Chapter 20: Gathering Narrative Data
Jane Elliott INTRODUCTION: DEFINING NARRATIVE AND UNDERSTANDING ITS IMPORTANCE IN RESEARCH Perhaps the most concise definition of narrative is that it is a story with a beginning, a middle and an end – this description has been traced back to Aristotle in his Poetics (Chatman, 1978; Martin, 1986). Temporality is certainly widely accepted as a key feature of narrative form. In an influential paper, Labov and Waletzky (1997)1 stated that narrative provides a ‘method of recapitulating past experiences by matching a verbal sequence of clauses to the sequence of events that actually occurred’ (p. 12). The placing of events in a sequence is therefore considered by many to be the defining feature of narrative, and it is this that perhaps best characterizes the use of narrative in many research interviews. However, a successful narrative is more than just a sequence or chronicle of events. Indeed, Labov and Waletzky (1997) suggested that although a minimal narrative is composed of a sequence of actions such a narrative is ‘abnormal: it may be considered as empty or pointless narrative’ (Labov and Waletzky, 1997, p. 13). They described fully formed narratives as having six separate elements: the abstract (a summary of the subject of the narrative); the orientation (time, place, situation, participants); the complicating action (what actually happened); the evaluation (the meaning and significance of the action); the resolution (what finally happened); and lastly, the coda, which returns the perspective to the present (see Cortazzi and Jin, Chapter 35, this volume for a more...
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