What is … Narrative Analysis?

Dr Vanessa May Realities (Part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods) and Morgan Centre for the Study of Relationships and Personal Life

Today’s talk

• Why analyse narratives? • Narrative analysis is… • How did we get here? • How it’s done • The kinds of question that narrative analysts ask (with examples) • Where can I find out more?

Realities, part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods

how do you make sense of it? • How do you communicate your experiences to another person? Realities. what do you do? • When you experience anything.Why analyse narratives? • When you want someone to know who you are. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods .

ie linked in a meaningful way (causality.Why analyse narratives? • All of the above require some form of story-telling. of conveying thoughts. plot) • Some form of chronology and movement through time • Narrative analysts argue that it is important to retain this fundamental narrative aspect of much of the data that social scientists collect • Narratives are everywhere! • Narrative is a basic human way of making sense of the world – we lead ‘storied lives’ (Riessman. narrative is constitutive of reality as well as of identity/subjectivity Realities. experiences and identities in the form of narrative • Events presented as non-random. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods . 1993) • In other words.

part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods . health. public or political realms • ‘naturally occurring’ narratives • oral or written narratives collected for research purposes • public/policy documents or media texts • ‘Text’ is broadly defined: mainly oral and written texts. … • Realities.g. such as: • narratives found the private. education. political science. films or even dance performances Interdisciplinary by nature… • …and therefore not a single uniform method but rather an umbrella term for an eclectic mix of methodological approaches… • …informed by numerous theoretical orientations (e. hermeneutics. existentialism. psychology. anthropology.Narrative analysis is… • … the study of any narrative texts. but also photographs. phenomenology and interactionism) • Utilised by researchers in a variety of disciplines: sociology.

How did we get here? • Origins in literary theory and narratology • Firmly established within the social sciences since the 1990s • Various textbooks (e. 2008) • Dedicated journal Narrative Inquiry • Part of the ‘linguistic’ or ‘narrative’ turn in the social sciences • The importance of language in constructing reality • Focus on linguistic conventions (in this case sociocultural narratives) and on the work that words do in society and in social interaction Realities. Riessman. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods ..g. Andrews et al.. 2008.

1980 on ‘regimes of truth’) • Focus on meaning and interpretation • Who is narrating to whom and to what aim • The historical. social and local/interactional context of narration is important as well Realities.g. name and label things and people. (2005) for an alternative view of language • The link between language and power • Language is not neutral – the power to name things (cf Foucault. Shenhav (2006) and McBeth et al. and to make things happen • But see e. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods .Language as a social tool • Language not understood as directly mirroring an underlying reality but rather as a social tool • Language is used to do things: to categorise.

paying attention to the sequencing of themes within narratives. and present findings in the form of case studies Realities. 2008: 12) • focus on both form and content. 2008: 50) and preserving ‘the sequential and structural features that are hallmarks of narrative’ (Riessman. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods . thus foregrounding the ‘specifically narrative aspects of texts’ meaning’ (Squire. both the told (the content of what is said) and on the telling (how it is told) • limit the number of narratives analysed.How it’s done • Lieblich et al. (1998) divide approaches to narrative analysis along two axes: • holistic – categorical • form – content • Riessman (2008) adds to this two more types of narrative analysis: • The performative or dialogical aspect of narrative • Visual narratives • Most narrative studies: • are holistic in nature.

.g. nation.g.g..g. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods . gender) • Collective ways of understanding how things (should) work (e. class. medical profession) • Narrative analysis can be used to examine how narratives both reflect and shape social contexts Realities. 1993.The kinds of question that narrative analysts ask: Collective narratives • The social world is storied (e. Shotter. Weedon.. expert knowledge and power (e. 2004) • Who ‘we’ are as a group of people (e. culture. political and policy narratives) • Linked with institutions..

g. 2008: 382) • power inequalities with regards to who is in a position to accomplish social consequences through narrative (Pedriana. enact institutional routines. and what the effects of this are • How narratives are used to accomplish particular social ends • e. 2008: 4) Realities. sanction certain forms of knowledge. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods . or construct social identities (De Fina & Georgakopoulou. 2006. whose narratives are excluded.• How collective narratives reflect power relations • whose narratives ‘stick’ and why. exclude or include particular social groups.. Squire et al.

constructing idealized social identities for people with this illness • Why narrative analysis? • Narratives focus on values. and will reflect.Example 1 Constructing the ideal breast cancer patient (Davis. 2008: 65). part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods . 2008: 68) Realities. 2008) • Analysis of eleven documents produced by the National Cancer Institute (US) on the topic of breast cancer. ‘narratives about cancer will be a product of. human valuing ‘(Davis. making narrative analysis useful for highlighting the values expressed or implied in a particular text … • …and consequently. • These publications ‘represent a major source of medical information for women about breast cancer’ (Davis. 2008: 68) • Why important? • Because ‘medical discourse holds a certain legitimacy and power by virtue of its institutional status and scientific affiliation’ (Davis.

Health Care Team. people at work. fights and destroys the cancer) • Supporting characters: The Body. but also susceptible to medical treatment). Heroine: The Patient (fearful. setting. willing to fight). finds. deadly.Characterisation • Identified a primary narrative based on a generally consistent set of underlying values and expectations. Helpers: Treatment. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods . causal relations. audience.’ (Davis. Family. the expert). and themes Characters • Main characters: Villain: Breast Cancer (dangerous. Patient’s Partner. 2008: 68) Analysed six dimensions of narrative: characters. Volunteer workers.‘The cancer patient is surrounded by a group of caring. and loving friends and relatives. Pain -. Medical Technology (can see into the patient’s body. ‘a robust narrative focused on an ideal of women who can be treated successfully and who can look forward to recovery from breast cancer’ (Davis. Hero: The Doctor (competent. strong. helpful others. 2008: 70) • • Realities. knowledgeable. events. Friends.

she has become a ‘cancer survivor’ and has been (positively) transformed by the experience Realities. 2008: 71) 2) Symptomatic: When the woman finds an irregularity.Events • The constructed plotline is a temporal sequence of events in six parts: 1) Presymptomatic: ‘The “woman” is diligent about engaging in early detection practices in the presymptomatic stage of the narrative. maintaining high levels of communication with her doctor. 2008: 71) 4) Treatment: the patient educates herself about cancer and treatment. the doctor determines what treatment is most appropriate and administers that treatment’ (Davis. family and friends 6) Postrecovery: the woman picks up her life and returns ‘back to normal’. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods .’ (Davis. facing and conquering her fears about cancer and about dying. something that might be breast cancer. she immediately seeks out her doctor so that he or she can verify the symptoms 3) Diagnosis: the woman ‘becomes a “patient”. communicates with her doctor and addresses her fears 5) Recovery: the patient heals physically and emotionally.

although in reality doctors are often ill-trained to deal with the psychological or social issues that their patients might face • The breast cancer patient’s life post-cancer is also medicalized: she is urged to keep monitoring herself for signs of a reoccurrence of the cancer Realities. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods . but the patient maintains control by educating herself so that she can participate fully in her treatment • The cancer narrative medicalizes the woman’s experiences beyond the cancer • The patient is encouraged to address all her concerns (also non-medical) to her doctor.Themes 1) Risk: all women are at risk of breast cancer 2) Control: the doctor is ultimately in control of the cancer treatment.

g. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods .The kinds of question that narrative analysts ask: First-person accounts • Narrative frameworks are shared cultural tools that offer us a repertoire of possible stories. 2002. persuading the listener/audience of something (e.. but also set limits on what can be told (Lawler. Presser. and the counter-narratives that they may draw upon to alleviate any stigma (e. 2005) Realities.g..g. Riessman. Andrews.. 2004) • What people do with narrative and how narratives are used to accomplish certain ends • e. 2003. 2008) • How narratives are created in dialogue • The effect of the broader social and local interaction context as well as of the social position of the narrator and the audience (e. May. 2008. constructing an identity. Conway. 2002: 242-243) • Interested in how individuals draw upon these sociocultural narratives • e.g. the role that dominant narratives play in the lives of stigmatised or marginalised people. May.g.

including murder. assault and rape • The context of ‘discursive control’ that shapes the men’s accounts should be included as data • the macrolevel effects on speech: the broader social. 2005) • Longitudinal qualitative interviews with men who had committed serious violent crimes. economic and political context (the men’s race/ethnicity and class) • the microlevel feature of talk: the research context (Presser the researcher. the men as the incarcerated offenders) • The relations of power between interviewer and participant should be seen as part of interview data and systematically analysed Realities.Example 2 Power and narrative in interviews with violent offenders (Presser. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods .

talk about the self over time’ (Presser.g. 2005: 2074). the men’s talk about their true selves. and focused on both content and form • Cross-sectional and holistic analyses of the cases • Beginning from the ‘what’ and then shifting to an examination of the ‘how’ of talk 1) Data coded according to sociologically interesting themes (e. including ‘social distinctions that the men drew.. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods .Analysing the ‘what’ • Presser’s analysis was a mixture of both holistic and thematic. statements about desistance and peers) and focusing on the coherence of the narratives and of the identities the men portrayed 2) Moved on to focus on eight aspects of the narratives. 3) Developed a second generation of themes focusing on the men’s constructions of a moral self Realities.

including the texture of interaction’ (Presser. 2005: 2070) • • Realities. the accounts were co-constructed. influenced by the relations between Presser and her research participants (Presser. rather. 2005: 2087) Presser examines her own role as a collaborator in the men’s narratives – the accounts they provide are a ‘situated.Analysing the ‘how’ • Aim was to capture fully ‘the interaction between researcher and participant’. ‘the flow of the interview. collaborative negotiation of narrated identities’ (Presser. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods . 2005: 2075) Presser created memos on each research participant • a running summary of how the men’s accounts unfolded and what appeared to be going on between Presser and the research participant • The men’s narratives did not constitute ‘the authentic story of the narrator – none exists’.

alleviating tension in situations. not challenging the men’s accounts • Realities.‘Doing’ gender in interaction • Both Presser and the men she interviewed were using ‘their gender relations with each other to affirm an appropriately gendered self’ (Presser. the men she interviewed were also positioning her as a heterosexual woman • e. but the darker side of such chivalry is ‘its assertion of authority’ (Presser. encompassing vulnerability and heterosexuality’. 2005: 2079) • But Presser also positioned herself in gendered ways • e. 2005: 2073) In enacting their ‘decent selves’ to her.g. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods .g. ‘chivalrous masculinity’ such as offering Presser advice on men was a popular way of ‘doing’ gender in all the interviews • ‘Such chivalry positions the female other in terms of hegemonic femininity.

Where can I find out more? • Centre for Narrative Research. University of East London: • http://www. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods .uk/cnr/index.phtml • A web resource for narrative psychology: • http://web.html Realities.uel.htm • Narrative research @ Anglia Ruskin University containing support materials for narrative analysis: • http://web.ac.lemoyne.uk/narratives/index.ac.anglia.edu/~hevern/narpsych/narpsych.

Elizabeth M. breast cancer. Narrative Inquiry. and narrative’. Corinne & Tamboukou. Molly (2002) ‘Introduction: Counter-narratives and the power to oppose’. Andrews. De Fina. Society & Natural Resources. Vanessa (2004) ‘Narrative identity and the re-conceptualization of lone motherhood’. Narrative Inquiry. in May. 14: 169-189. London: Sage. & Jones. Foucault. Davis. Conway. Colin (ed. Shanahan. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. London: Sage. Tamar (1998) Narrative Research: Reading. (pp. Maria (eds) (2008) Doing Narrative Research. 8(3): 379-387. (2005) ’The science of storytelling: Measuring policy beliefs in Greater Yellowstone’. 8(3): 347-354. Qualitative Research. Steph (2002) ‘Narrative in social research’. Lawler. Rivka & Zilber. Tim (ed. Elizabeth A. and Interpretation. 12: 1-6. CA: Sage. Amia. Michel (1980) ‘Truth and power: An interview’. (2008) ‘Risky business: Medical discourse. May. Qualitative Health Research. in Gordon. Sociology. Vanessa (2008) ‘On being a ‘good’ mother: The moral presentation of self’.) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. 42: 470–486. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods . 18(1): 65-76.. Mark K. Thousand Oaks. Michael D. Lieblich. Qualitative Research. 18(5): 413-429 Realities. Squire.) Qualitative Research in Action. Analysis. Alexandra (2008) ‘Analysing narratives as practices’. Molly.242-258). Anna & Georgakopoulou.References • • • • • • • • • • • Andrews. Tuval-Maschiach. May. McBeth. Daniel (2008) ‘Masculinities and narrating the past: Experiences of researching white men who refused to serve in the apartheid army’.

Corinne & Tamboukou. Corinne. Catherine Kohler (2008) Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences. Andrews. Thousand Oaks. Open University Press. Molly. Weedon. Maria (2008) ‘Introduction: What is narrative research?’ in Andrews. Lois (2005) ‘Negotiating power and narrative in research: Implications for feminist methodology’. 27(3): 245-262. Buckingham: Open University Press. Catherine Kohler (1993) Narrative Analysis. part of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods . John (1993) Cultural Politics of Everyday Life. American Journal of Sociology. Molly & Tamboukou. Squire. Molly. Doing Narrative Research. Maria (eds). 111(6): 1718-61. Doing Narrative Research. Squire. International Political Science Review / Revue internationale de science politique. Qualitative Research. in Andrews. Shotter. Squire. CA: Sage. Realities. London: Sage. Riessman. London: Sage. Maria (eds). (2006) ‘Political narratives and political reality’. Shenhav. Signs. 3(1): 5-33. 30(4): 2067-2090. Nicholas (2006) ‘From protective to equal treatment: Legal framing processes and transformation of the women’s movement in the 1960s’. Corinne & Tamboukou. Catherine Kohler (2003) ‘Performing identities in illness narrative: Masculinity and multiple sclerosis’. Shaul R. Corinne (2008) ‘Experience-centred and culturally-oriented approaches to narrative’. CA: Sage. Presser. Maidenhead. Squire. Riessman. Chris (2004) Identity and Culture: Narratives of Difference and Belonging.References continued • • • • • • • • • • Pedriana. Riessman. Los Angeles.

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