Narrative Research – my own narrative

I have decided to use narrative inquiry as my research methodology for looking in BME students’ sense of belonging in Higher Education. As part of this process Clandinin & Connelly (2000) remind us that our own narrative inevitably come into this kind of research. The first part will focus on why I have chosen narrative inquiry and the second part will focus on why I have chosen to study BME students’ sense of belonging.

“Even our own homely accounts of happenings in our own lives are eventually converted into more or less coherent autobiographies centred round a Self acting more or less purposefully in a social world.” Bruner (1991:18). This quote by Bruner has had me intrigued for about 6 years. In my work with electronic portfolios it really helped me express what I thought was one of the key benefits of e-portfolios. Namely, that they help record and construct our learning narratives. By recording events as close to when they happen, we have a record that we can look back upon so that we can see how we have progressed overtime. I captured this notion in a presentation I gave at the Centre for Recording Achievement conference in 2010 on e-portfolios and diachronic identity. My original research idea had been to build on this until I got interested in the attainment of BME students.

What really interests me about a narrative approach to research is how we construct our identity and our stories from an imperfect memory. We don’t recall events as they actually happened but through the lens of who we are at this point in time. As Bakhtin (1986) notes our self is neither finished nor definitive (the unfinalizable self) and so future stories can always re-interpret older ones.

So how does this relate to belonging and students in HE? Firstly, belonging is about perception. It is in the perception of the individual and therefore how students construct their identity as a student and tell their story of being at university will impact on their perception of belonging. Secondly, our identity is shaped by others. So in other words, the stories that students tell about their experiences of university will reveal aspects of how they place themselves in relation to peers, tutors and the institution. The sense of how they belonging will, in turn, influence the stories that they tell about being at university.

The second part of my own narrative on why I want to research BME students’ belonging through narrative inquiry has a strong personal motivational component and a strong social justice component.

The motivational component relates to my own family. My sister-in-law is from Zimbabwe and of my son’s five cousins; four of them are of mixed ethnicity. The idea that their educational achievement could be hampered just because they are not white is something that strikes me as simply unjust and unfair. Extending that outwards from my own personal circumstances takes me towards the second factor of social justice. If it is unfair for my own family then it is unfair for anyone to be in this situation.

There are lots of social injustices that I see every day in the world around me and I guess like many of us it is not knowing what to do about it that frustrates. At least in the context of my work, this is one injustice that I can do something constructive about. Here’s hoping!

Bakhtin, M.M. (1986) Speech Genres and other Late Essays, Austin: University of Texas Press

Bruner, J.(1991) ‘The Narrative Construction of Reality’, Critical Inquiry 18:1 pp. 1-21.

Clandinin, D. J and Connelly, F. M (2000) Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

By Neil Currant Posted in EdD