Narrative Matters 2010
Presenting for the first time at an international conference was both a fantastic experience as well as a rite of passage (in a developing researcher sense). Not only did I feel positive about what I was going to present but I felt confident in my own presentation skills, which was partly encouraged by some of the performances.
Below is a summary of the key points of my presentation, including an annotated script (in italics) as well as my own commentary.
Setting the Scene
This paper explores the methodological possibilities when the researcher identity is closely bound up to the phenomena under study.
First I will situate this presentation in my area of research in order to provide the context in which I explore issues of positionality and it’s effect on my reflexivity in this narrative study.
I wanted to succinctly state what my presentation was about, hence the “This paper…” beginning. I also wanted to briefly describe in detail the context of this presentation (as seen by the bullet points).
Since this was a presentation on narrative issues, by way of introduction, I read out two brief samples of my own narrative and invited the audience to see if they noticed any differences between the two narratives.
This first sample is a quote from an information sheet that I gave to participants during my MA dissertation in 2007:
I am a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester (England) studying an MA TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). I am in the process of researching my dissertation on the issues of race and the English language teaching industry.
As for myself, I am a Filipino-Canadian, born and raised in Canada. I’ve been teaching abroad in China and Australia over the course of 3 years. My own mixed background has given me an experience that I feel was quite different from other English language teachers.
This second sample is from a book chapter I wrote found in Nunan and Choi (2010) Language and Culture: Reflective narratives and the emergence of identity:
This was only the third lesson that I’d had with this group of students, during which I would often have a few late-comers joining the class for the first time. Consequently they would miss the pre-prepared speech I so often gave at the beginning of each course and, upon arrival, were confused with my appearance. Usually, during these instances I would let the other students inform their classmates about me. It took the pressure off me to try to validate my position as their teacher, which was relief in many ways. I eavesdropped on their conversation, which took place in Chinese, and usually went along these lines:
New Student: “I thought our teacher was a native speaker!”
Current Student: “She is a native speaker.”
New Student: (pause) “But she looks Chinese!”
Current Student: “She’s not! She’s Canadian.”
At the time I wasn’t really aware of the implications that this conversation had, other than feeling that I’d rather let my students defend my right to be there at the front of the classroom than repeating my speech over again.
Main Focus: Part One
These two narratives offered two concrete examples of what I term “range of positionality”, which is movement from non-disclosure to disclosure or narrative sharing.
I’d like to turn now to issues of positionality and its effect on my reflexivity on this narrative study. What do I mean by positionality? The degree that I, the researcher, stand in relation to my participants in a narrative study.
– important since I share a similar background with my participants
– race and language closely bound to notions of identity
Range of positions (Hide / Reveal / Share):
Hide: Not revealing aspects of my background and/or experience
Reveal: Disclosing some aspects of my background and/or experience
Share: To make known aspects of my background and/or experience which are relevant or similar to the participants
This slide introduced the first of a two-part section on methodological issues in narrative inquiry studies. This first section focuses on presenting the range positionality that the researcher can take with regards to how much of their own background do they disclose with their participants. To illustrate this concept in the next section I described how I used this range of positionality in my own research.
Implementing the range in my own research
The extent to which I positioned myself in relation to the participants effected the extent of my reflexivity in this narrative study.
I focused this section on answering the following questions:
Why was I not reflexively present in my MA dissertation and why am I intending to be more reflectively present in my doctoral thesis?
How did I position myself with my participants in my MA dissertation and how am I now beginning to position myself with my participants?
I went on to present my answers in detail:
Partially revealing my background had me at a distance from my participants as subsequently from the study itself, which resulted in limiting the narrative reflexivity of my study on my own story.
During my MA studies I made the deliberate choice not to disclose my narrative to my participants, as illustrated by my first narrative. I chose to inform them of my ethnic and linguistic background, but not my story. Why was I not reflexively present in my MA dissertation? Surely since the study was about teachers who are like me that logically I would be inclined to include my story in the study.
At the time I didn’t since I believed that sharing my story with others like me would influence what they shared with me. At the time, I wanted to see if the stories my participants shared would be similar to my own experience without prompting them. I thought by hiding my own narrative I would be minimizing my influence and subsequently my bias when gathering their stories.
My thinking has evolved since my MA in 2007 and now as I embark on the long and winding PhD road, I would like to be more reflexively present in my doctoral thesis. For example, sharing my narrative, such as the second story that I read out, with my participants could bring about a more active role for my participants. Hearing my story would invite them to “bouncing ideas” about their own experiences as a VEM-NEST. Did they have a similar narrative to my own or is their narrative quite different? Why?
Main Focus: Part Two
In this section I draw together the effect of the extent to which the researcher reveals their background/experiences affects their level of reflexivity in the narrative study. I use myself as an example to illustrate this link (as laid out in the slide).
For example, during my MA I had only informed my participants of my ethnic and linguistic background (i.e. Filipino-Canadian, native English speaker) and positioned me at a distance in relation to my participants. Thus, my reflexivity was limited in the narrative study as I chose to focus on the stories of my participants and keep my own narrative out of the analysis.
Looking forward, I’m very interested in how sharing my narrative (i.e. one similar to the second story I introduced earlier in the presentation) would not only affect my position in relation to my participants but also affect the information they shared with me. Would it be a narrative that mirrors my own? Would it be a different story offered to contrast my experiences?
Not just for TESOL practitioners…
This final slide highlights some major considerations that I felt researchers ought to ask themselves, which led to a short discussion on where those present in the audience positioned themselves.
Reflections: On a whole, it has been a positive learning experience. Going through the process of editing and working out my ideas has enabled me to really focus on one area of narrative inquiry whilst clarifying how what I’m actually doing in my research is relevant to this contribution to narrative research methodology. It is also not a “finished” product, so to speak, but a continuation of my own development as a researcher. I plan to proceed with this line of inquiry with the expectation of finding further insight into this complex notion of positionality and it’s relevance to my research area.