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"In the Spirit of Generative Engagement": Working 'the Family' Hyphen.

While working on this second special issue on family methodology with Lucy Bailey, I had a remarkable opportunity to offer my Life History Research Methods and Applications course to our Urban Indigenous Education cohort of master's students. This opportunity arose when the director of this special program, my colleague, Susan Dion, had a hunch that I and my course might be a "good fit" for this cohort. I have offered this course for more than a decade at York University to a range of students. I spent some time reading literature on indigenous methodologies and changed some of the readings in the course as a result. For example, we read from Margaret Kovach's work on Indigenous methodology (2), Leanne Leddy's work on oral history research in a community steeped in oral tradition (3) and Katrina Srigley and Lorraine Sutherland's work on decolonizing oral history research (4).

The course assignments revolved around some "in-class" activities for which students negotiated topics to interview each other about. The first one was loosely framed as "where were you when?" The second topic summoned students to interview each other about "a family story". The third topic asked students to write about a personal memory / story and then share it with their partner. The partners were then to interrogate the stories, looking for the traces of the cultural, social, familial, ideological, historical, and political, etc.

These activities were followed up with a presentation wherein each student took one of the in-class activities and developed it further. In the presentations, every single student revisited a family story or a family relationship. Their insights into the challenges and possibilities in hearing and then sharing family stories were astounding. Without framing it as such, we wound up having an amazing discussion about family methodology--as it intersects with tenets of Indigenous research methodology, Indigenous oral tradition and the long shadow on Indigenous families of the residential school system and the 'sixties' scoop (5). Some of the things I learned echoed strongly with the articles that appear in this issue.

Both "life history research" and "oral history", were reframed by the Indigenous cohort as "respectful story telling", "oral tradition", "indigenous research"--and all were steeped in notions of family. The students wondered about the prevalence of what they called "extractive research" in the academy and the pervasive assumption that everyone had access to their own family stories. Those who had family stories and access to them experienced a newfound privilege when they learned that some of their peers had neither. Prompts like "ancestors", "tradition", "blood memory" (6), "Truth and Reconciliation", "cultural knowledge", "heritage", "residential schooling", and "the 'sixties' scoop" summoned stories about "family", a term that was constantly contested and negotiated throughout the course. "Family" meant one thing to someone raised in an Indigenous community, another to someone whose elders had been schooled in Canada's nefarious residential school system, and yet something else to someone whose parent had been adopted during the 1960s.

Alongside the stories they shared were questions about "honouring", "gatekeeping", "protecting" "passing on", "knowing and not knowing", "sharing", and "responsibility to the story": all the ethical issues associated with storying lives for research purposes. They were particularly concerned about researcher-researched relationships, and oftentimes highlighted their dual roles as researchers AND family members.

In this second issue on family methodology we continue our engagement with the question: "What might it mean, in terms of methodology, to consider family and family stories?" The articles herein echo many of the issues raised by the Indigenous cohort: knowing and not knowing family secrets, gatekeeping as a form of protection, honoring living and deceased family members, taking stock of one's responsibility to the story, navigating competing agendas and versions of family history. In particular, the articles highlight the researcher--researched relationship. The authors summon a reconfiguring of Michelle Fine's self-other hyphen (7) and Lucy Bailey's genealogical hyphen - to include consideration of the researcher's dual positioning in relation to the family stories and family relationships they explore. Throughout, you will find authors acknowledging their dual (or multiple) roles as researcher--daughter / granddaughter / sibling / niece / cousin. Like the term "family", each of these subject positions are variable and context-informed.

Overview of the Articles

Alexandra Macht revisits her doctoral research on fathers to reconsider her own father and her relationship with him whilst researching fatherhood with a group of 47 Scottish and Romanian fathers. She traces the interventions she both orchestrated and encountered that address this seepage of the personal into the professional realm of sociological research. She notes that "research can have transformative effects on one's identity", when the researcher / writer adopts "an emotional and relational approach to the study of family lives [wherein] connections to ones own family are brought up and this has a broader transformative appeal". What I find both hopeful and interesting about Macht's approach is that she recognized the importance of honoring and respecting her relationship with her father as she tells the story of how this relationship inserted itself into her research about fathers and fathering and challenged and stretched her capacity as a researcher.

In a similar vein of reconsidering one's research, Amanda Carvalho Harris explores what she calls "the feeling process" in the field of Narrative Inquiry. She too revisits her doctoral research, wherein she engaged college students in a narrative approach and notes that "methodology is more intricately rooted in the personal than many of us ever think it should be." In her article, she reconsiders a family story she had written about her grandmother for a course taken during her own doctoral studies. She finds a way to ask different questions that deepen her engagement with her family and familial context. Here, again, is an article that negotiates between interrogating and honouring a family member. Her efforts suggest that the field of Narrative Inquiry could both benefit from and enhance considerations of family methodology.

Prabha Jerrybandan explores family stories, the scant ones she has and the ones she uncovers when she goes looking for more. Her methodology is multifaceted as it entails being receptive to the stories that are freely given, digging for more information when the stories seem sparse and "listening in stereo" to casual conversations in order to glean details of what she calls "an episodic inheritance". She considers her responsibility to the stories she uncovers and strives "for an integrity that holds true to the original tellers." Jerrybandan also considers how her life trajectory positions her as both an insider and an outsider to the stories she finds and shares. Throughout her article she asks questions about the ethicality of probing the scant stories she has inherited for more information.

Junia Mason contemplates the material remnants of her elderly aunt's life: newspaper clippings, personal effects, business documents, photographs, school report cards" and ponders the messages therein and the resonances with her own life and identity as a black woman and artist, "finding [her] way in no less vulnerable times." The quest for connection and meaning and the challenge of deciding what to make public and what to keep private thread throughout the article, reminding us of the dynamic relationship biographers must have with their deceased subjects and the material effects that are kept and interrogated.

Donna Sayman traces her journey researching her biological father. Starting from a position of not knowing anything about him, she does a DNA test and through genealogy services connects to her father's family. While she does not use the term "blood memory" (9), she discovers that her affinities to horses, horseback riding and playing the banjo have deep and long histories with some of her paternal relatives. These discoveries, as exciting and affirming as they are, rest upon the backdrop of Sayman having inherited her mother's lifelong insistence on privacy through silence. The search for her father could only took place after her mother had died. The challenge for Sayman is to separate her mother's silenced story (the circumstances that led to her single-parenthood) from her own quest for a story of her own (connecting with her paternal relations).

In the final article, Lucy Bailey takes a close look at the term "narrative inheritance", the much-referenced concept from H. L. Goodall, and applies a feminist lens to it. Starting with Donna Haraway and Sara Ahmed, she considers the way in which narrative, inheritance and family are dynamic terms / forces that are at play in the terrain we are calling "family methodology". Working against the investment in holistic narratives and conventional definitions of "family," she ponders the concept of inheritance, or, in playful feminist terms, "in*her*itance. What's particularly generative about her work here, is that some of her discussion probes the work of authors in this issue and the first issue. Moving beyond the expected and the empirical, she emphasizes choice, process, fragmentation, and resistance in the work of feminist engagements with 'inheritances.'

The title of this editorial comes from Lucy's article. I chose it because I love the way she engages with the work of others, not to summarize and create fixities, but rather to invite scholars to think about this idea we are calling 'family methodology' as something that is generative, dynamic, and yes, even playful. We put this second volume together because we had such a rich response to the initial CFP that resulted in the first volume (10). We made that volume available to the authors in this volume so that they might have the opportunity to engage. As you read, you will encounter this engagement. To me, it feels truly generative. We therefore anticipate that this "new thread" of family methodology will find its way into future issues of the journal.

I wish to thank the editor of Vitae Scholasticae - my co-editor and colleague, Lucy Bailey, for her considerable talents and efforts to bring this issue to fruition. For the past 2 years we have been working closely on this project--but from a distance. I will dearly miss our frequent ZOOM meetings and the minor roles our cats played in this on-line exchange.


(1) Lucy Bailey, this issue.

(2) Margaret Kovach, Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations and Contexts (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009).

(3) Lianne Leddy, "Interviewing Nookomis and other Reflections: the Promise of Community Collaboration", Oral History Forum: D'histoire orale, Volume 30 (2010): 1-18.

(4) Katrina Srigley and Lorraine Sutherland, "Decolonizing, Indigenizing, and learning Biskaaybiiyang in the field: Our Oral History Journey", Oral History Review, Volume 45, Issue 1, (2018): 7-28.

(5) "The 'sixties' scoop" is a term used to acknowledge the widespread practice throughout Canada in the 1960s by the state to remove Indigenous children from their families and put them up for adoption by non-Indigenous Canadian couples.

(6) Bonita Lawrence, "Real" Indians and Others: Mixed-blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood, (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2004).

(7) Michelle Fine, "Working the Hyphens: Reinventing the Self and Other in Qualitative Research", in Handbook of Qualitative Research, eds. Norman Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Press, 2000).

(8) Lucy Bailey, "Necessary Betrayals: Reflections on Biographical Work with a Racist Ancestor", Vitae Scholasticae: The journal of Educational Biography, Volume 28, Number 1 (2009): 98-116.

(9) Sce Lawrence, "Real" Indians and Others, 200.

(10) Vitae Scholasticae: The Journal of Educational Biography, Special Issue: Family Methodology, Volume 34, Number 2, 2017.

Naomi Norquay

York University
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Author:Norquay, Naomi
Publication:Vitae Scholasticae
Date:Sep 22, 2018
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