LINGUIST List 23.697

Fri Feb 10 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics; Discourse Analysis: Trahar (2011)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 10-Feb-2012
From: Kara Johnson <>
Subject: Learning and Teaching Narrative Inquiry
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EDITOR: Sheila TraharTITLE: Learning and Teaching Narrative InquirySUBTITLE: Travelling in the BorderlandsPUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing CompanyYEAR: 2011

Kara Johnson, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA


Sheila Trahar’s “Learning and Teaching Narrative Inquiry” is an edited volumethat is a story in itself of various journeys in narrative inquiry as it ispracticed and taught in various places around the world. She identifies thatthere is only one other text (Josselson et al., 2003) about “teachingnarrative,” which focuses on the North American context, and as such, thisvolume contributes to conversations on narrative inquiry as it is viewed andrealized in other contexts. This volume could serve as a useful text forentering the conversation as a researcher or a teacher, and although Traharmakes no claims that it will teach how to teach narrative inquiry, somecontributing authors offer reviews of their methods of teaching it at theirinstitutions.

In her introduction chapter, Trahar identifies that her goal in seeking writersfor each chapter was not to be able to compile a volume on teaching narrativeinquiry but rather to allow each writer to “engage in critiques of narrative aswell as [extol] its virtues” (p. 2) in order for others to learn from theirprocess. As such, she sought contributors from various parts of the world usingnarrative inquiring in many different contexts. She reflects that the subtitleof her volume, “Travelling in the Borderlands,” reflects the tensions found inthis journey of narrative inquiry around the globe, and then she summarizes andexplains the chapters as a journey around the globe for conversations ofnarrative inquiry encountered along the way.

Chapter 2, “Interfaces in teaching narratives,” is co-authored by Molly Andrews,Corinne Squire, and Maria Tamboudou, three directors for the Centre forNarrative Research at the University of East London. Each author writes asection from a different perspective. Andrews relates the challenge of drawingstudents into thinking about narrative, or drawing them into the messy world ofstories that “do something…have a point, a function” (p. 19). Squire digs intothe value of helping students find their own path in determining what narrativeresearch is, giving the starting point of Labov’s discussions (1972; 1997) andhis contested definition that it “involve[s] stories told in the first personabout particular events by a narrator who experienced it him/herself” (p. 23).She relates how students are then led through other perspectives, includingunderstandings of selves and hearers’ interpretations (Ricoeur, 1991) andinterviews and co-performances of identities (Riessman, 2008). Tamboukou relatesher work with narrative, which she uses to teach her post-graduate students, andtells how she has sought to make it rigorous and systematic while recognizingthat it is what she calls “narrative phenomena” (p. 26). From her perspective,narratives do something and narrative research is concerned with the productionand interrelated effects of narrative. As a whole, the authors do not seek tomandate any particular definition of narrative or way to teach narrative, butthey explain how they use philosophical groundings to allow students to exploreand construct their own theories as they practice it. Each author relates herperspective on narrative and the broader contexts in which she sees it at work.

Chapter 3, “Becoming a narrative inquirer,” is co-authored by D. Jean Clandinin,Janice Huber, Pam Steeves, and Yi Li. They start the chapter setting theirperspective from a Deweyan theory of experience (Dewey, 1938), not necessarilybased on teaching narrative inquiry, but rather on “learning to think withstories” (p. 34). The chapter is structured as experiences from a typical class,narrated to illustrate the instructors’—Clandinin, Huber, and Steeves’—method ofleading their students into this perspective. Li contributes a narrativeworks-in-progress to illustrate one of the key components, an autobiographicalnarrative inquiry from the perspective of a former graduate student. Thechapter’s authors discuss how this autobiographical activity helps shape a spacethat encourages students to be attentive to what they feel, imagine, orremember, and thus create an inner dialogue that resonates with the stories. Theauthors conclude by emphasizing that this process of growing as narrativeinquirers involves being attentive to the dialogue in narrative and not takingthe view of being an expert or critic.

Chapter 4, “The circle game: Narrative inquiry as a way of life in ACE,” isco-authored by Ariela Gidro, Bobbie Turniansky, Smadar Tuval, Ruth Mansur, andJudith Barak. They write from the perspective of teacher educators in Israel whomake narrative inquiry a way of life rather than as teachers of narrativeinquiry as a subject for students to learn. They also base their perspective onDeweyan principles (Dewey, 1938), specifically, those of interaction andcontinuity “that together help define the complexity of the experience” and “thetheoretical stance that people are storytellers by nature” (p. 54). They relatehow students take the following workshops as part of the teacher educationprogram with foci that involve using storytelling to shape the students’ way oflife in the program: a workshop on cultural identity and cultural sensitivity, aworkshop that accompanies the students’ field of practice, and a workshop thataccompanies their teaching experience and is designed to help them examine theirpersonal beliefs and assumptions. The authors discuss that this process in theirprogram is for the purpose of professional development and helps studentsde-construct their images of the ideal teacher while seeing the complexity ofcontext.

Chapter 5, “Teaching narrative inquiry in the Chinese community: A Hong Kongperspective,” is co-authored by Yu Wai Min and Lau Chun Kwok. They also share aperspective of using narrative inquiry in teacher education, but they look atits development in Chinese contexts, which they note are different betweenTaiwan, Mainland China, and Hong Kong due to reasons such as language barriersfor research and publication as well as the differing number of tertiaryinstitutions between the three contexts. They use narrative inquiry in threeways: as a research tool, as a medium for professional development, and as astrategy of teaching. For each use, they describe how they teach it for thatpurpose, while also identifying the intentions and limitations of theirpractice. They conclude the chapter by saying that while there are activities,methods, and steps that can be used in teaching narrative inquiry, teaching itas a way of thinking is the most important result. They note that as a researchmethodology, narrative inquiry is still developing and often marginalized, andthat some researchers (Clandinin & Murphy, 2007) have recommended that not onlyis extensive life experience needed to gain the personal qualities necessary tobuild quality research from narrative methods, but that researchers should havea broad basis in other methods as well.

Chapter 6, “Multicultural and cross-cultural narrative inquiry: Conversationsbetween advisor and advisee,” is co-authored by JoAnn Phillion and Yuxian Wang.Phillion starts with a narrative from her perspective of finding “a criticalperspective and a social justice orientation” (p. 87) in narrative approachesthat she felt had previously been missing but was essential for her and herstudents’ inquiries. She felt that this orientation allowed her and her studentsto better explore and understand the experiences of marginalized groups that arenot the majority population and are in a cross-cultural position in relation tothe majority population researcher. Wang then narrates from his perspective as amajority population Chinese researcher who is discovering the challenges ofnarrative inquiry in a cross-cultural context. Following that, in an interviewformat, the authors address issues of the role of the researcher, the impact ofcontext, the role of theory, and how to represent findings, with Wang answeringquestions from his in depth narrative study of three students in a Chineseminority situation. Phillion and Wang conclude with a reflection on theexperience and a discussion of the issues involved, such as criticalself-examination, rigorous methods, and careful interpretation andrepresentation in conducting a multicultural, cross-cultural narrative inquiry,as with any other narrative inquiry.

Chapter 7, “Scrapbooks and messy texts: Notes towards sustaining critical andartful narrative inquiry,” is co-authored by Malcom Reed and Jane Speedy.Throughout the chapter, they, as authors, highlight the differences in theirperspectives and approaches, part of which are ascribed to narrative inquirybeing an art. Their chapter reflects on their journey exploring the values andapproaches they use in their doctoral teaching in the UK. They discuss theirintention in the doctoral programme in Narrative Inquiry of establishing a spacefor researchers to work in Clandinin’s three dimensions (Clandinin et al., 2006)while being mindful “from the outset of the demands, complexities and tension ofthis form of inquiry” (p. 110). Instead of a tidy conclusion, they end by notingthat issues of time, and context and relationships of those involved, areconfusing and messy but that they are all part of the nature of being engaged inthe rigorous and “artful” process of narrative inquiry at the University of Bristol.

Chapter 8, “Many more than two of us: Denaturalizing the positions of speech andwriting in a narrative constructionist research workshop,” is authored byVeronica Larrain. Larrain narrates from her perspective of teaching a workshopintroducing Narrative Constructionist Research (Sparkes & Smith, 2008) as partof a series on research methodology at the University of Barcelona. Her approachwithin the course has students placing themselves in the role of “storyteller”(i.e. narrative inquirer) as well as collaborator (i.e. informant), or theperson telling his/her own experience. In describing the activities she uses,she draws out the complexities and naturally occurring fears related to identityand relationships that occur in oral narratives and testimonies, as well as theideological expectations of narrative conventions. She concludes with a set ofquestions that call for narrative inquirers to reflect on the tensions, subtext,beliefs and suppositions that they, the “storytellers,” bring to therelationship and use to make choices regarding how to create stories from theresearch relationship.

Chapter 9, “‘Burt’s story reminded me of my grandmother’: Using a reflectingteam to facilitate learning about narrative data analysis,” is authored bySheila Trahar. Trahar relates her experience using a reflecting team activity asa method for teaching narrative analysis that challenges dominant knowledge andvalues knowledge that emerges in the process. She notes that little has beenwritten about using this practice to teach narrative analysis but that theactivity is prominent in therapeutic practice (Andersen, 1991), has been used inanthropological studies (Myerhoff, 1980), and has been introduced in managementeducation (Griffith, 1999). Using a teaching experience with a group of studentsand her own teacher reflections, combined with two students who participated inthe activity, she analyzes the responses from her and her students for whatcontributed to the learning experience and what was a drawback to it. Sheconcludes that the method is innovative in education and allows opportunitiesfor students to engage in “performance/dialogic way of data analysis” (p. 155),which she felt afforded students who chose to use it a greater level ofsophistication in understanding the process.

Chapter 10, “Negotiating intercultural academic careers: A narrative analysis oftwo senior university lecturers,” is authored by Meeri Hellstén and KatrinGoldstein-Kyaga. They identify that their intent is to suggest new practices forteaching and learning narrative inquiry and to raise a discourse around theprofessional challenges involved. To do this, they illustrate two lifenarratives, which they analyze for the “ontological,” “public,” “conceptual,”and “meta-narrativity” dimensions of narrativity, as well as a fifth dimensionof cultural, national or personal space. They suggest that the pedagogical usesof such life narratives can be employed in undergraduate courses, throughteaching issues of global identity construction, and also in graduate levelcourses, by having students personally explore key concepts that are beingtaught theoretically, such as “culture” or “ethnicity.” They highlight this useof analysis of life narratives as an important method of engaging both teacherand student in a self-reflective process that integrates theory with personaldevelopment in key scholarly domains.


This volume functions as an excellent introduction and overview of narrativeanalysis as it is viewed, taught, and applied by various scholars throughout theworld, which to date has been missing from the literature. Some chapters aremore heavily focused on the current theories and significance of using narrativein research and teaching, and other chapters offer activities and analyses thatcan give practical applications, benefits, and drawbacks for teachers orresearchers wishing to begin to engage in narrative inquiry or transform theirpractices. Considering that narrative analysis is not an easily defined field,this edited volume has done a remarkable job of gathering authors who can offerdifferent perspectives and approaches, while still allowing readers to drawtheir own conclusions and applications.

A chapter that has an excellent combination of theory and practice is Chapter 6,“Multicultural and cross-cultural narrative inquiry,” by Phillion and Wang. Inthis chapter, they relate the use of narrative inquiry to the research ofmarginalized populations in multicultural contexts, and as an author, Philliontells her perspective as a faculty advisor seeking to teach and use a “criticalperspective and social justice orientation” (p. 87) in her narrative inquiryresearch. Wang’s contribution from the perspective of a developing researcherwho was actively conducting a study with minority Chinese students adds apractical layer to the chapter for readers who may be considering teachingpractical issues that may arise from such a multicultural study. Both authorsadd historical and political contextual background that affected the study, andthey support their key issues and methods with relevant theory. Their writingstyle of questions and answers regarding the challenges, as well as the use ofadvisor’s and advisee’s perspectives, made the fusion of theory and practiceclear. For a researcher or teacher considering issues of an inquiry withmulticultural or marginalized populations, this chapter will be invaluable.

An excellent chapter that is more focused on the process of teaching narrativeinquiry is Chapter 4, “The circle game,” by Gidron et al. Their discussion isfrom the perspective of teacher educators who are seeking to make narrativeinquiry a way of life in the post-graduate teacher education program in whichthey teach. They support their approach to teacher education with theoreticalgrounding, and then they explain how their approach, with three main components,builds the way of life for the students in the program. Excerpts from studentsin the program who relate their research process or perspective change help thereader engage and understand the way of life that the authors have built througheach teaching component. The authors emphasize that narrative inquiry in theircontext in teacher education is for the purpose of professional development, andfor this purpose, they explain their process, outcomes, and difficulties well.

The editor, Sheila Trahar, states in her introduction that she does not intendfor the volume to teach narrative inquiry, and from the wide range ofapplications and perspectives of narrative inquiry found in the chapters, it isclear why. It would be simplistic to teach any single pattern for performingnarrative, yet some chapters offer pedagogical activities with analyses thatgive practical suggestions and considerations for teaching and using it. Someauthors write from their context of teaching or using it for research, andothers for professional development in teacher education programs. This volume’sintent and organization can pose a challenge to the reader, researcher, orteacher who wants to learn about or teach narrative inquiry, but it alsoprovides an opportunity to engage in the discourse of the narrative inquirycommunity.

As a coursebook or reference for a researcher or teacher wishing to engage in adialogue on narrative inquiry, this volume gives the tools for generating bothdiscussion and activities. As a whole, the volume keeps an inclusive tone thatdoes not promote an ethnocentric or limiting view on the questions and issuesinvolved in narrative inquiry around the world, and important issues forengaging academics and teachers in multicultural narrative inquiries are raised.

There is still minimal research published in narrative inquiry, and severalchapters in this volume identify that stories and the demands of narratives arecomplex and messy both in theory and in practice. While this volume is anexcellent place to begin engaging in the discourse of narrative inquiry, it isclear that there is opportunity for further research that can continue to bringtogether some of the current threads of research and practice. It may beparticularly useful for researchers and teachers to explore the intersectionsbetween the various contexts and purposes in order to make applying and teachingnarrative inquiry less ambiguous and more accessible.


Andersen, T. (ed.). 1991. The reflecting team: Dialogues and dialogues about thedialogues. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

Clandinin, D. J., & Murphy, S. 2007. Looking ahead: Conversations with ElliotMishler, Don Polkinghorne, and Amia Lieblich. In D. J. Clandinin (ed.), Handbookof narrative inquiry: Mapping a methodology (pp. 632-650). Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage Publications.

Clandinin, D. J., Huber, J., Murphy, M. S., Murray Orr, A., & Pearce, M. 2006.Composing diverse identities: Narrative inquiries into the interwoven lives ofchildren and teachers. London: Routledge.

Dewey, J. 1938. Experience and education. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Griffith, W. 1999. The reflecting team as an alternative case teaching model: Anarrative conversational approach. Management Learning , 30 (3), 343-362.

Josselson, R., Lieblick, A., & McAdams, D. P. (eds.). 2003. Up close andpersonal: The teachings and learning of narrative research. Washington, DC:American Psychological Association.

Labov, W. 1972. Language in the inner city: Studies in the Black Englishvernacular. Oxford: Blackwell.

Labov, W. 1997. Some further steps in narrative analysis. Journal of Narrativeand Life History , 7 (1-4), 395-415.

Myerhoff, B. 1980. Number our days: Culture and community among elderly Jews inan American ghetto. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Ricoeur, P. 1991. Life in quest of narrative. In D. Wood (ed.), On Paul Ricoeur:Narrative and interpretation (pp. 20-33). London: Routledge.

Riessman, C. 2008. Narrative methods for the human sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage Publications.

Sparkes, A. C., & Smith, B. 2008. Narrative constructionist inquiry. In J.Holstein, & J. Gubrium (eds.), Handbook of constructionist research (pp.295-314). New York, NY: Guilford.


Kara Johnson is a Ph.D. student in the Second Language Acquisition and Teaching program at the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ, and recently defended her dissertation on Chinese EFL students’ peer review process in writing. She also has research interests in intercultural communication and rhetoric, teacher training, materials development, and corpus linguistics.

Page Updated: 10-Feb-2012