Researcher Attentiveness in Narrative Inquiry

Year: 2016

Author: Nehma, Nathalie, Nolan, Andrea

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In the midst of stories, our attention as narrative inquirers can sometimes be focused on particular expectations. When those expectations are not met, tensions may occur that can complicate our relationship with participants, limiting what is shared, heard and understood. Acknowledging this issue, this paper will focus on these tensions and what can be learnt if one is attentive to what participants are saying and doing, instead of coming to the research process expecting participant stories to be told in particular ways. This work draws from a PhD study that is conducting a narrative inquiry (Connelly & Clandinin 2000) into children’s educational experience during times of conflict. Four Australian-Lebanese adults who undertook their early childhood, primary and/or secondary education during times of conflict in Lebanon are participants for this study. Reflexive dialogues have been conducted through several meetings with each participant in order to understand participant educational experiences. Further reflections on the part of the inquirer when transcribing these meetings facilitated a revisiting of the tensions surrounding one participant’s dialogues across a number of meetings with the realisation as to the importance of being attentive and receptive to what is shared. Drawing from Noddings (1984) understanding of attentive receptivity in the research relationship where she refuses to put herself ‘in other’s shoes’; instead, attending to the ‘other’ in herself, the inquirer was able to understand the deeper meanings behind the dialogue. This paper explores the role of attentive receptivity and the role it can play in the inquirer/participant relationship. It argues that by using Riesman’s (1993) question, ‘why was the story told that way?’ attentive receptivity can relieve tensions between the researcher and the participant and transform them into significant and insightful meanings. These meanings can in turn enrich the field texts and the relational experience, and hidden values in the emergent experience can become clearer. Part of the Narrative Inquiry approach is for deeper experiences to grow out of these narratives and potentially lead to other more heightened experiences (Clandinin & Connelly 2000).