“In taking up the topic of ethics and narrative inquiry, The Narrative Study of Lives rightfully establishes itself as the site where the most critical theoretical, methodological, and interpretive work on narrative in the human disciplines is now occurring. The editor and the contributors to this volume are to be thanked for their deeply probing, forward-looking analyses of the ethical problems that arise when researchers produce narratives about persons with whom close personal relationships have been formed.” --Norman K. Denzin, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign “All of us who work with life-history narratives are grateful to Dr. Josselson and her colleagues for moving us step-by-step toward a discipline with definable ethics and methodology, and at the same time holding up for us the incredible diversity of the field and the range of insights it offers.” --Mary Catherine Bateson, author of Peripheral Visions The most significant truths about human beings are to be found in the stories of their lives. But what happens to those stories and to the people whose lives are told when a researcher seeks to make those stories known? Ruthellen Josselson has assembled an international cast of scholars to reflect on the process of life-narrative study and the ethical dilemmas that face researchers whose very mode of narrative inquiry may inevitably involve a violation of another and unwittingly lead to a sense of betrayal, shame, or guilt. In these disarmingly candid and engaging essays, narrative researchers of many different stripes talk about the morally delicate and epistemologically precarious enterprise of telling another's story. The authors raise fascinating questions about who ultimately controls the tellings, what happens to stories once they are told, and why stories influence not only the people whose lives are told but also the tellers themselves, whose own professional and personal lives may even be captured by or appropriated into the stories they are aiming to tell. This exceptional volume, the latest in The Narrative Study of Lives series, is essential for researchers, professionals, and students in research methods, including qualitative methods, developmental psychology, education, relationships, and language and discourse analysis.
Chapter 8: Interpreting Life Stories
Interpreting Life Stories
I think that many of us were first drawn to interviewing because it promised to bring us closer to the experience of the people we study. More traditional styles of research can be alienating; questionnaires, for example, limit our informants to narrow menus of preselected questions and answers. In contrast, interviews let informants choose the events that matter to them and put their own construction on them. I share this preference for conversation; therefore, it may come as some surprise that in what follows, I advocate a way of listening to the stories people tell that systematically refuses to take them at their own word. In the past few years, any number of writers have pointed out that the ...