Narrative Research Methodology

Categories: Creative Methods, Other, Qualitative, Quantitative, Research, Research Design, Research Methods

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In the first quarter of 2021 we explore design steps, starting with a January focus on research questions. We’ll continue to learn about the design stage in February with a focus on Choosing Methodology and Methods.

Narrative methodologies were selected as the preference of those who participated in a Twitter poll. Like many research approaches, narrative research is taking new directions in the digital age. On one hand, many historical narratives are being digitized and made available through libraries and online archives. On the other hand, stories today are being told with pictures and media, as well as words. Use these resources to learn more!


The Handbook of narrative inquiry (2007) offers the following description of narrative research:

What narrative researchers hold in common is the study of stories or narratives or descriptions of a series of events. These researchers usually embrace the assumption that the story is one if not the fundamental unit that accounts for human experience. But what counts as stories, the kinds of stories they choose to study, or the methods they use for study vary. Within the framework of narrative research, researchers use a number of research approaches, strategies, and methods (Lieblich, Mashiach-Tuval, & Zilber, 1998).

Some researchers use the metaphor of story to articulate learning from research generally. From this perspective, metanarrative, historiography, and critical analysis can be seen as potential methods. Some narrative researchers employ sociolinguistic analytic tools to analyze qualitative data collected as field notes or interviews and either piece together or develop a generic narrative of experience that generalizes as a “typical” narrative such as learning or everyday experience within a culture (Josselson, 1996; Polanyi, 1989). Others use conceptions from narrative such as plotline, characterization, theme, role, and other literary terms to analyze and make general sense of experience. Other researchers explore narrative as fundamental to cognition (Schank, 1990). Narrative researchers might also study the impact of particular narratives on experience. Again, these researchers may use surveys or measurement strategies to calculate and represent the impact of narratives (Green, Strange, & Brock, 2002). Other narrative researchers may code narratives, translate the codes to numbers, and use statistical analysis, or they may analyze the factors involved during a storytelling event as a predictor of some phenomenon of interest (Pasupathi, 2003).

Narrative researchers use narrative in some way in their research. Narrative inquiry embraces narrative as both the method and phenomena of study. Through the attention to methods for analyzing and understanding stories lived and told, it can be connected and placed under the label of qualitative research methodology. Narrative inquiry begins in experience as expressed in lived and told stories. The method and the inquiry always have experiential starting points that are informed by and intertwined with theoretical literature that informs either the methodology or an understanding of the experiences with which the inquirer began (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). In essence, narrative inquiry involves the reconstruction of a person’s experience in relationship both to the other and to a social milieu (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000).

Pinnegar, S. & Daynes, J. (2007). Locating narrative inquiry historically: thematics in the turn to narrative. In Handbook of narrative inquiry: Mapping a methodology (pp. 3-34), ed. D. Jean Clandinin. SAGE Publications, Inc., https://www.doi.org/10.4135/9781452226552

Open Access Articles using Narrative Methodologies:

Gencel Bek, M., & Prieto Blanco, P. (2020). (Be)Longing through visual narrative: Mediation of (dis)affect and formation of politics through photographs and narratives of migration at DiasporaTürk. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 23(5), 709–727. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367877920923356

Abstract. Our article explores how diasporic journeys and identities are remembered and represented through the visual narratives of DiasporaTürk, a Turkish diasporic media presence consisting of a Twitter account, an Instagram page, and two books. These engagements revive past (dis)affects and highlight the contemporary relevance of nostalgia, sorrow and victimization as key themes in the migration experience of ‘guest-workers’ from Turkey. The evidentiary force of the index, inhabiting fictional characters while looking like factual and archival material, seems thus to both acknowledge and validate migrated ‘guest-workers’, who, as subaltern groups, have otherwise received little praise or recognition in Turkey or ‘host’ countries. At the same time, while converging past and present (dis)affects associated with Turkish migration, DiasporaTürk contributes to reaffirming the reduction and homogenization of official/normative collective memories of migration via concrete visibilities/presences and invisibilities/absences.

Bruce, A., Beuthin, R., Sheilds, L., Molzahn, A., & Schick-Makaroff, K. (2016). Narrative Research Evolving: Evolving Through Narrative Research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406916659292

Abstract. Narrative research methodology is evolving, and we contend that the notion of emergent design is vital if narrative inquiry (NI) is to continue flourishing in generating new knowledge. We situate the discussion within the narrative turn in qualitative research while drawing on experiences of conducting a longitudinal narrative study. The philosophical tensions encountered are described, as our understanding and application of narrative approaches evolved. We outline challenges in data collection and analysis in response to what we were learning and identify institutional barriers within ethics review processes that potentially impede emergent approaches. We conclude that researchers using NI can, and must, pursue unanticipated methodological changes when in the midst of conducting the inquiry. Understanding the benefits and institutional barriers to emergent aspects of design is discussed in this ever-maturing approach to qualitative research.

de Saint Laurent, C., Glăveanu, V. P., & Literat, I. (2021). Internet Memes as Partial Stories: Identifying Political Narratives in Coronavirus Memes. Social Media + Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305121988932

Abstract. This article advances a narrative approach to internet memes conceptualized as partial stories that reflect, capture, and contribute to wider storylines. One key difficulty in studying memes as stories rests in the fact that narrative analysis often focuses on plot at the expense of roles and characters. Building on narrative psychology and, in particular, transactional and linguistic types of analysis, we propose a typology of character roles—Persecutor, Victim, Hero, and Fool—that is useful to uncover scenarios within memes and, thus, reveal their intrinsic narrative structure. We apply this framework to the analysis of political narratives embedded within 241 coronavirus memes systematically sampled from Reddit’s r/CoronavirusMemes between January and May 2020. Five main scenarios or storylines emerged from this analysis, the first four depicting a more or less common narrative of protest against the incompetence and/or malevolence of the political class—from Donald Trump and the Republicans in the United States to Boris Johnson and the Conservatives in the United Kingdom and, finally, to politicians in Asia such as Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un—while the fifth scenario brought to the fore social categories made salient by the pandemic and focused especially on the relation between people who respect and don’t respect measures. The psychological, social, and political implications of these scenarios in relation to the pandemic are discussed, as well as the broader consequences of studying memes as narrative structures.

Dourish, P., & Gómez Cruz, E. (2018). Datafication and data fiction: Narrating data and narrating with data. Big Data & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951718784083

Abstract. Data do not speak for themselves. Data must be narrated—put to work in particular contexts, sunk into narratives that give them shape and meaning, and mobilized as part of broader processes of interpretation and meaning-making. We examine these processes through the lens of ethnographic practice and, in particular, ethnography’s attention to narrative processes. We draw on a particular case in which digital data must be animated and narrated by different groups in order to examine broader questions of how we might come to understand data ethnographically.

Frank, A. W. (2002). Why Study People’s Stories? The Dialogical Ethics of Narrative Analysis. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 109–117. https://doi.org/10.1177/160940690200100102

Abstract. Narrative analysis is presented as continuous with personal storytelling in the work of remoralizing what Weber identified as disenchanted modernity. Critics of contemporary storytelling seem to misunderstand what kind of authenticity of self is expressed in stories. Against those whom Charles Taylor calls “knockers” of the idea of personal authenticity, this article affirms authenticity, but in terms that are dialogical: authenticity is created in the process of storytelling, it is not a precondition of the telling, and authenticity remains in process. This authenticity is shown to have an affinity with democratic politics, in contrast to the neo-liberal affinity of the knocker position.

Lapum, J. L., Liu, L., Hume, S., Wang, S., Nguyen, M., Harding, B., Church, K., Cohen, G., & Yau, T. M. (2015). Pictorial Narrative Mapping as a Qualitative Analytic Technique. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406915621408

Abstract. Qualitative analysis is often a textual undertaking. However, it can be helpful to think about and represent study phenomena or narrative accounts in nontextual ways. In this article, we share our unique and artistic process in developing and employing pictorial narrative mapping as a qualitative analytic technique. We recast a nontextual, artistic–analytic technique by combining elements related to narrative mapping and narrative art. This technique involves aesthetic attunement to data and visual representation through pictorial design. We advanced this technique in the context of a narrative study about how arts-informed dissemination methods influence health-care practitioners’ delivery of care. We found that the Pictorial Narrative Mapping process prompted an aesthetic and imaginative experience in the analytic process of qualitative inquiry. As an analytic technique, Pictorial Narrative Mapping extends the inquiry process and enhances rigor through artistic means as well as iterative and critical dialogue. Additionally, pictorial narrative maps can provide a holistic account of the phenomenon under study and assist researchers to make meaning of nuances within complex narratives. As researchers consider employing Pictorial Narrative Mapping, we recommend that they draw upon this technique as a malleable script yielding to an organic process that emerges from both their own data and analytic discussions. We are further curious about its imaginative capacities in social and health science literature, its possibilities in other disciplinary contexts, and the prospects of what Maxine Greene refers to as becoming more wide awake—in our case, in future research analytic endeavors.

Moen, T. (2006). Reflections on the Narrative Research Approach. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 56–69. https://doi.org/10.1177/160940690600500405

Abstract. In her reflections on the narrative research approach, the author starts by placing narrative research within the framework of sociocultural theory, where the challenge for the researcher is to examine and understand how human actions are related to the social context in which they occur and how and where they occur through growth. The author argues that the narrative as a unit of analysis provides the means for doing this. She then presents some of the basic premises of narrative research before she reflects on the process of narrative inquiry and addresses the issue of the “true” narrative. Throughout the article, the author refers to educational research and in the concluding section argues that the results of narrative research can be used as thought-provoking tools within the field of teacher education.

Nasheeda, A., Abdullah, H. B., Krauss, S. E., & Ahmed, N. B. (2019). Transforming Transcripts Into Stories: A Multimethod Approach to Narrative Analysis. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406919856797

Abstract. Stories are essential realities from our past and present. As the primary sources of data in narrative research, interview transcripts play an essential role in giving meaning to the personal stories of research participants. The pragmatic narratives found in transcripts represent human experience as it unfolds. Analyzing the narratives found in interview transcripts thus moves beyond providing descriptions and thematic developments as found in most qualitative studies. Crafting stories from interview transcripts involves a complex set of analytic processes. Building on the first author’s personal experience in working on a doctoral thesis employing narrative inquiry, this article presents a multimethod restorying framework to narrative analysis. A step-by-step progression within the framework includes choosing interview participants, transcribing interviews, familiarizing oneself with the transcripts (elements of holistic-content reading), chronologically plotting (elements of the story), use of follow-up interviews as a way to collaborate (an important procedure in narrative inquiry), and developing the story through structural analysis. It is hoped that this article will encourage other researchers embarking on narrative analysis to become creative in presenting participants’ lived experiences through meaningful, collaborative strategies. This article demonstrates the fluidity of narrative analysis and emphasizes that there is no single procedure to be followed in attempting to create stories from interview transcripts.

Vacchelli, E., & Peyrefitte, M. (2018). Telling digital stories as feminist research and practice: A 2-day workshop with migrant women in London. Methodological Innovations. https://doi.org/10.1177/2059799118768424

Abstract. In this article, we look at Digital Storytelling (DS) as a specifically feminist epistemology within qualitative social research methods. Digital Storytelling is a process allowing research participants to tell their stories in their own words through a guided creative workshop that includes the use of digital technology, participatory approaches, and co-production of personal stories. The article draws on a 2-day Digital Storytelling workshop with migrant women which was set up to understand the life stories and work trajectories of volunteers working in the women’s community and voluntary sector in London. By outlining this innovative approach, the article highlights its potential and makes a case for Digital Storytelling as a feminist approach to research while taking into account epistemological, practical, and ethical considerations.

Relevant SAGE Books

Use this code, MSPACE20, for a 20% discount when you order a research methods book from SAGE Publishing.

Doing Narrative Research
Using Narrative in Research

Doing Narrative Research Second Edition by Molly Andrews, Corinne Squire, Maria Tamboukou (2013)

Using Narrative in Research by Christine Bold (2011)

Handbook of Narrative Inquiry
Narrative Inquiry

Handbook of Narrative Inquiry: Mapping a Methodology by D. Jean Clandinin (2006)

Narrative Inquiry: A Dynamic Approach by Colette Daiute (2013)

Quantitative Narrative Analysis

Quantitative Narrative Analysis by Roberto Franzosi (2009)

Understanding Narrative Inquiry

Understanding Narrative Inquiry: The Crafting and Analysis of Stories as Research by Jeong-Hee Kim (2015)

Discourse and Narrative Methods

Discourse and Narrative Methods: Theoretical Departures, Analytical Strategies and Situated Writings by Mona Livholts, Maria Tamboukou (2015)

Relevant MethodSpace Posts

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