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Narrative Analysis

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Narrative Analysis

Moving from content analysis to narrative analysis is stepping over a methodological line. The same is true when moving from narrative analysis to action research, which is discussed in the next chapter. These moves require the researcher to change the paradigm in which he or she operates. Like content analysis, the study of narratives is a flexible approach that can be used with both written and oral communications, and in a variety of settings. Like content analysis, narrative analysis also addresses questions about what was said, who said it, and to whom it was said. Like content analysis, decisions have to be made early concerning the technical procedures for completing the analysis.

Narrative analysis parts ways with content analysis at this point; it goes deeper into the causes, explanations, and effects of the spoken word. It has the following features: (1) addresses nuances and innuendos, (2) focuses on what is said, as well as why, and with what effect it is said, (3) assembles a data set that can become larger at any time, (4) tellers of the narratives are the experts of their own stories, (5) an analysis can be as fine-tuned as needed for the research agenda at hand, (6) emotion and non-verbal behavior can be included as part of the analysis, and (7) allows for broad or thematic understandings of the conflict processes that capture not only what is said, but the meaning behind it.

Action research, on the other hand, starts with a real-life problem that is usually community based. Action researchers take seriously the shortcomings of traditional research methods and take into account the contributions of post-modernist, feminist, and critical theory (Stringer, 1999). In action research, like narrative analysis, the subjects are active participants in the process. Also like narrative analysis, the methods used in action research are interpretive and reflective, and there is an implied practical outcome to the research. Both of these methods may also encompass several disciplines.

The criticisms of narrative analysis are as follows: (1) it relies on interpretation both by the parties and the researcher or practitioner, (2) new information can be added, thereby forcing a continuing analysis, (3) validity is applicable only within the certain narrative (that narrative is true for that person), and (4) reliability usually lies only within the specialized knowledge of the one person telling the story.

The study of narratives began historically with the study of languages and later in terms of poetics and semantics. Recent years have seen an increased interest in narratives, especially emerging from post-modernist and feminist literature. At the same time, the work of analyzing narratives and discourse has become easier due to the development of computer software to aid in the transcribing, analyzing, and coding of vast amounts of qualitative data. The connections between narrative theory and practice are just beginning to be made in conflict analysis and resolution (e.g., Senehi, 2002). The study of protracted, seemingly unresolvable conflicts requires an in-depth method of research and analysis. These “stories” about conflicts reflect how people see a dispute, that is, their version of reality. Because the story of one participant in a conflict situation often contradicts or opposes another participant's in the same conflict, the task of the researcher as well as the practitioner is to untangle the truth from the fiction, the real from the imagined, and to locate those places in the tales that are congruent, perhaps in agreement, and overlapping. This process of untangling hopefully allows the third party to bring the disputants to a place where they could at least hear and understand the other person's story. This is similar to what Winslade and Monk (2000) refer to as the deconstructive phase in mediation, where the third party asks “questions that will open up space for reconsideration of the conflict-saturated story” (p. 78).

Overview of the Approach

The current work on narratives falls into two general categories: first, research methods and tools for analysis and, second, theories about what narratives can and do tell us about people and situations in conflict. There have been many contributions to the understanding of the use of narratives for comprehending varying perspectives in a conflict situation. These contributions lead the researcher to several considerations that need to be examined in order to proceed with the analysis.

The first consideration has to do with the worldview model in two senses, for the study of the narrative itself and to serve as a window for studying a person's approach to the conflict. The first use of worldview has to do with the studying of the narratives. Cortazzi (1993) presented several models for studying them: sociological (the social context of the telling of the story), socio-linguistic (the ways in which stories arise), psychological (the process of understanding, recalling, and summarizing stories), and anthropological (how the structure, function, and performance of stories vary across cultures). The researcher must choose a model that both fits the needs of the research project and that he or she is comfortable using. Although each of these approaches tells about a particular aspect of the narrative, it may be necessary to develop an interdisciplinary approach, especially when working in a field like conflict resolution. It is very seldom that conflicts can be understood from a single model.

The second use of worldview has to do with the orientation of the person in the conflict. Antaki (1988), who focused his research on everyday talk as a window into a person's worldview, has “two observations about explanations-that they have the power to challenge social realities, and that they seem to be implicated in changes in people's behavior” (p. 1). Explanations occur in the public domain, explaining the event and the person's place in it, and in the private domain, which reflects, for all practical purposes, the person's worldview. The latter is the personal account of the reasons why things happen the way that they do, the individual's feelings about what happened, and that individual's behavior as influenced by the event.

The second consideration has to do with how much attention is to be paid to voice and position in the conflict. Genette (1980) stresses the need to look at the context of the story in terms of whether it is being told in the first, second, or third person. Voice can also include the position of the speaker; the teller of the story has two choices as far as position to the narrator, that is, the story can be told by one of the characters or by someone from outside the story. The implications for the analysis for the theory of voice are that those that hear the narrative also take part in the writing and rewriting of it. A possible corollary to that would be that narratives can and do have audiences that are not always the intended ones. Another implication for CA&R is that the researcher can tell how closely the storyteller sees himself or herself to the conflict by the tense of the voice he or she uses in telling the story. The positioning by the storyteller can also aid the researcher in determining who to interview and the necessary content of the interview.

The third consideration has to do with timing. Genette (1980) talks about the party's perception of timing, that is whether the story is told in past, present, or future tense. Another consideration of timing is, whether or not the story that is told is a single narrating event, a story told about the same topic or incident over time, or different stories over time. In order to analyze this, he suggests that the researcher look at the order, duration, and frequency of the narrative. Greene (1986) discusses plotting sequences and how the organization of memories as schemas guides the interpretation of events, utterances, and written texts. The tools that she offers are similar to a popular model used in conflict analysis referred to as SPITCEROW (Sources, Parties, Issues, Tactics, Changed, Enlarged, Roles, Outcome, Winner), which emphasizes the story, setting, theme, plot, episode, attempt, resolution, and goal. An implication of this for CA&R would be that the researcher is able to examine the party's version of the timing of the dispute by studying the tense of the verbs used by the storyteller.

Another theoretical angle for studying narratives is to examine the temporal associations of and within stories. Toolan (1988) gives an outline of the factors to look for when studying text and time, such as the order in which things are told; the duration of the text, summary, and scene; the frequency with which a single story incident is told; and how long after the incident took place the story was told. Historical knowledge that is presented as stories told about history through the eyes of one person is only as real as the teller's perception of them. Historical knowledge and narrative truth can be very different entities depending on who is telling the story and the amount of time that has elapsed between the actual event and its telling. Stories tend to be retold so that the timing is appropriate.

A fourth consideration has to do with the importance of the organization of the story. Riessman (1993) presents an example of how someone organizes his or her story and shows that the parts of the story are organized by their function. Bell (1988) illustrates the abstract thinking, the orientation to time and place, the complicating action of how that person sees the conflict evolving, and the resolution or finalization of the story. This process allows the researcher to show how stories move through time, are indicative of the individual's ongoing experience, and illustrate the teller's image of himself or herself in history, that is, the difference between “I did this” and “This happened to me.” These truths for the teller do not reveal the past as it actually was, but they do tell the researcher truths about the person's experience through his or her own interpretation of the events. The researcher can then determine whether the person sees himself or herself as an active agent in the conflict, an innocent bystander, or someone who could be seen only as a victim of the circumstances of the conflict. Each of these orientations to the world influences our interpretation and shapes the meanings we derive from our experiences, that is, how we tell the story about the conflict.

Another aspect of orientation to a conflict is explored by Martin (1986). He discusses that “like Janus, the reader is always looking backward as well as forward, actively restructuring the past in light of each new bit of information” (p. 127). This is particularly interesting for conflict narratives because, according to Martin, “We read events forward (the beginning will cause the end) and meaning backward (the end, once known, causes us to identify its beginning)” (p. 127). For stories told about historical events, it would be naive to assume that there is one true interpretation of those events. When talking about the historical events of a conflict, the researcher can never expect for the one and only truth to be spelled out, if indeed any truth is revealed at all. The most that can be relied upon is, first, the fact that the teller of the story believes his or her story to be true and, second, that the actual facts of what happened may never be known for certain. Martin acknowledges the importance of looking at three other factors in the study of narratives: temporality, causality, and human interest, studying whether or not these fit together in the story and understanding that they may be socially constructed.

Other analysts have claimed that deep narrative structures are really patterns of meaning, not action. These cannot be explained within the rules of the society, but they are about the rules of the society. Brown and Yule (1983) posit that there are two types of language: transactional, which serves in the expression content or substance, and interactional, which is involved in expressing social relations and personal attitudes. The latter is especially important in understanding the underlying issues in a conflict. The authors also discuss schemata as being the organizational “background knowledge which leads us to expect or predict aspects in our interpretation of discourse” (p. 248). The assumption here is that background knowledge is shared by others and that we assume that others are using the same information and schema for interpreting the same events. This is not always the case when studying the narratives of conflicts, especially cross-cultural ones. This assumption can lead third parties into problems with the analysis. People orient their stories around those rules that tell them both about the conflict itself and the rules of the society that help them understand the conflict; this is partly due to the next consideration, which is culture.

A fifth consideration has to do with the sensitivity to culture. Swearingen (1990) points out that in different cultural contexts, there are distinctions between say and mean, text and interpretation, truth and falsehood, logic and poetry, and history and fiction. These cultural meanings may not be clear when studying narratives outside of your own culture. Scheub (1975) posits this cultural piece in yet another way, in terms of experience. Stories must be understood by the audience in terms of their common experience, the societal norms, and the external reality. Listeners must be able to relate the story to something in their past experience and the cultural norms they are accustomed to.

Duranti (1988) also offers a cross-cultural perspective to the understanding of discourse, and in particular, speech events. He demonstrates how discourse is part of the narrator's cultural construction of reality and how the very definitions of speaker and hearer may be culturally defined. Therefore, he concludes that discourse analysts must take the perspectives of the tellers of and participants in the narrative. All narratives and discourse are situated within a particular culture and must be understood within that specific context. For the same reason, it should not be assumed that a particular speech community is homogeneous, that variations might occur within that community in spite of the obvious cultural ties. White (1980) adds, “Far from being a problem, the narrative might well be considered a solution to a problem of general human concern, namely the problem of how to translate knowing into telling, the problem of fashioning human experience into a form assimilable to structures of meaning that are generally human rather than culture-specific” (p. 1). The lack of sensitivity to a specific culture should not stop the researcher from studying the narratives of that particular culture, but should rather raise a cautionary note in terms of understanding and interpreting narratives from cultures not familiar to the researcher.

A sixth consideration has to do with the method of eliciting a narrative. When the researcher asks broad-based, open-ended questions, respondents do not feel that their story is suppressed by attempting to limit their responses to “relevant” answers to narrowly specified questions. In other words, the interviewee is not kept to “a point” but rather is allowed to tell his or her entire story. The focus is kept on the person-centered feature of the account. There needs to be a balance between what the researcher wants to ask about and what the interviewee wants to talk about; the balance will dictate what is important in the interview. Mishler (1986) illustrates how the interviewee and the interviewer construct meaning together during the interview in an interactional context. In narrative analysis, researchers are not out to validate the accurateness of the person's story, but rather to discover the meaning of it. Just as in conflict analysis, it is not so much the accuracy of the “facts” presented, but the person's perception of the facts and his or her reaction to them that is most useful. These meanings are grounded within the particular conflict. It is the responsibility of the researcher to elicit and construct meaning during the interview process or to triangulate the intended meaning with the interviewee after the fact. This is done by asking carefully constructed questions and then listening closely to the answers.

Narrative Theory

Narrative theory has developed from several disciplines. It is still evolving, and those that analyze narratives are pushing the proverbial “envelope” of what it means to do “narratology” and how it can be applied for research purposes. Theories, models, and frameworks are being developed to meet the needs of those researching in the conflict field. It is recognized that the telling of and listening to stories are influenced by gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and class. These ways of telling and hearing stories are still being explored and documented. It is a given that they are not ideologically neutral.

Theoretically, narratives can tell us many things about conflicts and the people involved in them. What they can tell us is still being explored and documented. In addition to the considerations mentioned above, some of the research shows that narratives can help understand (a) the connections between the storyteller's truth and fiction, (b) differences in what the various types of narratives tell us, and (c) what narratives can tell us about the mind. These theoretical underpinnings are discussed in this section.

Narratives contain elements of both truth and fiction, but they are the story that people tell about themselves and the world around them. One important piece of this research as it applies to the study of conflicts is the fact that people, when they tell stories of any length, put prolepses (flashbacks) and analepses (flash-forwards anticipating a future situation) into their stories. These prolepses and analepses are told by choice according to Richter (1996); that is, they are specifically selected by the teller of the story in order to emphasize certain parts and perhaps convince the listener of the value of that particular part of the story. He suggests that the tellers of stories like “clean beginnings and tidy endings” (p. 98).

The individual telling the story wants it to make sense, be convincing, and wants the listener to believe that it is true. We, the listeners, tend to distrust any sign of artifice in a story. A story told out of order is likely to be a sign of the manipulation of that story. In conflict resolution, the stories that the parties tell us about conflicts are their versions of the events. If we disbelieve one portion of the story, we are likely to disregard the entire story. The researcher needs to examine the presumed factual accounts in a particular narrative and how they are used to persuade the reader of their validity. The power, position, and range of influence of the person asserting the idea have to do with how well it is accepted and transferred into everyday conversation. Also, in order to maintain the appearance of truth, the narrative must seem consistent to the teller and the hearer. The text must be plausible as it relates to everyday life. These presumed factual accounts are key features by which the researcher can construct various versions of a conflict.

There are differences in what various types of narratives can tell us about a person or the conflict. This can be observed in terms of natural versus contrived speech and natural versus artificial narratives. According to Grimshaw (1974), there are four types of narrative data: speech observed in natural settings, speech observed in contrived settings, elicited speech in response to direct inquiry, and historical and/or literary materials. One of the points of analyzing narratives would be to uncover as much “natural” speech as possible from the participants in the study, that is, to uncover the aspects of the conflict from an emic perspective (see Chapters 1 and 8). Interviewing in the field, meeting the interviewees in their natural surroundings, and letting them determine the course of the conversation would be as close as a researcher could get to speech observed in natural settings. In contrast, most research interviewing is speech elicited in response to direct inquiry, as is often done in laboratory settings.

Another distinction can be made between interviewing that produces real-time speech and written text, which is secondhand and has been pre-prepared or polished before being given to the interviewer. It can be suggested that standard questions or prepared text in an etic research tradition (see Chapter 1) may eliminate the role of certain non-verbal behaviors, emotions, and contextualized speech. If the questioning in a conflict situation is kept as spontaneous as possible, then it is more likely that the researcher would be getting the narrative truth from the interviewee, that is, how the world is seen through his or her eyes.

With regard to the distinction between artificial and natural narratives, van Dijk (1975) concludes that the former is an art form such as myth, folktale, drama, and novels, that is, they have a constructed nature and occur within a storytelling context; and the latter is everyday conversation, that is, they are stories that we tell each other about our personal experiences. It would seem logical that natural narratives would tend to be more factual than stories that were told for the purpose of entertainment. According to van Dijk (1975), actions occur in two different ways within narratives: The doing is real and factual, and the interpretation of the doing is subjective. In the case of conflict narratives, the doing is in the actions of the person in the conflict, and the interpretation of the doing can be done by both the person in the conflict and the researcher as they co-create the meaning in the interview or story. Methodologically, this can be reinforced by rechecking with the interviewee after the transcription and coding processes are complete in order to triangulate his or her findings. This process provides the interviewee with the opportunity to authenticate or repudiate the subjective interpretations of the researcher. This deep discussion of the interpretation of the narrative is where the co-creation of the narrative becomes complete.

The third theoretical underpinning addresses what narratives can tell us about the mind and its products. Chafe (1990) sees narratives as sources of insight into the mental processes and as “overt manifestations of the mind in action: as windows to both the content of the mind and its ongoing operations” (p. 79). This is also another way of looking at bias and its creation. He says that narratives give us evidence of “the fact that the mind does not record the world, but rather creates it according to its own mix of cultural and individual expectations” (p. 81). The schemas are the structures of expectations, and that another function of the mind is to process events that are contrary to those expectations. The mind also requires certain types of information in order to operate, such as space, time, social context, and ongoing events. Chafe makes an observation that is very central to the field of conflict resolution: “that different people may supply very different narratives of a physically identical input” (p. 96). This observation is certainly true of parties in a conflict. The mind does not record events factually but rather creates its own ideas of how the world works based on the schema already in place. Parties to a conflict play out these schemas through the narratives they tell about their conflicts.

There is also a connection between what is said and what is meant by what is said. Draper (1988) states, “It is widely recognized that the meaning of sentences can depend in part on the ‘context’ and that things may be left unsaid if the hearer can fill them in” (p. 17). If the speaker or writer thinks that the reader or listener can fill in the empty spaces, those details will be left out of the conversation. Individual narratives give us ideas about the world and the mental processes by which the storyteller came to those ideas, representing both his or her sources of information and how that information is processed.

Analysis of Narratives

Narrative researchers are faced with having to make a number of decisions about how to proceed with data collection. Five kinds of decisions can be articulated.

  • Because stories are temporally situated, a decision must be made as to whether to conduct multiple interviews with the same person over time or rather to conduct one interview with each person and ask him or her to reflect forward and backward in time.
  • Should the interviewer ask the interviewee to address specific points and questions where the researcher leads the conversation or rather let the interviewee determine the course of the discussion and simply ask appropriate follow-up questions?
  • The researcher should examine the advantages of studying the narratives in a contrived setting versus letting the interviewee determine what to him or her would be a natural setting.
  • Should the researcher study what someone involved in the conflict states publicly or rather what he or she says privately in everyday, demotic conversation? (Demotic conversation refers to non-specialized, non-formal, everyday language. For more on this distinction, see Johnston, 2000.)
  • Last, should the researcher question the interviewee when he or she notices inconsistencies in the stories or wait until those inconsistencies are mentioned, as an indicator of their importance?

Several researchers have offered methods for analyzing narratives and discourse. The method chosen for a particular research project depends on the type of information needed and the level of accuracy the research requires. Most models recommend that the research be conducted in the most natural situation possible and allow the interviewee to use his or her own language. Most also suggest that some attempt be made to render contextual judgments between the narrative and the situation in which it is grounded. Many suggest that some attempt be made to understand the mental processing or worldview of the interviewee. And many suggest the emphasis should be not on the exact recall of data, but rather on the interviewee's interpretation of that data.

It is also often recommended that: (1) the narratives be audiotaped to allow for more in-depth analysis, (2) they be transcribed as accurately as possible because the transcription allows for a deeper understanding of them, and (3) only the researcher decides when he or she has enough information in order to conclude the research project. Several levels of understanding are obtained from listening in several ways: conducting the interview, listening to the audiotape after the interview, transcribing the interview, and studying the interview after the transcription. If many interviews are being conducted, then a yet deeper level of understanding can be attained from comparing these interviews or by comparing different interviews with the same person over time.

The degree of accuracy to which the transcriptions are done is up to the researcher and the needs of the project. The language of the narratives can be examined down to the minutest detail, including every utterance and false start, or done more thematically, capturing more of the essence of what someone deems important. The starting point for the researcher should be the points of interest or the focus of the project itself and the issues raised by the interviewees during the process. In this sense, the themes that emerge from the research process can be both inductive and deductive.

Determining the unit of analysis, either individual words or more general themes, is a decision that needs to be made by the researcher prior to the beginning of the coding process. If words are the unit of analysis, then the researcher runs the risk of losing more general thoughts or patterns of thoughts provided by the interviewee, but gains a determination of which words are common to the language of the interviewee, which words the interviewee uses to describe things, and how often these words are used in everyday conversation. On the other hand, if thematic coding is utilized, the researcher may lose some of the intricacies of the language, but gains a broader understanding of the kinds of issues that are important to the interviewee. These issues are similar to those discussed in Chapter 9 on content analysis.

In terms of analyzing conflict narratives, other questions arise that are specific to CA&R. In the analysis of conflict narratives, the researcher can study the stories for the interviewee's perception of the following questions.

  • Who are the primary and secondary parties to the conflict, and how does the interviewee situate him- or herself in the conflict?
  • What are the parties' issues and needs?
  • How do the parties seek to resolve their conflict?
  • How do the parties link the causal and resultant factors of the conflict?
  • How do the parties explain their motivations for action?
  • What values do the parties discuss and which values are implied by what they say?
  • How does the interviewee see the conflict situated in time and place?
  • What resources are committed toward the conflict?
  • Are there any evident turning points or critical junctures in the conflict?
  • Are there inconsistencies in the narrative and does the interviewee discuss the inconsistencies?
  • Does the narrative match behaviors observed by the researcher?
  • How does the interviewee see the conflict being resolved or what does he or she view as the best-case scenario?
  • Are there latent aspects to the conflict that have yet to erupt?
  • Are there cycles apparent in the conflict and, if so, at what stage is the conflict in now?
  • Will the interviewee's goals be met by the resolution of the conflict?

The coding process can be taken one step further in order to increase reliability. Codes can be developed by a team of researchers and carried out independently by several coders. In this manner, the various coders can then compare their findings with each other. This also allows for a deeper understanding of the narratives being studied because each coder will bring to the research project his or her own biases conditioned by culture and context. Themes can then be developed from the understanding of the conflict narratives, and a deeper understanding of the conflict emerges.


The coding process described above is demonstrated with the following except from a narrative text related to the conflict over tobacco (Johnston, 2000).1


1. “I” indicates the interviewee and “R” indicates the researcher. Person-identifiable information has been removed.

I: The future don't look bright.

R: Uh-huh. Would you recommend to someone that they, that they start in the business now?

I: No.

R: Like if, if your sons for instance, if one of your sons wanted to start, would you recommend that he do that?

I: In tobacco?

R: Yes.

I: No. I couldn't honestly recommend that. Ah, like I said, with my son, we were in the dairy business also. Two dairy farms. One at each, each place. And of course, we raised tobacco too, but not as much tobacco as we do now. And, ah, it, it was, even, even in the dairy business, it was, was tough to make a living. A living, [pause], living that ah, that ah, he wanted. And ah, he had this girl and he says 'this girl don't want to marry a farmer.' [laughter]. I think that that was one, one of the reasons, reasons that he, he had a different girlfriend and he was getting of the age that he wanted to settle down, get married, and raise a family. This girl just don't want to marry a damn farmer. [laughter]. And so, I, I can sort of understand why. And I think that he did too and I think that that's one of the reasons, reasons that he went back to school and went into accounting. He stayed at home and still lived on the farm. And ah, transferred what credits he could from [name of university] and took it and got a degree in accounting. And was done. He's done real well. Worked for [name of company] for several years. And then he went to work for this private concern. Helped him out. But I couldn't, I couldn't do it. You, you've got to be pretty shifty, and ah, some of them will make it, but they will have to do other things on top of it. To help get 'em along.

R: Uh-huh. You mean, grow other things or do other work?

I: Oh, yeah. Grow other things. You can't keep, there's very few people today in this area that grow tobacco, and don't do other…. [pause]. We, I have, we have cattle on my farm. Beef cattle. A cow calf operation. But ah, tobacco [sigh] [long pause], in the last two or three years for me has not been a sound thing. Because I bought it, I bought poundage and now there's people that are in it, and it's been, but ah, up until this time, it's been okay and I didn't raise it, that many acres.

R: Uh-huh. And you had the dairy farms and everything too.

I: Yeah. We had other but ah, we got out of the dairy business. Because it was these people would leave and that would, yes, for myself, yes, I would raise it. But physically, I couldn't. I might do a small patch, but physically I just couldn't. I couldn't do the work that's necessary to raise fifty acres. It's not as much in the flue-cured, flue-cured area, you have more of that.

Source: Johnston (2000) excerpt from Interview #3, May 13, 1999.

Using the 15 coding questions above, the researcher can discern the following information from this excerpt.

  • The interviewee sees himself as a primary party in the center of the conflict but is easing himself out of it by getting out of the dairy business and farming in general, and by encouraging his son to go to college instead of work on the farm. He is still a primary party in the sense that he continues to raise tobacco.
  • This farmer sees his issues as the need to make a living, physically not being able to do the work, and wanting something different for his son.
  • This party seeks resolution of the conflict by removing himself from tobacco growing.
  • The interviewee spoke earlier in the interview very passionately about not being able to make a living at growing tobacco any longer and the acknowledgement of tobacco as a health risk. (He had quit smoking for health reasons.) In this segment, he talks about not being able to make a living but does not expound on the reasons why.
  • He explains his motivations for action by saying that he was not getting a “sound thing.” He also explains his son's motivation for going to college because his girlfriend did not want to marry a farmer.
  • The farmer refers to some people being “pretty shifty” The tone of his voice is condescending as he says this. It doesn't seem to be worth it to him to do what he sees he would have to do to “make it.” He also puts a strong value on his son having done real well. He implies a value on his own health by not doing the difficult physical labor any longer.
  • The interviewee refers to the conflict over tobacco mostly in the past tense. This is probably due to the fact that he is, for the most part, retired and no longer growing as much tobacco.
  • He is no longer committing resources toward the conflict, but speaks in the past tense about buying poundage (of tobacco) and adding to his farm by also raising beef and dairy farming.
  • In this segment of the narrative, there are no evident turning points or critical junctures. However, he does speak in the past tense about several key decisions: getting out of the dairy business, no longer buying poundage, of tobacco no longer being a “sound thing,” and wanting his son to have a different profession.
  • There are no apparent inconsistencies in this segment of the narrative. The interviewee did talk prior to the interview about growing tobacco and then not smoking cigarettes any longer.
  • There was no opportunity to observe the interviewee in action during this interview.
  • The interviewee does not see the conflict being resolved. He is avoiding the conflict by easing out of farming and retiring. He talks later in the interview about people still wanting to smoke and assuming, therefore, that there will probably always be a need for tobacco.
  • There are latent aspects to this conflict, such as when people lose their farms and when they are forced to take other jobs, but those aspects are not discussed in this segment.
  • The only cycle apparent in this segment of the narrative is the de-escalation of the impact of tobacco in this man's life. By retiring, he is removing himself from the dispute.
  • The goals of this interviewee are being met by retiring and having his son enter into another business. This does not represent a resolution to the conflict over tobacco but rather a resolution of the problem it poses in this interviewee's life and the life of his son.

Clearly, this interviewee is in the middle of the conflict over tobacco. He sees himself involved in a process of change, particularly related to the changes going on around him in the tobacco industry and farming in general. For his son and himself, certain choices have been made that will eventually take him out of farming altogether and discourage his son from farming at all. For this man, the conflict over tobacco is not resolved; he is, rather, choosing to distance himself from it. This man still sees himself as a farmer in terms of identity but is farming less and less. He explains this primarily in three ways: (a) the conflict over tobacco is forcing him out of farming, (b) his age is keeping him from doing the necessary labor associated with farming, and (c) he is discouraging his son from following in his footsteps and encouraging him to make other career choices.

This interview represents just one coding example of conducting narrative analysis that is useful for analyzing conflicts. Conflict themes can be developed by studying multiple interviews with many different individuals or by conducting several interviews with the same person over time. In this research project, several conflict themes developed, which the author divided into four main categories of foundational narratives (those narratives that existed prior to the beginning of the current conflict), contextual narratives (those narratives that arose out of the current conflict), tangential narratives (those narratives that are related to the contextual narratives), and resultant narratives (those narratives that result from the current conflict). In this study about the conflict over tobacco, it is claimed that the discourses and narratives people use in a conflict situation are necessary for the understanding of protracted, complex conflicts. In the case of tobacco, the narratives drive the current conflict and may in fact also augment the next phase of the conflict.

Discussion Questions

Narrative analysis is connected more explicitly to a philosophical worldview than many of the other methods discussed in this book. Within the context of this philosophical orientation, the analysis of narratives produced through interviews can provide insightful interpretations of conflicts. Despite impressions that some people have about “unsystematic” qualitative approaches (see Chapter 1, footnote 1), narrative analysis is guided by a rule structure and can be facilitated by qualitative computer programs, as noted in this chapter. We believe that you will find this approach to be useful either in combination with or instead of other forms of content analysis. To help with your learning, we have prepared eight review questions.

  • What are some of the problems that are likely to be encountered when several individuals code the same narrative material?
  • What are some of the advantages of studying transcribed interview narratives compared to narratives taken from prepared written texts?
  • Describe some of the advantages and disadvantages of using narrative analysis versus content analysis in non-laboratory settings?
  • Give some examples of how narrative analysis might aid in the analysis of conflicts related to race, gender, or ethnicity.
  • When deciding on a process for analyzing a narrative, what factors might influence how exact the transcription needs to be? When would it be appropriate to include emotions, utterances, gestures, and other sights and sounds?
  • What are some aspects of the interview process that could influence the content of the narrative produced by that interaction?
  • How might action research lead to a preference for doing a narrative analysis?
  • How might a narrative analysis be useful for distinguishing between constructive and destructive elements in a particular conflict?

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