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  • 00:00

    [MUSIC PLAYING]I and nobody else would want to denythat narrative is important, in a sense, in its own right.

  • 00:20

    There is, of course, a long traditionof narrative analysis deriving from linguistics,and socio-linguistics, from discourse analysis,from linguistic anthropology.And those are very important.And I want to come back to that in just a second.What I want to argue, however, isthat too much of what's called qualitative research,at the moment, actually doesn't pay due respectto narrative analysis.

  • 00:50

    And doesn't treat narratives in the waythat I would want to see them treated.What do I mean by that?Well, a lot of people do what theysay is narrative analysis, through interviews, veryoften, or through other means of data collection.They collect what they call narratives.And very often you say, well, what do they do with them then?

  • 01:12

    And what they do is they reproduced them.They celebrate them.They argue, or at least imply, that by collectingthese narratives, by reproducing these narratives, somehowthey're giving us, the reader or the hearer,access to the private, the personal experiencesof the individual narrator.

  • 01:42

    Well, of course that's important.But it's not the whole story.And when I say I think we need to rescue narrativefrom that kind of qualitative research, what I'm sayingis OK, we have narratives.Narratives are pervasive.People produce stories in their everyday lives.People produce stories in their work environments.

  • 02:03

    People produce stories in order to create moral tales,in order to create tales of success or failure.But what are they doing with those stories?Or more, how are they constructing them?Narratives are not unmediated, direct representationsof your experience or mine.They're always shaped.

  • 02:24

    They have a form.They have a function.So as analysts or social scientists,we have to be, I think, careful not onlyto pay attention to what people are talking about,but also how.How are they talking about it?How are they constructing the stories?And if we return to what I said earlier,return to the work of linguists, return to the work of discourseanalysts, actually return to the work of some veryimportant literary theorists too,recognize that not only are these not transparent,they're not unmediated.

  • 03:02

    They actually have very clear structures.They have clear conventions.We have repertoires of ways of constructing stories.We have types of stories, like genre of stories.So having collected them, then we should analyze them.

  • 03:22

    We should understand how they're put togetheras particular kinds of social action, whatkinds of consequences one story has over another,or one way of telling a story over another.How do they construct the teller as a particular kind of person?How do they construct them as a particular kind of moral actor?

  • 03:44

    How do they construct their lives retrospectivelyand prospectively.So the argument, in a sense of whydo we need to rescue narratives, isn't to downgrade narrative.It's not to ignore narratives.On the contrary, it's what, I think,is to give them their full weight is to recognizethat they are, themselves, social forms, social products,social conventions that are used in particular kindsof cultural and social media, doneto organize, to reconstruct the biographical,to construct experience, not simply to reproduce itunproblematically.

  • 04:30

    And therefore, our job as social scientists-- and Idon't have a problem with calling myselfa social scientist-- is to treat those as data, like any data,analyze them, as we would analyze any other kind of data,in terms of their organization, their indigenous,inherent structures, and in termsof the forms and functions that they perform.

  • 04:57

    So I'm arguing for a much more, if you like,disciplined, systematic, sustainedanalysis of narrative, not just as a thing in it's own right,as it were, not just to do narrative analysis,not to take these narratives and rip them out of social context,and then treat them as if they werea thing just in themselves.

  • 05:19

    But to analyze them and study them within a cultural context,within an organizational setting,in the context of people's careers,the organizations that people work in,to recognize that narratives are, themselves,part of work settings, a way of organizing work.

  • 05:39

    Social workers tell narratives in orderto construct cases for their fellow workers.Lawyers tell narratives in order to construct casesabout their clients.Medical practitioners construct narratives about their patientsand about themselves to their patients, to their clients,to their fellow medical practitionersin constructing cases, in presenting casesat conferences, and so on.

  • 06:07

    Scientists tell narratives about their discoveries.We don't need to just celebrate them.We need to analyze how does a scientistaccount for a discovery.By telling a story in a particular way,by using particular kinds of narrative conventionsin order to do modesty, in order to do boasting,in order to account for how their discovery wasa matter of chance, but also hard work, how they stumbledupon the solution, but in the context of being absolutelybrilliant scientists, and so on.

  • 06:45

    So what I'm saying, and therefore,just to repeat myself, is collect narratives in context,collect narratives as part of systematic, ethnographicfieldwork about organization, settings, and so on.And then, treat them to sustained, systematic,disciplined analysis.

  • 07:06

    And if you do that, you could say a great deal moreabout those narratives, than if you simply collect them, chopthem up, produce a few extracts, and as it were,say there you are then.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Publication Year: 2011

Video Type:Interview

Methods: Narrative analysis, Philosophy of research

Keywords: narratives; organization structure; roles; social science; Storytelling

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Professor Paul Atkinson explains his concerns about how narratives are currently treated in research. He insists that narratives cannot be accepted as the whole story, because they are shaped and constructed for a purpose. Researchers must examine narratives to discover their structures and the purposes that underlie them.

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Why does narrative need rescuing from qualitative research?

Professor Paul Atkinson explains his concerns about how narratives are currently treated in research. He insists that narratives cannot be accepted as the whole story, because they are shaped and constructed for a purpose. Researchers must examine narratives to discover their structures and the purposes that underlie them.

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