Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education
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Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education

Edited by Sara Delamont

The Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education offers both basic and advanced discussions of data collection, analysis and representation of all the best qualitative methods used in educational research.
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Chapter 20: Gathering Narrative Data

Jane Elliott


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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