Research in fiction: Detective stories as analogues of educational enquiry

Year: 1994

Author: Gough, Noel, Gough, Annette Greenall

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper we explore some ways in which understandings of educational research methodologies can be illuminated by strategically positioned readings of selected works of fiction. We argue that the understandings so gained are pertinent to teaching graduate programs in educational research methodology and to choosing textual strategies in educational inquiry.

Since many stories of educational research resemble detective fiction- a quest for "the truth" about some problematic or puzzling aspect of curriculum, teaching or learning-our primary focus is on this literary mode. We argue that educational research can be informed by two aspects of detective fiction, namely, the characteristic investigatory methods of fictional detectives and the characteristic ways in which stories of fictional detection are told. These two aspects of detective fiction are linked by an underlying reflexivity in this storytelling mode. That is, the formal problem of detective fiction can be understood as a quest to tell a story-to reconstruct what "really happened"-which concludes not when "whodunit?" is revealed but when the detective is able to tell "the true story" of the murder (or other crime) in the form of a coherent linear narrative.

Thus, issues of both methodology and textual strategy arise when we consider undertaking educational research in ways that might be analogous to-for example-the detachment and "objectivity" of Sherlock Holmes, the involvement and subjectivity of Philip Marlowe, the socially-critical feminism of V.I. Warshawski, the literary artfulness of Kate Fansler, or the postmodernist playfulness of Dirk Gently.