative through language; and there are
be neutral and objective and simply report on what
three analytical functions of language that influence the
people relate. The researcher has no direct access to the
interpretation of the narrative. These are the ideational
personal experiences that they are studying. We also
function that expresses the content, the interpersonal
fully agree with Riessman (2002) that the research
function, which is about the roles and relationships
process includes different levels of representation of the
between speakers, and the textual functions that reflect
primary experiences under study.
the structure, i.e. how the parts of the text are connected
Experiences, first of all, are what is being attended to
syntactically and semantically. Meaning is transferred
and this can be done in many different ways. The first
through these several different levels. What someone
level of representation is about the telling of a story and
says (ideational) is connected to how something is said
how the personal narrative is performed, and in the
(textual) and to whom it is said (interpersonal). The
telling process there is a difference between the expe-
social context is also important in the process of under-
rience as it was lived and any communication made
standing the meaning of the narrative (Riessman,
about it. The next stage of representation is when the
2002). Analysis in narrative studies opens up the dif-
spoken language is transformed into a script. Research-
ferent forms of telling about experiences. It is not
ers in the narrative field must ask themselves how
simply the content of the language that is important; we
detailed the transcription should be, what to include and
must also consider how the language is structurally put
how to arrange the text, all of which have important
together. Narrative researchers must ask, Why was the
implications for how the text will be understood.
story told in that way? (Riessman, 2002: 219).
Another level of representation is about analysing the
narrative. Here there are more decisions to be made;
about form, ordering, style of presentation, what to
Classification of types of narrative approaches
include and what to exclude. In the end, the analyst
Lieblich et al. (1998: 12) presented a model for the creates a meta-story, editing and reshaping what was
classification and organisation of types of narrative told, and the reader of the text will further be making an
analysis. This model contains two main dimensions: (i) individual interpretation; thus every text is open to
the holistic versus the categorical approach; and (ii) several different constructions and interpretations (see
content versus form. In the Lieblich et al. model, the Riessman, 2002). Narrative research is about dealing
first dimension is about the unit of the analysis, i.e. a with different types of ambiguous representations of
question of whether the analysis is to focus on specific talk, text, interaction and interpretation. This is impor-
utterances or on the narrative as a whole. The categori- tant to consider when doing narrative analysis in social
cal approach may be appropriate when the researcher is work research.

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276 Journal compilation 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and the International Journal of Social Welfare
Perspectives on narrative methods in social work research

epistemologies, methods and theories. The analysis is


Ethical issues
often based on large amounts of detailed and compli-
Ethical questions are of great importance when doing cated data; it takes time and there are ethical chal-
narrative research. Within the narrative approach there lenges to meet (Crossley, 2000; Josselson & Lieblich,
is great interest in detailed descriptions of the inner life 1995, 1999; Lieblich et al., 1998; Riessman, 2002;
of the storyteller. When focusing on in-depth descrip- Riessman & Quinney, 2005).
tions of inner worlds, cognitions and emotions may be
evoked that may have been more or less submerged by
Evaluation and validity in narrative research
the teller, and this requires great sensitivity on the part
of the researcher. Elliott (2005) emphasises that if the There seems to be at least some agreement on the
production of personal narratives is seen as a central validity issues in narrative research. Narrative research-
process by which people comprehend their lives and ers, whether they represent psychological or sociologi-
establish some kind of understanding of their sense of cal positions seem to agree that validity is established
self, then the researchers interpretations of those nar- by considering:
ratives need to be presented very perceptively in order
the rich data in narrative descriptions of the
not to undermine the tellers self or identity construc-
teller
tions (see Elliott, 2005).
that interpretations need to be comprehensive and
coherent and grounded in empirical data
Narrative research in social work: some that interpretations need to be meaningful to partici-
evaluation criteria pants and peers
that interpretations must be consistent with the data
The possibility of developing some standards for what
that interpretations needs to be theoretically sophis-
may be considered narrative inquiry that is good
ticated (Crossley, 2000; Lieblich et al., 1998;
enough is vital. Riessman and Quinney (2005: 397)
Riessman, 1993, 2002, 2003).
have discussed this issue and formulated some criteria
as to what may be viewed as a good enough narrative Lieblich et al. (1998) gave numerous quotations in
strategy. To this end, according to Riessman and reporting narrative studies and offer suggestions
Quinney (2005), the researcher needs to consider the for alternative explanations. The suggestion of
following questions: numerous quotations, or thick descriptions, of the
accounts is important because it is connected to the
Was the work empirical or based on systematic inter-
question of validity. The validity, meaningfulness and
views or observations?
insights of qualitative inquiry have more to do with
Did analysis attend at least to some working defini-
the richness of information and the thick description
tions of narrative that focus on sequence and
in the cases selected than with sample size (Patton,
consequence, i.e. were events selected, organised
1990).
and interpreted as meaningful for a particular
There has been a discussion in the literature about
audience?
the difference between narrative and historical truth
Were transcriptions made and carefully inspected?
(Spence, 1982). Spence pointed out that Freud regarded
Did analysis attend to contexts of production, i.e.
himself as engaged in a search for historical truth,
consideration of research relationships and macro
looking for evidence of the actual events that now con-
institutional contexts?
stitute memories buried in the clients unconscious. In
Did the researcher consider the epistemological,
a sense, Freud viewed the data offered by the client in
theoretical and methodological issues involved and
the manner of an archaeologist trying to uncover the
were they critically examined rather than non-
historical facts. Historical truth represents an account
acknowledged or taken for granted?
of the way things were, based on an assumption that
The narrative turn has been on the research agenda what the client tells the therapist has a factual basis in
in the social sciences for more than 30 years. what really happened. Narrative truth, on the other
However, a question posed by Riessman and Quinney hand, tries to construct an account of events and emo-
(2005) is why there is so little research reflecting tional reactions to those events that is coherent and
these trends in social work, to which they suggest as consistent (Spence, 1982).
one possible answer that social work is inspired by Personal narratives do not reveal the past as it actu-
hard science, the experimental model and the ally was. Instead, they give us the truth of experiences
evidence-based outcome model. Another possible that are neither open to proof nor self-evident, and can
answer may be that the narrative turn represents such only be understood through interpretation, by paying
a great challenge to researchers. Narrative investiga- careful attention to the context that shapes them
tions are cross-disciplinary, drawing on many different (Riessman, 2002).

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Journal compilation 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and the International Journal of Social Welfare 277
Larsson & Sjblom

Unresolved critical issues The problem of how to capture the hidden or


submerged stories
There are various dimensions of the possibilities and
limitations related to the narrative method that ought to Narrative methods used in psychology-based ap-
be critically discussed. Some of these issues are listed proaches often consider the possibility of coming to
below: understand very complex life experiences and sub-
merged stories (Chase, 1995). Listening to the tellers
story and negotiating with the narrator about story
The large amount of complex data
constructions may open up the possibility of revealing
The use of narrative methods can lead to unique and hidden parts of the story (Atkinson & Delamont,
rich data that may be difficult to obtain by other 2006; Boyle, 1994; Chase, 1995; Scott & Lyman,
methods (Lieblich et al., 1998). However, using a nar- 2006). The challenge is how to reveal these uncon-
rative method and obtaining a large amount of thick scious stories with the use of a narrative strategy
descriptions of storied data may also be a great chal- (Crossley, 2000; Freeman, 2003).
lenge to the researcher because it may lead to difficul-
ties as to how to make sense of it all. On the other hand,
The possibility of using combined positions
what kind of science operates better with less data
(Josselson, 1995)? Some important discussions have emerged on how to
combine realistic psychological approaches with some
kind of postmodern constructivist approach. Crossley
The challenge of accumulating narrative knowledge
(2000) tried to outline a middle position between
Another problem is related to the question of how to these positions. It may be possible to consider narra-
generate knowledge from several different narrative tors stories as a real manifestation of their psycho-
studies using a narrative method. The challenge of logical world beyond the boundaries of the interview
accumulating knowledge obtained through narrative context and to see it as a manifestation of their psy-
research has been discussed in the literature. Josselson chological and social worlds. However, narrators also
(2006) gives interesting comments on the question of perform social and interactional tasks during the inter-
how to create some kind of meta-analysis of narrative view situation. Crossley argued that the narratives can
studies. be conceptualised as taking place inside the mind of
the teller and may be looked upon as a psychological
structure that evolves over time. The narrative inter-
The use of narrative in qualitative and
view can elicit aspects of that structure during the
quantitative research
interview. Crossley presented a combined narrative
One aspect of narrative research strategies is that nar- model where stories are analysed on different
rative methods are limited to qualitative in-depth levels representing a number of different voices or
analysis of the stories told. The essence of using a various aspects of the self. In her model it is possible
narrative strategy is that it provides a good approach to consider autobiographical constructions con-
to an in-depth understanding of the actors point of nected to the ego or persona level, combined with
view of his or her identity or self-image and that it Freudian-influenced analyses of an unconscious
encourages people to give voice to their often unheard voice (Crossley, 2000, ch. 6).
stories (Lieblich et al., 1998). However, there is an Lieblich et al. (1998) presented a discussion on dif-
ongoing discussion on how to open up the possibili- ferent levels of interpretation. They posed the question
ties of combining narrative data with quantitative of whether the researcher is merely a naive listener
methods or the use of narrative in quantitative focusing only on the phenomenological narrative
analysis (Elliott, 2005). descriptions of the teller, or whether the aim is also to
A combination of quantitative and qualitative investigate more or less implicit issues, looking for
methods sometimes provides deeper insights than are gaps, silences and contradictions in the story. The ques-
possible by one strategy alone. By mixing the two tion they asked is whether one can take a middle course
methods, it may be possible to reach a more integrated between these ends and do both at the same time.
description of the phenomenon in question (Boyle, The present authors interpretation of Lieblich et al.
1994; Werner & Schoepfle, 1987). In her study of lone- (1998) is that their work reveals a similar strategy as
liness, the narrative researcher Hadas Wiseman (1995) that proposed by Crossley (2000), namely, that it is
used a mixed approach including both quantitative, possible to listen to a story on different levels, such as
qualitative in-depth analysis and narrative analysis a both considering phenomenological descriptions and
kind of triangulation of methods (Janesick, 1994; performing critical analysis to uncover unconscious
Patton, 1990). parts of the story (Crossley, 2000; Josselson, 2004).

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278 Journal compilation 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and the International Journal of Social Welfare
Perspectives on narrative methods in social work research

This in turn opens up the need to combine psychologi- clients identity structures and psychosocial problems
cal and sociological theoretical perspectives as useful (Larsson, Sjblom & Lilja, 2008; Riessman & Quinney,
lenses or interpretative frameworks when using narra- 2005).
tive research in social work (Hutchison, 2008; Payne,
2005).
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