Critical Narrative Research (CNR): conceptualizing and furthering the validity of an emerging methodology.
CNR can be conceptualized as an expression of or form of ethnography that places the "the self within a social context ... [and] is both a method and a text." (7) The methodology borrows from ethnographic traditions and uses methods closely aligned with ethnography while being aware of and attempting to combat the colonial underpinnings that have traditionally plagued ethnographic practices. These practices are by no means singular since "ethnography has metamorphosed over the years so that varying strains of ethnography have developed." (8) Such strains have been affected by a variety of perspectives, which "may vary with respect to the guiding theory, the style of engagement, or the way the ethnographer expresses the cultural practices under study." (9) Critical theory guides and informs CNR and therefore, researchers partaking in CNR can draw on relevant frames that borrow and are derived from critical traditions (e.g., critical multicultural theory) to inform their data analysis.
The style of engagement CNR develops is also contingent on the proliferation of a variety of text forms that include but are not restricted to poetry, prose, as well as traditional field and research notes. The texts that are developed and offered throughout a critical narrative borrow from ethnography and literature. Aesthetic representation is one of the ways the postcolonial turn in research has addressed the limits of ethnography. (10) As such, cultural practices expressed within CNR can take on a variety of aesthetic forms influenced by and commensurate with critical and postcolonial theoretical dispositions seeking to uncover what has been taken for granted or deemed "neutral" while resisting the idea that there is a single "truth," a notion that has been reinforced by and criticized for being present within traditional conceptualizations of ethnography. (11) CNR rejects the idea of universal truths and does not profess to make claims in the knowledge it constructs. (12)
As presented thus far, it may appear as if CNR is a singular and closed research genre. What is important to understand is that the methodology has taken on a variety of forms and been used in a myriad of ways. In fact, interpretations and employments of narrative inquiry are as varied as researchers conducting narrative studies. Sandy DeLuca concurs and adds however that
if, in fact, there were a singular thread uniting most forms of narrative research, perhaps it is the belief that meaning is constructed through the telling and retelling of one's story, and is generated through an intentional reflective and recursive interpretive posture regarding one's account. (13)
Critical narrative researchers are therefore deeply interested in exploring the relationship between "their life experience and the theoretical underpinnings of their scholarship." (14) As such, they "describe ways in which their life histories, political involvement, moments of insight, and desire to work in alliances for social change made an impact on their research agenda and professional growth." (15) Researchers doing CNR are interested in fully implicating themselves within their inquiry and then presenting and investigating their storied constructions of experience as pluralistic, un-unified, contradictory, problematic and perhaps even incoherent. (16) In short, they "conduct research in a way that demystifies the systems of reasoning behind why [they] do what [they] do" (17) and the "resultant knowing that is discovered is multidimensional, partial, and critical." (18) These approaches to knowledge formation resist colonial traditions of inquiry that have constructed identities, the Other, and phenomena in general as unified and in contrast, are concerned with uncovering the subtleties, complexities and biases that come with representing culture. (19)
CNR furthers the conceptualization of research as a "process of continual self-conscious critique" (20) which demands a methodology that resists the pat, the simplistic and the predictive in favour of one which recognizes the complexity and multiplicity of lived experience and the importance of fully disclosing the subjectivity of the research process. In being committed to this critical understanding of narrated experience, research voices that may further call into question links between personal experiences, biases and research observations and interpretations are explored and made explicit. As such, multivocality, the questioning of previous assumptions of empirical authority and the interrogation of the construction of subjectivity, is extremely salient to CNR researchers. Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of "dialogic listening" is helpful in conceptualising how multivolcality may be fostered within CNR. (21)
Amia Leiblich et al., identify "three voices" that must be heard and reconciled in furthering dialogism in narrative research. These voices are that of the narrator, the theoretical framework and the voice that emerges from a "reflexive monitoring of the act of reading and interpretation, that is, self-awareness of the decision process of drawing conclusions." (22) This reconciliation does not necessitate the cohesiveness of voices and theoretical proclivity, but rather is intended to foster multiplicity within narrated accounts in order to "splinter the dogmatism of a single tale." (23) These critical perspectives are developed as storied accounts of personal and researched experiences are interrogated and challenged. Story then, is used as the impetus for reconceptualizing what a society, a profession or a researcher has intentionally or inadvertently communicated as unproblematic, objective or 'true.' Reconceptualization is realized through a process of construction, deconstruction and re-construction. This is a "threefold mimesis" that "refers to three domains: a past, a present mediating act, and a future. Paul Ricoeur uses the subscripts 1, 2, 3 to identify the different mimesises." (24) Mimesis 1 is the world as presented in narrative form (construction). Mimesis 2 occurs through a reflection on and distancing from prejudices and pre-understandings (deconstruction). The reflexive monitoring Leiblich et al., identify is crucial to this stage. Mimesis 3 applies these insights to a refigured future (reconceptualization) in an effort to put forward an "opening up of possible new worlds." (25) In other words, a discussion and critical examination of what was and what is first occurs, what follows is a vision for what can be. The next section provides an outline of methods that enable this process.
Field Texts and Research Texts
The threefold mimesis Ricoeur describes relies on the composition of what Jean Clandinin and Michael Connelly describe as "field texts." "Field texts are selective reconstructions of field experience and thereby embody an interpretive process." (26) These texts can "assist memory to fill in the richness, nuance, and intricacy of the lived stories and the [researched] landscape." (27) In order for this to occur, Clandinin and Connelly suggest that narrative inquirers diligently and rigorously construct field texts on a daily basis. Field texts may take the form of quick scribbles in a notebook, or dictations into a tape recorder. These texts are described as outward in that they record existential events. Throughout both phases of the research, hand written notes are quickly jotted down during observational periods. Additionally, anecdotal remarks and field stories can be spoken into a tape recorder during or at the end of research sessions.
Clandinin and Connelly describe other field texts that take the form of inward or reflective communication. They are triggered by an experience in the field, are much more descriptive of the researcher's experience, and can take the form of detailed field notes, journals, poetry, autobiographical writing, letters and the like. Journaling becomes an important part of the fieldwork phase of a CNR study. Throughout my field work, journaling, poetry and various forms of prose were often inspired as I reviewed a variety of outward field texts. During this time, I also recorded memories I was having, some of which were about my teaching, others were of my experiences as an early years student. I also expanded upon some of the observations I made, experiences I had and questions I asked myself during research sessions. All of these reflections, memories and forms of prose were written quietly, away from the frenetic pace of the research day and provided initial opportunities to begin to make sense of what I was observing and collecting.
Aside from interviews with research participants, there are other types of field texts that are of importance to researchers conducting CNR. Field texts based on what Clandinin and Connelly refer to as a "social artefact" (28) can also be composed and collected to help build sets of relevant data. In terms of classroom based research, these artefacts may take the form of samples of children's work, photographs, notes about the processes students' undergo as they create various texts through visual art (e.g., play-dough model, painting etc.), drama (e.g., puppet centre performance, physical retell of a story, etc.), a construction activity (e.g., connector set, blocks, etc.), writing or oral narration. Clandinin and Connelly believe that "viewing these documents in the context of a narrative inquiry constitutes something that might be an archaeology of memory and meaning." (29) These selected artifacts constructed within the social environment of the research field are interpreted and add another dimension to the unfolding story. They are used as a "trigger" in composing field texts which interpret research events. They are essentially meaning making units of discourse that are composed based on the researcher's observations and interpretations.
Another internal field text that can be used to further mulitvocality within CNR is the researcher's autobiography. Prior to commencing field work, it is helpful for the CNR researcher to write his/her own autobiography as it relates to the topic he/she is examining. In my own research, I found it useful and important to draw on a self-study I wrote prior to beginning my field work (30) which described and reflected upon my experiences of being a culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) student in early childhood education (ECE) as I was researching CLD children in early years classrooms. This personal connection to research has traditionally been understood as problematic in reductionistic and formalistic lines of inquiry. Clandinin and Connelly argue that "For the inquirer within the grand narrative [technical-rationalism], experience is a black mark on the slate to be wiped clean; for the formalist, experience is something to be ignored." (31) Critical narrative research however, allows researchers to access personal experiences throughout their research in order to fully disclose their subjectivity. These experiences are then assets the researcher brings to his/her work that become salient components of the research rather than undesirable validity obstructions. Clandinin and Connelly further state that a researcher's ability to enter into a narrative inquiry is prompted by the personal as opposed to the theoretical (as with formalists), or the generalizable (as with reductionists). They argue that, "one of the starting points for narrative inquiry is the researcher's own narrative of experience, the researcher's autobiography." (32) This notion was especially relevant to my research and informed my decision to utilize CNR to address the questions I explored. Having had the opportunity to compose and critically reflect upon my own experiences as a former CLD student enabled me to become aware of and interested in how the personal becomes manifest in research agendas, processes and knowledge formation. Clandinin and Connelly (2000) confirm the importance of these connections in their belief that "narrative inquirers need to reconstruct their own narrative of inquiry histories and to be alert to possible tensions between those narrative histories and the narrative research they undertake." (33) In short, they ask that narrative researchers become "autobiographically conscious" (34) of their own reactions to their work. To this end, researcher/research connections are made explicit as opposed to being hidden and unexplored.
The Analysis Process
Once researchers have completed their field research, data (the composed and collected field texts) are used to create research texts. Research texts further discover and construct meaning in the field texts. Narrative researchers reconstruct their field texts into research texts through analytic-interpretive processes that begin with the archiving, sorting, and re-reading of their field texts. Throughout this process, researchers juxtapose different texts in order to identify similarities and/or contrasts. This enables them to reflect upon and articulate patterns, themes, narrative threads, and tensions in their data. Narrative researchers bring related stories of their past forward and lay them alongside field texts to make connections between their personal experiences and their research observations and interpretations. This reconstruction also requires researchers to contextualize or place their data in a fully "nested" manner. (35) The temporality of field texts is articulated and places observed individuals in relation to their larger social contexts. Such nesting or contextualizing also requires that field texts be laid alongside or in relation to other research and theoretical works. Throughout this process, the various and relevant critical frames researchers are drawing on to create research texts from field texts facilitates the transition from mimesis 1 (construction), to mimesis 2 (deconstruction) and 3 (reconceptualization).
Contextualizing or "nesting" necessitates looking at various factors (economic, racial, political, religious, cultural, etc.) that shape macro interactions in society and by extension, micro interactions between participants within their study. Throughout the 'nesting' process, preliminary themes are also identified. During my research, this phase of analysis also facilitated research texts in response to the data. As the research texts were being developed, many of the recorded memories and reflections I had during my fieldwork could be placed in relation to my field texts and organised according to their relevance to the themes that had begun to surface. Within the data, there was also evidence of readings I had done and was doing during my fieldwork. At times, I referred to a specific article, an idea, or researcher's body of work. These references were further developed and then expanded.
Again, in CNR this placing does not seek to validate pre-determined theoretical understandings or the proclivities and biases of the researcher but rather furthers a multivocal stance that calls into question what has been observed as it further explains and expounds interpretations and observations made by various "voices" within the study that include participants, other research, theory and the researcher. These connections are born out of a need to help clarify, contradict and finally formulate further questioning into the researched phenomenon. This can foster the interrogation of pre-conceptions and taken-for-granted assumptions that shape and affect the researched experience. It is in this direct interrogation of what has been understood as the dominant "story" or the "grand narrative," that the potential for personal, professional and societal change and reconceptualization can manifest. As critical narrative researchers deconstruct and challenge dominant narratives, new storylines hopefully begin to emerge. Clandinin and Connelly believe that the transition from field texts to research texts needs to be replete with the social and theoretical positioning of collected data. They argue, "this positioning of our inquiries is necessary if narrative inquiries are to contribute to questions of social significance." (36) Therefore, transforming research texts into completed research involves fully exploring the various connections made during the "nesting" period of data analysis and seeking out additional and sometimes disparate understandings to broaden the scope of interpretation.
Fostering and Assessing Validity] in CNR
As mentioned earlier, a combination of criteria can be used in developing the validity of CNR. The remainder of this paper addresses issues of internal validity in CNR and critically examines how it might be established through combined criteria and various methodological procedures. Again, I draw on my own research experiences to demonstrate the significance of these issues for researchers conducting studies that employ narrative methods.
Elliott Mishler suggests that new approaches for potentially assessing the validity of qualitative research methods such as narrative inquiry are required. (37) He believes this is necessary since these methods have often been denied legitimacy because of the misapplication of experimental-based criteria and procedures. Clandinin and Connelly agree and add, "It is important not to squeeze the language of narrative criteria into a language created for other forms of research. The language and criteria for the conduct of narrative inquiry are under development in the research community." (38) Interestingly, these sentiments were also iterated in the Presidential address given by Thalia Mulvihill at the International Society for Educational Biography 2007 annual meeting. Although this continues to be an important issue for researchers who use narrative and life history methods, the challenge in addressing this issue is that the development and construction of these criteria and methods is contentious, problematic and in need of critical examination if they are to be useful.
John Creswell and Dana Miller point to the challenge of writing about validity in qualitative inquiry in general because of the lack of consensus regarding what to examine in determining what constitutes valid research. However, they also suggest that there is a general consensus that "... inquirers need to demonstrate that their studies are credible." (39) Neil Simco and Jo Warin question whether "validity [is] an outmoded and outdated concept which derives from an overused lifting of scientific method into educational research or whether it is representative of the only 'true' way of approaching the key issue of the trustworthiness of research outputs." (40) Both sets of researchers ponder whether traditional concepts of reliability and validity should be adopted as criteria for evaluating research or whether we can suggest a more appropriate set of strategies for appraising the trustworthiness of research methods that do not conform or benefit from orthodox approaches to validity construction and evaluation.
I argue that it is possible and necessary to suggest a more appropriate set of strategies and criteria other than those that have been utilized outside the area for which they were originally designed. Although I have utilized a combined set of criteria to develop the validity of my own research, I have also critically examined their effectiveness and limitations. This is necessary since any determined set of criteria established in the design of research may not in fact lead to a better understanding of what 'valid' narrative inquiry might look like or how it may be fostered. In this next section I ask how possible it is to determine the validity of CNR in light of limitations and problems associated with utilizing these criteria. Issues related to field duration, researcher reflexivity, replication, description and disparate understandings of data are examined to organize a theoretical frame.
Creswell and Miller believe that one possible validity procedure involves researchers staying at a research site for a prolonged period of time. They find that researchers who spend longer periods of time within a field are more likely to gain access to pluralistic perspectives and acquire enhanced and deepened understandings of contexts that influence research participant behaviors and attitudes. This "insider" information is invaluable to creating field texts as well as research texts and indicative of social construction and constructivist criteria used in judging the quality and credibility of qualitative inquiry. Amos Hatch concurs with this notion that is borrowed from anthropological research traditions. He claims that, "Long term, sustained engagement with participants in their natural settings is a distinguishing characteristic of good qualitative work." (41)
I tried to ensure that a "full cycle" of activity came to fruition in my study. Originally, the first phase of my research was to end in December. However, I felt that I needed to extend the time in order to feel secure about the observations I had made. It was also difficult to "negotiate the transition" out of the classrooms. (42) Although I was returning in June, I did not feel that December was the right time to leave. Just as I finally established relationships with teachers, students and parents and began to get a good "sense" of what was happening, my time had expired. I feared that I was a bad dinner guest who had to "eat and run". Extending phase one seemed to quell these fears and enabled me to further develop the relationships I was building and take advantage of the sense I was developing.
It stands to reason that narrative researchers have to get a good feel for the environment they are observing. However, this sustained engagement over a full cycle of activity in the field may not ensure that observations and interpretations can be rendered valid. Although prolonged engagement in a field can be viewed as a way to foster validity in narrative research, the definition of "prolonged" needs to be questioned. A five-month period of time researching a subject or being immersed in a research site may not be satisfactory in furthering validity. An uninterrupted year may not ensure this either.
More important to me than the time spent in the field was focusing on the quality of observations and interpretations I made and the consistency with which they were recorded. Clandinin and Connelly argue that this regularity is essential. Without a disciplined approach to data collection, field duration, no matter how extended, may not in fact foster the validity a narrative inquirer seeks to establish. This regularity did not come easily. Researching in the field two full days per week and then going to the faculty to address my teaching responsibilities made regularity difficult. Data creation took place whenever I had a moment to spare during the research day as well as in the car coming back from research sites through the use of a tape recorder. The importance of quality data collection never left me. I feared not having enough as well as amassing a disorderly pile. As it turned out, I had collected a substantial amount of data and although it took time to organize, most of it had a semblance of order.
During my fieldwork I was quite militant about collection and tried to ensure that all research sessions were accounted for and properly dated. Despite my efforts there were a few entries that required some further archiving to organize. In addition to research notebooks, personal journals, and audiotapes that contained data, I maintained (and thankfully kept) a day planner that tracked where I was throughout my fieldwork and skeletally outlined the events of the day. The day planner was helpful in sorting out dateless data and therefore became another important 'outward field text.'
Clandinin and Connelly argue that extended periods of time in the field can also allow research participants to become comfortable disclosing information. As mentioned previously, it is essential for narrative inquirers to negotiate their relationships in the field. Throughout this process, inquirers become aware of the tensions of becoming involved in the research space while still being able to "step back and see their own stories in the inquiry, the stories of the participants, as well as the larger landscape on which they all live." (43) Researchers are then granted opportunities to "reciprocate by giving back to people being studied." (44) It must also be pointed out however that a researcher's understandings can be rendered invalid due to biases cultivated as a result of personal investments and/or sympathetic feelings toward participants that may alter their depictions of those participants. Considering these tensions, it is wise to question the effects of forming relationships as a result of prolonged engagement whereby trusts are gained and subsequent reciprocation takes place. This disclosure/reward system is problematic and may potentially compromise the validity of a narrative study. This notion informed my relationships and kept me aware of links between how I was constructing participants in my field notes and our developing relationships. Although this was helpful and necessary, it did not help me address other uncertainties I had.
I questioned the nature of participant disclosure, how prepared a researcher is to deal with this disclosure, as well as his or her comfort level with an idea of reciprocity. All of these questions further problematized the disclosure/ reciprocation notion understood to be a benefit of prolonged engagement in the field. The following narrative crafted from my field notes demonstrates the need to examine these issues critically.
Sarah's Request (45)
The events that unfolded in Sarah's grade one class this morning reminded me of some of the feelings of abandonment and lack of support I had as a beginning teacher I would never have anticipated these experiences eventually shaping my role as a researcher.
I thought the morning went well, aside from the fact that two of Sarah's students were really pushing her to the edge the entire time. I'm sure having me there furthered her frustration since she would periodically and apologetically glance over at me as if she was somehow responsible for their behavior I wanted to stop working with the ESL child I was with and reassure her that I understood and in no wag saw their behavior as her fault, but I feared doing so would heighten rather than subdue her anxieties. I proceeded as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. And really--it wasn't.
However, during lunch Sarah confided that she wanted my opinion about what to do because she was becoming extremely frustrated with both of the students. She told me she had been thinking about them at night and felt she was doing them a disservice in her self-described 'inadequacy' in dealing with their behaviors. Her feelings mirrored those of many young teachers, feelings I had grappled with as well. I flashed bach to frustrating experiences I had in my initial gears of teaching and the lack of support I received. Despite this, I was hesitant to give her an advice because I had spent so much time trying to quell the idea that I was some sort of "expert." We had talked openly about how I didn't want her to view me as such and subsequently feel nervous about my presence in her classroom. Now, she was asking me to tell her what I thought. I was afraid that doing so would make her feel judged and ruin the growing comfort level we were establishing.
I quite honestly would have been less hesitant had it been an ESL related question or situation. In fact, she had asked these types of questions and I never thought twice about addressing them. I actually relished when this happened since I felt I was providing the type of support I never had as a teacher or benefited from as a student. Somehow behavior and classroom management issues seemed (at least to me) more sensitive to deal with as so much of what people understand to be a 'good' teacher focuses on control rather than pedagogy, and therefore advice in this area is apt to create hurt feelings and bruised egos.
Her obvious frustration about the behavior of the two students necessitated a response despite my resistance to being positioned as the "expert. " I was torn. This was not what I anticipated "giving", nor was it what I thought I would be asked to give. Sarah's request for assistance was such that I decided to put all of these thoughts aside and offer her support and advice. We talked about the importance of not going home and blaming yourself to the point of self-flagellation, as this was a difficult lesson I had learned as a neophyte teacher. At the end of the day, Sara h seemed less overwhelmed by the morning's events. As I left I thought a great deal about the nature of participant observation, what I thought reciprocity would entail and how this it did not always coincide with what participants needed.
As a result of this event and many others, I began to realize that the disclosure I had hoped to be privy to as a result of prolonged engagement would not always conform to what I thought or hoped would be revealed about participants or the research environment. The relationship between my past and what I was looking forward to providing also became apparent as a factor that shaped my initial preconceptions about reciprocity. There were many examples of disclosure and reciprocation throughout my fieldwork in addition to that just described, some of them were very personal in nature, others career oriented. In any case, I realized I had very specific thoughts about what I preferred and was comfortable giving and that these offerings were at times different from what participants wanted. Since a teacher's life in the midst of vast and extensive challenges is just as extensive, what a researcher needs to become aware of is his/her comfort with and ability to respond to these needs in ways that challenge what he/she has defined as his/her purpose within that research setting. In short, 'negotiating purposes' and 'usefulness' in the field is (or should be) multi-faceted, on-going and guided by self-reflection.
Although it was essential to examine these issues throughout the research process, they were, more importantly, catalysts for thinking about ethical issues that needed to be considered when working with children. These issues were constantly on my mind and affected my decision-making as I negotiated entrance into the children's classrooms and lives. Michael Boyle argues "the mere fact that the researcher is an adult immediately places them in a position of authority and power." (46) Pam Alldred concurs and points out that research involving children has always been riddled with issues of power. The physical size of a researcher as compared to a child as well as the dominant cultural meanings assigned to his/her age and gender are just a few of the factors that shape researcher/researched relationships with children. (47)
The issue of ethics is further complicated when we consider how attempts to discuss methodological issues can result in researchers inadvertently "construct[ing] children as cognitive incompetents, routinely wrong and misunderstanding; likely to confuse fact with fiction; and ... [providing] answers they think adults want rather than reply[ing] accurately." (48) These constructions have helped further the cultural positioning of children within developmental discourses of incompleteness, and can further extend doubts about the validity of 'subjective' research in general. Ironically, such doubts give credence to empirical studies of children that have dominated the research landscape and have been instrumental in objectifying and silencing children.
Ethical issues were important to me throughout my fieldwork in various ways. Something that seemed as simple as trying to get permission forms back from children became riddled with questions since I was concerned about whether reminders to the children would put pressure on them to get their parents to sign the form. I also considered whether the high rate of returned forms was a sign of teacher/researcher pleasing. I began to reflect on how such hypersensitivity can actually render and construct children as too easily influenced and unable to exercise autonomy. These are constructions that have had legal, psychological and emotional ramifications for children in society and, therefore, are in need of critical reflection in order for researchers to become cognizant of possibly overestimating their effect on children. As such, my own understanding of what a "child" is and my subsequent responsibility
to the children in my study became something I started to question. I also wondered if asking these questions was simply the necessary ethical imperative a researcher has to protect children who are (or may be) affected by his/her research? A couple of situations from my fieldwork illustrate these issues.
In one case a child decided she did not want to participate. Although she did not articulate this, she was wary throughout the debriefing sessions, hesitant in working with me (the "ESL guy") and ambivalent when asked about the permission form. The student however, was extremely mature for her age and academically one of the strongest children in the class. Her teacher told me that everything given to her by way of permission forms and the like was always returned immediately and that she never lost a form. However, there were issues she had dealt with regarding her ethnicity and status as an "ESL" student in the past that I was made aware of which explained her wariness. In this case, and for these reasons, I felt she knew her own mind and therefore did not question her resolve or decision, nor did I continue to push the issue of the form. My hesitance to continue to ask the student for the forms ran counter to her teachers' (past and present) requests that I do so. They both felt that because of issues she had been dealing with, she would benefit from participating in the study.
As a general observation, many of the teachers in my study were much less concerned about the ethics of putting pressure on the students to return the forms and at times my attention to the issue may have seemed strange. After all, they were constantly having to remind students about returning a myriad of forms throughout the school year, and had to be proficient in doing so. My own teaching experience certainly confirmed this. Therefore my decision to not pursue the matter may have seemed unusual and perhaps rendered me someone who was too 'precious' with children and subsequently demonstrated that I questioned their autonomy and was suspicious of their need to please adults. There was no single reason why the return rate of the forms was so high. However, it may demonstrate that that my perceived exaggerated carefulness may have been unnecessary. Perhaps I was too cautious with the children and did not give them enough credit. Had I behaved or thought differently, the student I spoke of may have participated and her rich story would have been included in the research. I say this because throughout the school year, she underwent changes that led me to ponder whether her teachers had been right.
There were other times however, when I felt that being overly cautious was beneficial and necessary. One particular grade one child was enthusiastic about working with me. His former teacher (also involved in the study) continued to develop a relationship with him after he had finished kindergarten with her. One of their shared interests was hockey so she brought him back a puck from a hockey game. She heard that he had not brought back his signed form and told me that she was looking forward to giving him the puck and while doing so, would ask why the form hadn't come back yet. I asked that the two conversations happen separately. Although she had no intention of using the puck as a bribe, (the gesture was entirely sincere and caring), I feared how he might perceive the incident and that he may feel pressure to nag his parents to sign the form. As it turned out, his parents did not want to participate despite talks they had had with the trusted teacher and other parents in the community. In this case, my carefulness was completely justified.
All of these experiences helped me to realize that researchers working with children walk a tight rope as they negotiate entrance, set up their study and become part of children's school lives. It is therefore important for researchers to be aware of the ways in which the decisions they make, albeit informed by what they have determined to be "ethical behaviour," can work for and against children. Further, although prolonged field duration may help establish the internal validity of a study, it also creates issues that if not addressed, can compromise the validity researchers try to establish.
Mishler (1990) believes that a researcher's ability to reflect on his/her processes can potentially foster the validity of a narrative inquiry. (49) Again, this notion is commensurate with social construction and constructivist criteria for assessing the quality and credibility of qualitative research. Simco and Warin also believe that researcher self-reflection may advance validity and that there needs to be a "capacity, and will for researchers to situate themselves within their own processes." (50) It is hoped that researcher self-reflection "makes explicit the tacit parts of the research process and reveals the layers of mutual influence amongst the participants involved in the creation of the research." (51) Similarly, Creswell and Miller argue that researchers need to "self-disclose their assumptions, beliefs and biases." (52) Researchers must practice reflexivity and reveal how their personal understandings and proclivities toward specific theoretical orientations may shape their inquiry. Researcher reflexivity demands that researchers bracket or suspend their biases as the study proceeds. Creswell and Miller claim, "It is particularly important for researchers to acknowledge and describe their entering beliefs and biases early in the research process to allow readers to understand their positions, and then to bracket or suspend those researcher biases as the study proceeds." (53)
Although I subscribe to what Creswell and Miller propose in principle, I do not believe that I or any other researcher for that matter can bracket or suspend beliefs and biases once they have been acknowledged. Throughout my research I became increasingly aware of my own personal biases and how they were formed. However, acknowledging these beliefs and biases did not ensure that they were not reinscribed in my inquiry. Even though I provided a detailed account of my personal and professional experiences in the prologue of my study, this was insufficient in fully developing the type of researcher-reflexivity necessary in ensuring that the validity of research was furthered. I believe that it is possible for researchers to ignore narratives and theoretical proclivities that disrupt their beliefs and biases even though they have named them. In order to further the internal validity of CNR, it is important to continually locate, name, examine and reflect upon biases and beliefs throughout the research to remind the reader that the researcher is very much present within the narratives they are constructing and theory choices they are making.
The dual nature of Clandinin and Connelly's understandings of field texts further reflects upon the "problem of the influence of the observer on the observed." (54) Clandinin and Connelly are aware that narrative researchers may in fact be "shaping the parade of events as [they] study the parade." (55) They argue that dual field texts (existential and internal) allow researchers to both document their presence in the field and reflect upon their influence on the stories they are telling. The dual quality of field texts gives narrative researchers opportunities to place "themselves as part of the field experience being studied" and reflect upon "themselves experiencing that experience." (56) These understandings of collecting and composing field texts and research texts offer researchers a way to consistently place themselves within their research and reflect on the connections between their personal and professional experiences, research observations and interpretations. This is far more helpful than the mere initial acknowledgement of subjectivity, since it organizes a process that continually needs to be reconciled in data collection, interpretation and analysis which further develops researcher reflexivity within a study and therefore may potentially advance the validity of an inquiry. I would also argue that this process can advance an ethical approach to researching children.
Alldred argues that researchers must always be reflective of the multiple levels through which their power can be conceptualized when researching children. She argues that researchers must account for their unconscious projections and fantasies concerning children, which include those stemming from their own experiences as they build and negotiate observer/observed relationships in the fields they are entering. (57) Due to their "othered" status in traditional forms of research, Viruru and Cannella (2001) argue that research involving children must be reconceptualized using "postcolonial alternatives". (58) These arguments reinforce the idea that research must be "viewed as a process of continual self-conscious critique" (p. 168) through the unpacking and inclusion of researcher bias as part of the story, and a further explication of the research. Such efforts will hopefully lessen the tendency for inquiry involving children to further "Us/Other" relations and reinscribe colonial relations of power.
Mishler states that, "if our overall assessment of a study's trustworthiness is high enough for us to act on it, we are granting the findings a sufficient degree of validity to invest our own time and energy, and to put at risk our reputations as competent investigators." (59) This "springboard" or "further work" notion is in contrast to the experimental based idea of replication. Validity is achieved when readers use the research as a catalyst for further inquiry or use within their professional life. The work may in other words contribute to the dialogue occurring within the field of study. This notion once again reflects social construction and constructivist criteria for assessing the validity of qualitative research.
The on-going development of conversations within a field is of vital importance to its growth. What is contentious is whether readers refuse to act upon or incorporate research into their conversations. Research often opposes stances, points of view and positions in which readers are well entrenched. Researchers also deny or refuse the validity of research due to personal investments made in contradictory findings they may have utilized or participated in creating. Can an example of critical narrative research be rendered invalid simply because it is not utilized or considered a force that instigates further inquiry? Does this render the research invalid?
Thomas Kuhn (60) and Elliott Mishler see validity as being tied to the norms of discursive groups and understand knowledge to be a community property. However, this may also be problematic as it can lead to discourse fuelled by personal biases, research politics or careerism. A 'community of researchers' can work to compromise the validity of narrative research rather than further develop the understandings within it. Some of the theoretical notions and analysis I developed in my study counter grand narratives and dominant discourses of ECE (e.g., developmentalism). Can and should my research be rendered invalid because of this dominance?
My study also demonstrates the limitations of Mishler's "springboard" or "further work" notion in another way. Although the study capitalizes on previous inquiry I conducted, this may not ensure the validity of that particular inquiry. Clandinin and Connelly argue that "...as narrative inquirers construct accounts of their childhood, they often give them the status of objective fact." (61) Perhaps the accounts of my childhood experiences documented in my previous study communicate a false sense of "objectivity." Although I may avoid playing the "memory game" (62) because of my commitment to critically interrogating these narratives, it is still imperative to understand the limitations of Mishler's "springboard" notion in terms of validity construction and assessment. It may be that research that "springboards" from previous inquiry may not further validity in any capacity.
Thick, rich description as a way of fostering a sense of research "completeness" has also been deemed integral to fostering the validity of a research endeavor. The level of creativity and evocative nature of description reflects artistic criteria used in judging qualitative inquiry. Additionally, Creswell and Miller argue that deep detailed accounts need to be developed and presented throughout research rather than a mere retelling/reporting of facts. It is believed that efforts to do so can also help build verstchen (63) within research. "Thus, credibility is established through the lens of readers who read a narrative account and are transported into a setting or situation." (64)
What is not considered and examined critically in relation to this criterion is the actual use or purpose of the thick rich description. Critical narrative researchers would benefit from questioning whether the descriptions they are providing are of uncritically examined notions and biases. Questioning whether their thick rich descriptions reproduce status quo understandings is far more important for them to explore than the "completeness" of their descriptions. I believe that creators and assessors of narrative research need to be aware that it is possible to construct or read research in which well written, thick, rich descriptions do not substantially address and question issues that require doing so. This does not serve to advance the validity of research, but rather diminishes it.
My ability as a researcher to create thick rich descriptions of what I observed cannot be understood as a way of furthering the potential validity of my research. What is more useful to me are the questions I have of the narrative constructions I compose and as such, interrogating how what I have composed and interpreted relates to personal experiences and theoretical inclinations. This may be more helpful in fostering internal validity than focusing on a researcher's ability to describe creatively or evocatively what they have observed.
For researchers working with children in any capacity, descriptions must also be understood as a way of raising important ethical issues. Alldred argues that one of the ways a researcher's power can be conceptualized is operating "through the hegemonic cultural perspective contained within the language [they] (must) use ..." (65) The adult-centrism of language must be fully considered and critically reflected upon as it is embedded in the descriptions researchers provide. These particular notions are commensurate with what Patton (2002) terms critical change criteria. (66) Without attending to this set of criteria, research that has supposedly rejected unitary objectivism ends up adopting a realist and implicitly objectivist perspective since it depicts "children's culture as existing prior to, and independently of, the researcher's gaze." (67) Subsequently, an undistorted, unaltered objective "reporting" of a researcher's "mere observations" begins to be communicated. Therefore, even though a researcher may recognize the existence of different perspectives, "it is simply assumed that readers of the research will rest their faith in the researcher's own perspective as the basis for knowledge." (68)
William S. Burroughs was half right when he remarked that, "Language is a virus from Outer Space." (69) Language is indeed infected by perspective specific sensibilities. These perspectives however, do not come from outer space. They are very much a product of class, race, gender and age. If researchers working with children are to sincerely attempt to explore ways of understanding them, they must accept that the language they use is infected by their adult(ethno) centered understandings of the world. These understandings affect how researchers represent children. Without a conscious exploration of how discourse maintains these understandings, the children in their studies run the risk of remaining cast and described as "done unto Others."
Creswell and Miller's notion of disconfirming evidence is significant and potentially useful in developing validity in critical narrative research. Utilizing disconfirming evidence ensures a process whereby "...investigators first establish the preliminary themes or categories in a study and then search through the data for evidence that is inconsistent with or disconfirms these themes." (70) This procedure is similar to one proposed by Simco and Warin in which seeking out conflicting interpretations ensures that researchers ask whether they, perhaps unintentionally, are looking to confirm their theories through the development of consensus finding strategies. This criterion arises from a critique of validity as confirmation and is commensurate with critical change perspectives used in judging qualitative inquiry. By subscribing to this potential warrant, researchers can attempt to discover strategies for maintaining a dialectic and work towards a refinement of the validity debate.
The significance of this criterion for critical narrative researchers working in the field of ECE is potentially vast. A great deal of research in ECE has tended to reproduce maturationist theories of child development. Such research often constructs children in opposition to adults and characterizes them "as incompetent, and as requiring guidance in the control of their 'savage' tendencies." (71) These constructions have been understood to be instrumental in ensuring that children remain "unrestrictedly colonized" (72) as they are regarded as things to be raised rather than lived amongst and a sub-species to be studied rather than heard and understood. Using disconfirming evidence within research that explores ECE may assist researchers who may find themselves reproducing or confirming findings that are dominant within a field. Advancing the validity of their research may necessitate integrating notions that challenge their theoretical proclivities and preconceived biases.
In my own research, my observations during the field research phase reinforced some of the notions in which I have become invested. Therefore actively seeking out and utilizing understandings that are in opposition to my observations, analyses and interpretations prevented me from simply confirming what I had become invested in and comfortable with. Using disconfirming evidence also furthers critical explorations of the connections between personal experiences, theoretical understandings and research observations and interpretations. Disconfirming evidence can be used as a tool to create the dissonance researchers require in ensuring that dialogic listening and interrogation processes are evidenced within their research.
Although it is essential to investigate and make use of criteria that can help advance validity within narrative research, it is even more important to grow increasingly aware of the limitations and problems associated with utilizing these criteria. No single set of criteria can be used to cultivate or assess validity in narrative inquiry. However, merely utilizing a combination of criteria may not ensure that validity within narrative research is furthered either. Instead, advancing the validity of research is not a question of using the "right" set of criteria, but a matter of utilizing them critically as well as explicitly describing where they fail or come short. What I deem "criteria consciousness and candor" is letting readers/assessors know about the shortcomings and limitations of trying to advance and assess validity. Clandinin and Connelly describe this as researcher "wakefulness." (73) This wakefulness is necessary since alternative criteria may be as ineffective as the very sets of warrants that Mishler and others have found to be problematic validity barriers for narrative research. If narrative inquiry is to function differently from the research traditions and orientations that have questioned its validity, narrative inquirers must be hyper aware, willing to deconstruct and be accountable to the limitations of alternative criteria constructed and employed in advancing the validity of narrative research.
(1) My previous research has examined links between literacy and identity in four early years classrooms specifically focusing on ten culturally and linguistically diverse students in two kindergarten and two grade one classrooms over the course of a year. School documents, field notes, photographs, and children's work were collected during field work. Interviews with teachers, parents, school board personnel, and students were aditionally conducted throughout the year. Luigi Iannacci, Othered among others: A critical narrative of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) children's literacy and identity in early childhood education (London, Ontario: Ph.D. dissertation, University of Western Ontario, 2005).
(2) Michael Quinn Patton, Qualitative research and evaluation measures, 3rd edition (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 2002).
(3) Patricia Burdell, and Beth Blue Swadener, "Critical personal narrative and autoethnography in education: reflections on a genre," Educational Researcher (28, 1999): 21-26.
(4) Ibid., 21
(5) Glenda Moss, "Provisions of trustworthiness in critical narrative research: Bridging intersubjectivity and fidelity," The Qualitative Report (9:2, 2004): 359-374.
(6) Burdell and Swadener, "Critical personal narrative and autoethnography in education: reflections on a genre," 21.
(7) Ibid., 22.
(8) Robin Patric Clair, "The changing story of ethnography," Expressions of ethnography: novel approaches to qualitative methods, ed. Robin Patric Clair (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003) 3-28.
(9) Ibid., 11.
(10) Burdell and Swadener, "Critical personal narrative and autoethnography in education: reflections on a genre."
(12) Sandy Deluca, Finding meaning places for healing: Toward a vigilant subjectivity in the practice of a nurse educator (Toronto, Ontario: Phd. dissertation, 2000).
(13) Ibid., 27.
(14) Burdell and Swadener, "Critical personal narrative and autoethnography in education: reflections on a genre," 24.
(15) Ibid., 24.
(16) Miller, "Autobiography and the Necessary Incompleteness of Teachers' Stories," A light in dark times : Maxine Greene and the unfinished conversation, eds. William Ayers and J. Miller (New York: Teachers College Press, 1998), 145-154.
(17) Carl Grant, "Introduction: The idea, the invitation, and chapter themes," Multicultural research: A reflective engagement with race, class, gender and sexual orientation, ed. Carl Grant (Philadelphia: Falmer, 1999), 1-8).
(18) Moss, "Provisions of trustworthiness in critical narrative research: Bridging intersubjectivity and fidelity," 364.
(19) Clair, "The changing story of ethnography."
(20) Radhika Viruru and Gaile Cannella, "Postcolonial ethnography, young children, and Voice," Embracing identities in early childhood education; Diversity and possibilities, eds. Susan Grieshaber and Gaile Cannella (New York: Teachers College Press, 2001), 158-172.
(21) Mihail Bakhtin, The dialogic imagination (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1981).
(22) Amia Lieblich, Rivka Tuval-Mashiach and Tamar Zilber, Narrative Research: Reading, analgsis and interpretation (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998), 10.
(23) Miller, "Autobiography and the Necessary Incompleteness of Teachers' Stories." 149.
(24) Ellen Herda, "Research conversations and narrative: A critical hermeneutic orientation in participatory inquiry," (Wesport, CT: Praeger, 1999), 76.
(25) Lieblich, Tuval-Mashiach and Zilber, Narrative Research: Reading, analysis and interpretation (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998), 77.
(26) Jean Clandinin and Michael Connelly, Narrative Inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass publications, 2000), 94.
(27) Ibid., 80.
(28) Ibid., 114.
(29) Ibid., 114.
(30) Luigi Iannacci, An autobiographical account of first language and culture replacement (London, Ontario: Master's thesis, University of Western Ontario, 1998).
(31) Clandinin and Connelly, Narrative Inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research, 40.
(32) Ibid., 70.
(33) Ibid., 46.
(34) Ibid., 46.
(35) Ibid., xvii.
(36) Ibid., 136.
(37) Elliott Mishler, "Validation in inquiry-guided research: The Role of Exemplars in Narrative Studies," Harvard Educational Review (60:4, 1990): 415-442.
(38) Clandinin and Connelly, Narrative Inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research, 184.
(39) John Creswell and Dana Miller, "Determining Validity in Qualitative Inquiry," Theory Into Practice (39:3 2000):124-129.
(40) Neil Simco and Jo Warin, "Validity in image-based research: An elaborated illustration of the issues," British Educational Research Journal (23:5, 1997): 661-772.
(41) Amos Hatch, "Qualitative research in early childhood education," Issues in early childhood educational research, eds. Bernard Spodek, Olivia Saracho, Anthony Pellegrini (New York: Teachers College Press, 1998), 49-75.
(42) Clandinin and Connelly, Narrative Inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research, 74.
(43) Clandinin and Connelly, Narrative Inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research, 81.
(44) Clandinin and Connelly, Narrative Inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research, 128.
(46) Michael Boyle, "Exploring the worlds of childhood: The dilemmas and problems of the adult researcher," Explorations in methodology, eds. Alexander Massey and Geoffrey Walford (Connecticut: Jai Press Inc., 1999), 91-108.
(47) Pam Alldred, "Ethnography and discourse analysis: dilemmas in representing the voices of children," Feminist Dilemmas in qualitative Research: Public knowledge and private lives, eds. Jane Ribbens and Rosalind Edwards (London: Sage, 1998), 148-170.
(48) Ibid., 154.
(49) Mishler, "Validation in inquiry-guided research: The Role of Exemplars in Narrative Studies."
(50) Simco and Jo Warin, "Validity in image-based research: An elaborated illustration of the issues," 670.
(51) Ibid., 670.
(52) Creswell and Miller, "Determining Validity in Qualitative Inquiry," 127.
(53) Ibid., 127.
(54) Clandinin and Connelly, Narrative Inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research, 87.
(55) Ibid., 87.
(56) Ibid., 88.
(57) Alldred, R (1998). "Ethnography and discourse analysis: dilemmas in representing the voices of children."
(58) Radhika Viruru and Gaile Cannella, "Postcolonial ethnography, young children, and Voice," 168.
(59) Mishler, "Validation in inquiry-guided research: The Role of Exemplars in Narrative Studies," 419.
(60) Thomas Kuhn, "Objectivity, value judgement, and theory," The Essential Tension, ed. Thomas Kuhn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 320-339.
(61) Clandinin and Connelly, Narrative Inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research, 118.
(62) Miller, "Autobiography and the Necessary Incompleteness of Teachers' Stories."
(63) German term for understanding. (See Thomas A. Schwandt, Dictionary of qualitative inquiry (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 2001).
(64) Creswell and Miller, "Determining Validity in Qualitative Inquiry," 129.
(65) Alldred, R (1998). "Ethnography and discourse analysis: dilemmas in representing the voices of children," 162.
(66) Patton, Qualitative research and evaluation measures, 3rd edition.
(67) Alldred, P. (1998). "Ethnography and discourse analysis: dilemmas in representing the voices of children," 153.
(68) Ibid., 153.
(69) An actual written reference for this quote was not found. However several websites have noted it as one of Burroughs' many famous remarks (see for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_S._Burroughs).
(70) Creswell and Miller, "Determining Validity in Qualitative Inquiry," 127.
(71) Viruru and Cannella, "Postcolonial ethnography, young children, and Voice," 161.
(72) Ibid., 161.
(73) Clandinin and Connelly, Narrative Inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research, 184.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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