Becker reminds us that we can only “see” using the ideas that inform our thinking. Since our training as researchers shapes the kinds of ideas we can think with, it is useful to think about how our perceptions are shaped by our individual fields of studies and ways that research is usually done. Becker (1998, p. 18) writes:
… in a strong sense, there aren’t any “facts” independent of the ideas we use to describe them….Recognizing the conceptual shaping of our perceptions, it is still true that not everything our concepts would, in principle, let us see actually turns up in what we look at.
Although PhD students have much greater freedom to explore alternative ways of doing their dissertation research and presenting what they have learned, I suspect the academy is still pretty conservative overall. This conservatism no doubt has a number of sources, including the comfort level of faculty, the bureaucracy of creating dissertations, and even the views students bring to the dissertation enterprise. Students can be the source of inspiration though and there have been a couple notable examples, of late.
First is Dani Spinosa’s (pursuing a doctorate in English at York University) blog [generic pronoun] creates, a site for blogging by herself and others that will become her dissertation. “It explores the ways that the dissertation can become a site of activism and community as well as a place for research and academic scholarship.” The blog come dissertation begins with the post in the image, and is followed by longer posts on postanarchism, poststructuralism, and postmodernism. Her research focuses on 11 poets and seeks to explore political philosophies of post-anarchism as a literary theory of engaging with texts. She posts once a week and the entries and comments are read by her supervisor and committee. Her initial intent was for the blog to be the dissertation (the blog posts are sorted by categories one might associate with more traditional writing, like footnotes and appendices), but the University required a written document for the defense. “Chairs and the head of the graduate department said a blog is not a dissertation. The print version is halfway between what the department wanted and what I was willing to give.” (See more at: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/361-the-amazing-adventures-of-the-comic-book-dissertator#sthash.I5OQiUOn.dpuf)
Another example is Nick Sousanis’ (pursuing a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies at Teachers College) comic-book format dissertation. Unflattening: A Visual-Verbal Inquiry Into Learning in Many Dimensions is what it says it is, an investigation of the interconnectedness of the visual and the textual and that interconnectedness’ relationship to learning, and Sousanis blogs about his progress here. To explore the relationship between perception and visual strategies, he depicts his dog navigating a forest at night using a range of senses to perceive.
And recently, Clemson University doctoral student A.D. Carson produced a rap album for his dissertation.
The album, “Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions” uses hip-hop to explore such ideas as identity, justice, economics, citizenship and language.
Writing in hip hop Carson isn’t being gimmicky but rather communicating in a way that is natural and embodied for him and complements the content of his work.
I’m trying to examine how an authentically identifiable black voice might be used or accepted as authentic, or ignored, or could answer academic questions and be considered rightly academic. So I have to present a voice rather than writing about a voice.
These are examples of what might be a trend, a move away from traditional book and article formats as the only representations of knowledge, but the change comes at a glacial not a volcanic pace. The next several decades may expand and complicate the notion of representation, but in all this one hopes the focus on form, while integral, does not diminish a focus on quality (whatever that may end up meaning).
A story in the NYT, which uses great graphics (another post, another important topic), describes how the author used Oliver Twist as a walking tour guide to London.
It was nearly eleven o’clock when they reached the turnpike at Islington. They crossed from the Angel into St. John’s Road; struck down the small street which terminates at Sadler’s Wells Theatre; through Exmouth Street and Coppice Row; down the little court by the side of the workhouse; across the classic ground which once bore the name of Hockley-in-the-Hole; thence into Little Saffron Hill; and so into Saffron Hill the Great: along which the Dodger scudded at a rapid pace, directing Oliver to follow close at his heels.
~ CHARLES DICKENS
The inference here is that literature, fiction that is, can be a guide to what we might think of as the “real world.” And in this short discourse, the author illustrates what he sees as the substantial over lap between the contemporary streets of London and the days when and where Dicken’s Oliver Twist descended into gang life.
There are plenty of instances of people looking for places and things described in literature… Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station, for example.
Umberto Eco also takes up this idea in Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, but comes to a slightly different conclusion… with the descriptions of the streets of Paris in Dumas’ Three Musketeers. Eco takes his reader along as he shadows D’Artagnan through the streets of seventeenth-century Paris, but Dumas fools us and we cannot quite follow the trail, not because the streets are not there but because the trail doesn’t make physical, logical sense.
In both instances, whether the mapping is “accurate” or not, the idea or possibility of mapping reveals the uncertain boundary between story and history, between fiction and nonfiction. Fiction is dependent on reality (even fiction that seems most unreal); but reality, too, depends on fiction. What connects fiction and nonfiction is the underlying idea of story. Whether we are writing/reading the stories created by others for us or we are telling/listening to stories of friends, family, research participants’ lives we are making sense of the world through narrative, through story.
Can filmmaking deepen and broaden the scope of rigorous scholarship?
On June 27, 2016, Joel Bakan, Phillip Vannini and Charles Menzies discussed this question. Organized by UBC’s Public Scholars Initiative, three faculty who incorporate filmmaking into their research discussed the synergy between academic and artistic forms.
A challenging idea for many graduate students learning how to do interpretive and critical research is that one must make a commitment to a research methodology. The two most common errors/scenarios are that students want to begin with research methods (ways of making and analyzing data) or research design features (the most common is to say they want to do a case study, a topic I discuss in some detail here.)
I find Michael Crotty’s definitions and relationships among the elements that frame research helpful. See this image and here, for a short note on this.
A methodology is a framework that contains core ideas reflecting more fundamental epistemological and ontological groundings, but it also provides guidance on the focus of our inquiry, key concepts, values, and often a hint at methods (although this is a separate matter). A methodology contains core definitional foci and cue us to what to expect in a research project. Methodologies also give us a sense of what we might expect the outcome/product of the research to be, even though there is tremendous variation in representational forms within any methodology.
To help students understand what a methodology is and why we need one, I use the metaphor of methodology as recipe. A recipe is a framework for preparing food: it has a name that reflects what the outcome will be; a list of ingredients, procedural guidelines; tools and techniques; and often a color photo to show us what the food should look like when we are finished. And, different recipes illustrate fundamental differences. For example, a recipe for a chocolate cake and one for beef stew vary on all of these features and are therefore about something quite different. One would never follow a recipe for a chocolate cake and expect to end up with beef stew.
Chocolate Cake Beef Stew
flour, sugar, cocoa, eggs, butter beef, broth, carrots, potatoes, onions
whisking, stirring, mixing chopping, browning, deglazing
mixer, cake pan, whisk knives, heavy pot
baking braising, stewing
A methodology is a framework for doing research: it contains a name that reflects the outcome; what is needed to identify the research as being within that framework; procedures and tools; and we often have a general notion of what the outcome will look like.
culture, language, rituals, artifacts
field work: prolonged engagement, participant observation, interviewing, kinship charts, mapping, SNA
field notes, photographs, transcripts
thick description; analysis with cultural categories; emic perspective
Novice cooks and researchers are more likely to follow recipes closely, developing the knowledge and skills that will in time free them from a specific recipe while still working within the recipe framework. A good cook might substitute Guinness beer for some broth in the beef stew, but she is still making beef stew. An ethnographer might substitute live field note taking using social media for more traditional field notes, but she is still taking field notes.
Without a methodology a research project is ungrounded, drifting and has a high probability of being atheoretical. With a methodology, with a recipe, the researcher plans on making an ethnography or a narrative analysis or a hermeneutic investigation because the core ideas, the ingredients, the tools are valued and indeed reflect deeper senses of the nature of both the world and knowledge about it.
Camilo Jose Vergara’s project Tracking Time is a repository of images of poor, urban American built environments. Returning year after year, Vergara photographs the same buildings and streetscapes to chronicle the transformation of the built environment, transformations that often illustrate decay but sometimes redemption and revival.
In these images there are “fragments of stories and urban themes in need of definition and further exploration.” “I think of my images as bricks that, when placed next to each other, reveal shapes and meanings of neglected urban communities.”
Vergara’s project illustrates a critical source of sociological understanding of human nature by chronicling the spaces humans create, inhabit, and reinvent. Urban life is, of course, revealed in the faces and stories of people, but equally in the bricks and streetscapes created by those people.
There are a number of journals that focus exclusively on narrative analysis/inquiry and so you might want to browse the tables of contents of various issues. There are many more journals (qualitative research focused and topical) that publish narrative analyses, but these will give you a quick entry into the methodology.
- Narrative and Conflict: Explorations in Theory and Practice
- Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics: A Journal of Qualitative Research
- Narrative Inquiry
- Narrative Works: Issues, Investigations & Interventions
Here also is a short list of published narrative analysis studies… these are not necessarily exemplary, but they are in different fields, use different kinds of data, and different kinds of analysis. Look at a few (not necessarily for a close reading) to get a better sense of what narrative inquiry looks like.
A SAMPLE OF NARRATIVE STUDIES
Bareiss, W. (2015). Adolescent Daughters and Ritual Abjection: Narrative Analysis of Self-Injury in Four US Films. Journal of Medical Humanities.
Boje, D.M. (1991). The Storytelling Organization: A Study of Story Performance in an Office-supply Firm. Administrative Science Quarterly 36:106-126.
Brewer, T. J. & deMarrais, K. (2015). Teacher for America counter-narratives: Alumni speak up and speak out. Peter Lang.
Connelly, F. M., & Clandinin, D. J. (1999). Shaping a professional identity: Stories of educational practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Dean, R.G. (1995). Stories of AIDS: The Use of Narrative as an Approach to Understanding in an AIDS Support Group. Clinical Social Work Journal 23(3), 287-304.
Elliott, H., Squire, C., & O’Connell, R. (2017). Narratives of normativity and permissible transgression: Mothers’ blogs about mothering, family and food in resource-constrained times. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 18(1).
Frank, A. K. (2016). What is the story with sustainability? A narrative analysis of diverse and contested understandings. Journal of Environmental Studies and Science, 1 – 14.
Hamilton, H. (2008). Narrative as Snapshot: Glimpses into the Past in Alzheimer’s Discourse. Narrative Inquiry 18(1), 53-82.
Hoecker, R. (2014). Visual narrative and trauma recovery. Narrative Inquiry, 24(2), 259-280.
Langellier, K. (2001). ‘You’re Marked’: Breast Cancer, Tattoo and the Narrative Performance of Identity. In Narrative and Identity: Studies in Autobiography, Self, and Culture, edited by J. Brockmeier and D. Carbaugh. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Minde, J. (2015). Exploring the Nature of Narrative Analysis in Maps: the Case Study of the Georgia-South Ossetia Conflict. Narrative and Conflict: Explorations in Theory and Practice, 2(1), 19-33.
Mumby, D.K. 1993. Narrative and Social Control: Critical Perspectives. Newbury Park: Sage.
Ochs, E., R. Smith, and C. Taylor. (1989). Dinner Narratives as Detective Stories. Cultural Dynamics 2:238-257.
Page, R., Harper, R. & Frobenius, M. (2013). From small stories to networked narrative: The evolution of personal narratives in Facebook status updates. Narrative Inquiry, 23(1), 192-213).
Riessman, C.K. (2000). Stigma and Everyday Resistance Practices: Childless Women in South India. Gender & Society 14(1):111-135.
Sparkes, A. (1996). The fatal flaw: A narrative of the fragile body-self. Qualitative Inquiry, 2(4), 463-494.
Winkel, G. (2014). When the pendulum doesn’t find its center: Environmental narratives, strategies, and forest policy change in the US Pacific Northwest. Global Environmental Change, 27, 84-95.
This image, a family photograph, taken by Hannah Hawkes Photography has gone viral. Mostly people are outraged.
The image is a disturbing one, to be sure… a mother and her daughters with their mouths taped shut and bound with holiday lights while the father and son smile, declaring “peace on earth” and giving a thumbs up.
Why the outrage? Seems the family requested the picture and the photographer accommodated their request. What the family’s motivations were is unknown, as is often the case with images. Often the photographer’s intentions are also unknown, but in this case Hannah Hawkes decided to reveal her intentions/interpretations of the photograph. She thought it was humorous, a joke, and her subsequent post made this clear.
After being silent, now isn’t that ironic, I would like to speak! I have been called every name in the book, and have received some very hateful and vulgar comments and messages. I would like to say that as a female I do NOT and have never promoted violence to women! I do not support abuse, or the degradation of women. My controversial photo was taken by request by the family, and was in no way meant to promote abuse. This photo was taken with humor in mind, and was meant as a comical Christmas photo. I personally know this family, and have known them for many years. They are not abusive to their children in any shape or form. Also, I would like to add that no one was harmed during the process! So everyone have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS and MAY GOD BLESS you and yours!
If the photograph is funny it is certainly an example of black humor, but there’s no indication that the family or photographer were so motivated or that sophisticated in their thinking about this image. (The claim no one was harmed during the process may indicate the photographer’s lack of awareness of what constitutes ‘harm’ and suggests a simplistic conception of the relationship between photographer and image-making.)
So, the outrage depends on the context… a family photographer who takes pictures her clients want taken, but has seemingly little awareness of the meaning of what she is doing. Given that, the outrage makes sense. Viewers see this image as misogynist because both those being photographed and the photographer lead us to a literal reading of the image.
Put this same image in other contexts, say an arts based investigation of gender relations, and the image turns from disgusting and outrageous to powerful and evocative. In the first instance the image promotes the subjugation of women, in the second the image reveals that subjugation. This revelation is powerful because of the juxtaposition of middle class bucolic family imagery with the silencing and restraint of women alongside the freedom of men. The family image punctuates the message by focusing on the inter-generational perpetuation of women’s subjugation… the young boy’s grinning thumbs up reveals the arrogance and smugness of the power men feel they have/have over women. Yesterday, The Guardian published a story titled The Year in Sexism: How Did Women Fare in 2015? and the bottom line is not so well. That story didn’t go viral, and fewer people were outraged… but the messages in the story and this image are consistent and complementary.
Images compel emotional responses and we can use them both to learn about social phenomena (like family, gender relations, southern cultural norms, and so on) and to communicate about social relations. The literal intention of the family and photographer, the support for the photograph expressed in comments on the FB page, the outrage of media outlets, and the image as found data all speak to the power of images in human experience and understanding. Powerful, never simple… never literal in what they may reveal.
A good theory is an act of the informed imagination — it reaches toward the unknown while grounded in the firmest foundations of the known.
~ Maria Popova