“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

Six word stories have been around for many years now, instigated by Hemingway’s six word story, the title of this post. (Caution: there is dispute about this authorial  attribution, but I’ll take the story at face value here.) Hemingway’s story contains three elements, a 2-2-2 form. (Another common form is 3 -3 and these forms contribute to the aesthetics of the story.) The first “for sale” calls to mind a recognizable trope, followed by “baby shoes” a recognizable object, but it is the third element that turns this into a story. “Never worn” can invoke many possible meanings, but perhaps most common is the tragedy of child loss. Those baby shoes were never worn, because the baby wasn’t there to wear them.

These examples from reddit show the continued appeal of this genre, and the claim is this is a new genre. A collection of six word stories can be found at Six Word Stories sorted by category. An off-shoot of six word stories is Six Word Memoirs. Most six word stories are published on the internet, rather than in books or journals.

In The Poetics of Six-Word Stories, David Fishelov provides a cogent analysis of six word stories as a genre. He identifies seven (alas not six) features of six word stories:

  1. a chain of events
  2. something implied
  3. punch line structure
  4. poetic/rhythmic structure
  5. realism
  6. contagiousness of the form (you will want to write one too)
  7. predominately a genre in English

Six word stories have only one explicit rule… that they be six words. But looking more analytically at these stories they also seem typically to require something implied, something not explicitly stated in the story… the possible death of the baby in Hemingway’s story. This very short story form has a contemporary appeal in an age of texts, memes, and tweets.

Many six word stories are primarily about the aesthetics, but as the reddit examples illustrate they are also stories filled with meaning and the telling is heart-felt. There are plenty of pedagogical uses of six word stories, but they may be useful in research, especially narrative research. From a research perspective, whether six word stories are literature is less important than whether they provoke reflection, illustrate human experience and meaning, and perhaps whether they are a window through which we can see other stories.

While six word stories stand alone, they might also be prompts for more discussion of experience and meaning… a beginning to a more elaborated story.

Six words, only six words, alas.

 

narrative inquiry ~ what does it look like?

imgresIf you are searching for understanding about what narrative inquiry is, here are some starting points.

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
  • Narrative Works: Issues, Investigations & Interventions
  • Storyworlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies
  • Journal of Narrative Politics

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. Note that most of these articles are not published in the journals listed above, there are many many journals that publish narrative studies.

the-storyteller

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).

Freeman, M., Mathison, S. & Wilcox, K. (2006) “I hear when. I don’t hear what:” Performing parental dialogues on high stakes testing. Cultural Studies « Critical Methodologies. 6(4).

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.

Gautreaux M. & Delgado, S. (2016). Portrait of a Teach for All (TFA) teacher: Media narratives of the universal TFA teacher in 12 countries. EEPA, 24, 110. http://dx.doi.org/10.14507/epaa.24.2149

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.

story versus narrative: a definitional note

Stories have a clear beginning, middle and end and solve a problem, sometimes a dramatic peripeteia and sometimes a small conundrum. Stories are explicit, told and retold.

Narratives are a story made up of many stories and may not have a clear end, and may not have a clear problem or may indeed have many problems within. Narratives are often unseen, unnoticed, unanalyzed, and powerful shapers of human experience.

Take, for example, the American Dream… this is a narrative, one that is manifest in many different contexts… the media, folklore, social institutions.  It is made up of many stories, some of them also possibly narratives. Stories within the American Dream are about work and effort and the relationship between the two; about opportunity, fairness and equality; about rights and responsibilities; about meritocracy and privilege; about democracy. It is a complex narrative which contributes to its power.

 

narrative and social change

There is the telling of a story and the hearing of a story. Researchers often focus on telling the story, whether it is an individual, organizational or cultural story. If narrative is a fundamental as Jerome Bruner and others say it is, then both parts… the telling and the hearing… are equally important. Story telling (narrative) that embraces the goal of social change requires both.

Narrative 4 is an initiative that:

harnesses the power of the story exchange to equip and embolden young adults to improve their lives, communities, and the world.

In workshops, young adults often with very different perspectives and life experiences are paired. Each tells their story and listens to the other’s story, and then each retells the other’s story… in the first person. This role reversal, taking the other’s perspective, is key to the transformative possibility of this approach, which is meant to capitalize on story telling to foster empathy and in school contexts also to:

  • Develop active listening skills
  • Engage in peer-to-peer learning
  • Practice public speaking skills
  • Improve self-reflection and self-awareness
  • Experience an overall increase in positive emotions

Narrative 4 projects focus on the environment, identity, immigration, faith, and violence, and capitalize on polar opposite life experiences and values. They have organized story exchanges with Jewish and Arab teenagers; survivors of the 2010 Haitian earthquake and Hurricane Katrina; victims of gun violence and gun advocatesstudents from poor and elite schools; intergenerational experiences; students and police. 

PhotoVoice is another methodology that has potential to explore narratives that foster awareness and change. Images that tell a story of lived experience are communicated in public presentations to inform and compel attention be paid to social change. Other participatory research approaches can and do incorporate story telling.

Many non-profits offer guidance for using story telling to support social change.

Frameworks Institute

Living Proof: Telling Your Story to Make a Difference (book)

Hatch for Good

Working Narratives

Story for All

StoryCorps

Spark Your Storytelling

 

a (hegemonic) narrative of old age

Perhaps inadvertently, Joseph Davis provides an excellent example of narrative inquiry in his article, No Country for Old Age. This is a cultural narrative, a story of how life is and ought to be lived… a story of what it means to age, and as Davis points out this is a hegemonic narrative, one that compels us to be a certain way.

In our society, to come directly to my point, old age is understood and framed in ways that lead inevitably to its devaluation. Its status is low and arguably is falling.

Davis highlights the role the burgeoning number of blogs play in defining aging, and how they promote defying age. He zeroes in on, Sixty and Me, a “community of 500,000 women over 60.”

Sixty and Me identifies itself as mainstream (no radical diets and exercise regimes). It is also full of advertisements, parts of posts written by experts, often with a product to sell to achieve the goal of aging as an independent, emancipated, enterprising and strong (youthful) woman. Celebrities, like Jamie Lee Curtis, set examples for aging… “If I can challenge old ideas about aging, I will feel more and more invigorated. I want to represent this new way. I want to be a new version of the 70-year-old woman. Vital, strong, very physical, very agile. I think that the older I get, the more yoga I’m going to do.” Aging requires more, not less work. “To look old is to be old.”

Davis looks also at other sources of this cultural narrative about aging… the pathologizing of aloneness into an epidemic of loneliness and the extreme medicalization of aging.

Loneliness has become a disease, one that will hasten your death and therefore must be warded off by vigilant attention to maintaining a social network as the antidote. This “loneliness” is caused by social conditions like high divorce rates, more single parent families, fewer close family networks.

Contributors to the public discussion frame loneliness itself as a kind of medical condition or disorder: It is something one “suffers from,” that is partly heritable, that has characteristic “symptoms” and “risk factors,” can become “chronic,” and needs to be “treated.”

As loneliness is medicalized, so in general is aging. Rather than a phase in the ebb and flow of life and death, being old is an illness (one to ward off as prescribed in blogs) and one that makes older people ever more medically scrutinized. Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Natural Causes analyzes this same narrative. This is a narrative supported by stacks of  self-help books aimed at the aging (including Ehrenreich who is 76) telling them to think in terms  of “active aging”, “productive aging”, “anti-aging”, even “reverse-aging.” A long life is promised to anyone who makes an effort, regardless of factors such as genetics or poverty.

Ehrenreich focuses especially on health checks, not those that are in response to obvious symptoms, but those that search for hidden problems… tests that lead often to false positives and over diagnosis… bone density scans, dental x-rays, mammograms, colonoscopies, CT scans. In part the medicalization of aging is a lucrative business and this is especially true in the US where many older people have health care coverage for the first time in their lives. With a PhD in cellular biology she provides more than a cultural critique.

Davis concludes with this:

Current constructions of old age in individualistic terms of self-reliance, the fit body, productive accomplishments, or an imperative to deny or defeat aging technologically cannot but deepen our predicament and the need to render it invisible.

This narrative of aging is hegemonic, it frames a normative way of being that is difficult to resist and overcome.  But, many experience aging not as a failure and consciously chose a different narrative, one that sees aging as something other than a poor approximation of youth. Aging sets limits, often vulnerability and dependence, or as Ehrenreich says, “an accumulation of disabilities,” all of which might be framed not in terms of youth but rather  the ethic of a well-lived life.

Narratives of stages of life are profound and powerful, they are culturally constructed and often become hegemonic… fortunately, human storytelling abilities opens possibilities to overcome their oppressiveness.

CAQDA ~ helpful hints and resources

Online QDA is a good resource to orient yourself to what computer assisted data analysis is and is not, preparing data for various software programs, and coding.

This site has videos, details about the most commonly used software packages, and useful references throughout.

Resources

QDA Software

ATLASti
DeDoose
The Ethnograph
HyperQualLite
HyperRESEARCH
MAXQDA
NVivo
QDA Miner
TAMS Analyzer
Textalyser
The Observer Collection
VisualText™
webQDA  
WEFT QDA
WordStat

Other Tools

Digital Research Tools Directory: DiRT
Evernote
Storyspace

Illustrated Interviews

Interviews are a series of questions and answers and as social scientists we presume both use words. More common in the arts community is the possibility answers can be entirely or partly in the form of drawings, illustrations, images. Thinking about illustrated interviews within social science opens possibilities in forms of thinking and representation that often go untapped in interviews.

Asking interviewees to draw pictures that become part of interviews is a strategy I have used with children. Studying the impact of high stakes testing on children, I asked them to draw a self-portrait whilst taking the test. They also wrote a caption for the self-portrait and these drawings were used to engage the children in an interview about their experience.

In this same study, children kept journals and were encouraged to  write and draw. Not every child drew but most did at least some of the time suggesting the flexibility to chose how they represented their experience enhanced the likelihood of authentic sharing. You can read a report of this research here.

The NYT does a series of illustrated interviews… asking simple questions and having celebrities draw responses, which are then modestly animated resulting in a sense of action. Some interviewees are skilled at drawing, many are not. The interviews share a common set of questions and thus reveal a “life” for each person.

There are examples of drawings that represent concepts or ideas, like Jennifer Burtchen’s drawings of time, her drawing of the “present” shown here. This is one of a series of illustrated interviews in the magazine Ignant.

 

Liana Finck and Amy Kurzweil are both cartoonists and in this interview about a book written by Finck they use drawings in the margins of a more typical Q & A format to amplify the written responses.

Incorporating illustrations in interviews can be done in a number of ways:

  • interviewees respond in drawings, sketches, or even photographs
  • interviewees generate drawings that are used during an interview
  • interviewer drawings are used to enhance, elaborate, accompany questions

There are many examples of using drawings when doing research with children, but this strategy can work with adults as well.

Ethics

I use this prezi when I teach about research ethics.

This issue of Forum: Qualitative Social Research has an extensive special section on research ethics. Topics include: conceptual frameworks, ethics codes and research review practices, and ethical issues in many different particular research contexts (indeed, most of the issue focuses on ‘ethics in practice’).

The Introduction concludes with this coda:

The present collection of studies concerning ethics in qualitative research bears testimony that the research community has come a long way from where it still had been in the 1960s, when research was conducted that obviously harmed participants and bystanders. It is exciting to see that qualitative researchers tend to treat ethics not as a code but as a characteristic of the relation between researcher and researched. Once we consider the relation as an event (rather than thing), it is immediately apparent that ethical questions never are resolved with some formal institutional approval of the research. Instead, ethical questions are aspects of human life and relations and thus continuously pose themselves anew, remain for a while, and die away only to be reborn again in some other form.

A very short note on mixed methods

The many guises of mixed methods…

Mixed methods are used when there are two or more types of:

➢ research questions
➢ sampling procedures
➢ data collection procedures
➢ data
➢ data analysis
➢ conclusions

It is relatively easy to mix methods at the methods level, i.e., when the intent is to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. This can be accomplished within a single method. For example, you might use observation as a method and use an inventory to record frequency of behaviors, interactions, and so on. You could also record dialogue or take field notes occurring during this same observation. But this strategy may also mean using a method that generates numbers (likert scale item survey) and a method that generates words (oral history interview).

Mixed methods research wants to move beyond this simple distinction of types of data and the field makes an effort to elevate the idea to a methodology, even sometimes crossing the epistemological boundaries of objectivism and social constructivism. A research study that uses interviews and participant observation, for example, is now not necessarily considered mixed methods research. Whereas, a research study that uses hermeneutics and times series analysis would be a mixed methods study. These different contexts also suggest the “mixing” can occur at different places within the research process.

Justification for mixed methods…

A primary justification for mixed methods is pragmatism. Pragmatism asserts no first or foundational principles and suggests that all human knowledge is empirical, what John Dewey called “empirical metaphysics.” I confess to being unclear how the philosophical position of pragmatism is a justification for mixed methods—how does the primacy of experience lead to any particular methodology or method? And, is this a confusion of pragmatism with being pragmatic?

Related to this pragmatic justification is the triangulation justification, especially more contemporary notions of triangulation that focus on the complementarity and complexity added by multiple data sources, analyses, and so on. See my discussion of triangulation along these lines here.

Feyerabend’s “anarchist epistemology” might also justify mixed methods, either within the same study or across studies of the same or similar phenomena. This is in the big picture a more dialectical approach, working iteratively across paradigms rather than necessarily combining paradigms.

To justify mixed methods, one must at some level reject the incommensurability argument, i.e., the argument that the differences in epistemological theories cannot be overcome. (Note that the incommensurability argument at the level of the unit of measurement is easily overcome.)

Here are some resources for further exploring mixed methods…

Bergman, M. (2008). (Ed.) Advances in mixed methods research: Theories and applications. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Creswell, J. W. & Plano-Clark, V. L. (2018). Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Greene, J.C. (2007). Mixed methods in social inquiry. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Journal of Mixed Methods Research
Tashakkori, A., & Teddlie, C. (2010). Handbook of mixed methods research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Teddlie, C., & Tashakkori, A. (2009). Foundations of mixed methods research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Coding

Coding is the basic building block of analysis, and while it seems straightforward to code your data, it usually turns out to be quite mysterious.

The first step in any analysis is to remind yourself of the methodology you have chosen, and analysis will be impossible (or at least atheoretical, merely descriptive) if you have not chosen a methodology! This provides the context for first deciding what purpose codes will serve. For example, if you are doing narrative analysis codes may be useful in specific ways related to the methodology, such as:

  1. identifying narrative components, such as characters, time sequences, plot elements
  2. counting particular words, phrases, metaphors, and so on
  3. labelling the concepts within the narrative

So codes can serve many purposes, and even within the same analysis often do serve many purposes. We are often examining the trees, but with an interest in seeing the forest.

Perhaps most commonly we use codes to identify concepts/bigger ideas reflected in our data and then look for intensity of concepts and patterns among concepts. In addition, codes can be counts (of words, phrases, ideas); markers for magnitude (how much of something is present/absent, simplistically perhaps as high, medium and low); and organizational (keeping track of demographics, labelling particularly evocative quotes, or as bookmarks during the coding process). But these purposes should not be muddled together.

Occasionally the question arises: how many codes do I need? There is no answer for this question, you need as many codes as you need for the purpose they serve. And, the number of codes evolves, ebbs and flows, in relation to answering the research questions posed within a particular methodological framework.

Coding, again informed by the tenets of a methodology, may be done inductively (from the bottom up; from the data to theory), deductively (from the top down; testing a theory with the data), or most commonly abductively (moving iteratively back and forth between data and theory). This is a decision that needs to be made explicitly.

Keeping track of codes, used for various purposes and changing, is greatly facilitated by CAQDAS… computer assisted qualitative data analysis software.