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Understanding Narrative Inquiry

Understanding Narrative Inquiry
The Crafting and Analysis of Stories as Research

March 2015 | 368 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

This comprehensive, thought-provoking introduction to narrative inquiry in the social and human sciences guides readers through the entire narrative inquiry process—from locating narrative inquiry in the interdisciplinary context, through the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings, to narrative research design, data collection (excavating stories), data analysis and interpretation, and theorizing narrative meaning. Six extracts from exemplary studies, together with questions for discussion, are provided to show how to put theory into practice. Rich in stories from the author's own research endeavors and incorporating chapter-opening vignettes that illustrate a graduate student's research dilemma, the book not only accompanies readers through the complex process of narrative inquiry with ample examples, but also helps raise their consciousness about what it means to be a qualitative researcher and a narrative inquirer in particular. 

This book has received the 2017 Outstanding Publication Award from the Narrative Research Special Interest Group (SIG) of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). The award honors research-based texts dedicated to advancing the educational process through research or scholarly inquiry.

1. Locating Narrative Inquiry in the Interdisciplinary Context
Scientific Research and Qualitative Research in Tandem  
Narrative Inquiry  
Narrative Inquiry in Different Disciplines  
Some Cautionary Tales About Narrative Inquiry  
Narrative Inquiry as the Synergy of Interdisciplinarity  
Learning to be a Storyteller in the Interdisciplinary Context  
Conclusion: A Falling Apple  
2. Philosophical/Theoretical Underpinnings of Narrative Inquiry
The Role of Theory  
Philosophical/Theoretical/Interpretive Paradigm  
Theory and Narrative Inquiry  
Critical Theory  
Critical Race Theory  
Feminist Theory  
Dewey's Theory of Experience  
Bakhtin's Theory of Novelness  
Conclusion: No Theory Used as a Procrustean Bed  
3. Narrative Research Design: Engaging in Aesthetic Play
Engaging in Aesthetic Play  
Standards for Humanities-Oriented Research  
Learning to Think Narratively  
Plowing Before Sowing: On Reviewing the Literature  
Developing "Good" Research Questions  
Imagining the Researcher-Participant Relationship: From "Spy" to "Friend"  
Ethical Issues in Narrative Inquiry  
Qualitative Writing vs. Scientific Writing  
Imagining Narrative Writing as Aesthetic Play  
Conclusion: Where Your Heart Belongs  
4. Narrative Research Genres: Meditating Stories Into Being
Narrative Inquirer as a Midwife  
Narrative Research Genres  
Autobiographical Narrative Inquiry  
Biographical Narrative Inquiry  
Arts-Based Narrative Inquiry  
Literary-Based Narrative Inquiry  
Visual-Based Narrative Inquiry  
Conclusion: Blurring Genres  
5. Narrative Data Collection Methods: Excavating Stories
Narrative Thinking  
Interview Logistics  
Types of Qualitative Interview  
Narrative Interviewing  
Artifacts: Cabinets of Curiosities or Cabinets of Wonder  
Visual Data  
Digital Archival Data  
Conclusion: Excavating Stories as Data  
6. Narrative Data Analysis and Interpretation: "Flirting" With Data
On Flirtation  
Qualitative Data Analysis  
Theorizing Narrative Data Analysis and Interpretation  
Methods of Narrative Data Analysis  
Narrative Analysis in Narrative Genres  
Conclusion: Variegations of Narrative Analysis and Interpretation  
7. Narrative Coda: Theorizing Narrative Meaning
On Coda  
Researching Signature  
Answering the Question "So What?"  
Desiring and Audience  
Avoiding an Epic Closure  
Theorizing Findings  
Planting the Seed for Social Justice  
Becoming a Scheherazade  
Conclusion: Ongoing Stories  
8. Critical Issues in Narrative Inquiry: Looking Into a Kaleidoscope
Looking into a Kaleidoscope  
Contradicting Stories: The Rashomon Effect  
Temptation of Backyard Research  
On Reflexivity  
On Bricolage and Bricoleur  
On "Small" Stories  
Storytelling as Performance  
Conclusion: Pushing the Boundary of Narrative Inquiry  
9. Examples of Narrative Inquiry: Theory Into Practice
Narrative Inquiry as Phenomenon and Method  
Narrative Inquiry as Oral History  
Narrative Inquiry as Life Story  
Narrative Inquiry as Autoethnography  
Narrative Inquiry as Creative Fiction  
Narrative Inquiry as Fiction  
Conclusion: Learning to be a Storyteller  
10. Epilogue

This is a thorough and inclusive book that can serve as an excellent introduction to narrative forms of qualitative research in the fields of education, medicine, psychology, and legal studies. But Understanding Narrative Inquiry may also serve to extend the knowledge of researchers and practitioners in those fields who are already familiar with this rapidly maturing inquiry approach. Extremely well researched and referenced, it deftly addresses sophisticated theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of narrative research, including the rationales and justifications for engaging in both storytelling and the analysis of stories. And it also explores a wide variety of helpful strategies for interviewing, fieldwork, and writing. But just as importantly, it grounds and humanizes its sophisticated scholarship through an inviting, conversational style replete with personal anecdotes, while its many concrete examples of research practice in action further enhances its usefulness. A remarkable achievement.

Tom Barone
Professor Emeritus, Arizona State University

This is an outstanding text on narrative inquiry. Kim offers the historical and philosophical context for narrative research, ample methodological instruction, and robust examples, making this a truly comprehensive text. I am particularly impressed with her attention to the different genres of narrative including arts-based and visual-based. This is a must-read for anyone interested in narrative research.

Patricia Leavy
Independent Scholar and Author of Methods Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice

Jeong-Hee Kim masterfully positions readers to enter the storied fabric of human life through the medium of narrative inquiry. Readers across all disciplines and interests will find themselves locating and articulating the textured significances of stories as research. Philosophical/theoretical connections substantively frame and permeate the text with readers importantly gaining context, language, and capacities to design and undertake fitting narrative inquiries.  The concrete examples depicting a cross section of genres and the inclusion of a glossary make this comprehensive text an invaluable resource for all interested in crafting and analysis of research through narrative inquiry.

Margaret Macintyre Latta
Professor and Director, Centre for Mindful Engagement and Graduate Programs, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Canada

This text offers novice and practicing scholars of narrative inquiry provocative philosophical and methodological insights. The text is beautifully written and draws on art, music, religion, philosophy, and literature to inform researchers’ understandings.

Mary Louise Gomez
University of Wisconsin-Madison

The author’s use of a conversational toneas if she is talking directly to her studentswhile guiding the reader through complex theoretical material is noteworthy, as are the expertly designed “Questions for Reflection” and the “Activities” sections at the end of each chapter. This text will be of interest to anyone teaching Qualitative Research Methods looking for ways to engage their graduate students.

Thalia M. Mulvihill
Ball State University
Key features


  • A wide range of narrative research genres are covered including autobiography/autoethnography, oral history, life story/life history, Bildungsroman, literary-based narrative research, and visual-based narrative research.
  • Strong coverage of the historical, theoretical, and analytical aspects of each narrative genre is combined with practical suggestions for how to conduct narrative inquiry.
  • An emphasis on the interdisciplinary nature of narrative inquiry demonstrates the multiple contexts where narrative inquiry can be used.
  • Six extended examples of narrative inquiry studies translate theory into practice and help readers visualize and implement their own narrative inquiry.
  • Coverage of contemporary critical issues encourages readers to further investigate unexplored territories of narrative inquiry.

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 4

Chapter 6

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