Narratives of Exclusion and the Construction of the Self A companion to Chapter 3 by Guadalupe López-Bonilla. Aim of Presentation. To focus on the nature of narratives as important sense-making cultural artifacts (Gee, 2005).
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From the companion website for Rogers, R. (2011). An Introduction to Critical Discourse Analysis in Education, 2nd edition. New York: Taylor and Francis at www.routledge.com/textbooks/9780415874298
To focus on the nature of narratives as important sense-making cultural artifacts (Gee, 2005).
To discuss interviewing techniques for eliciting narratives of personal experience, in order to distinguish this genre from other types of textual data.
To guide analysis which combines concepts of d/Discourse, figured worlds, and narrative analysis.
Narratives of personal experience are a way of recapitulating past experience.
There are other ways of recapitulating past experience that are not in narrative form. You can identify narratives because the sequence of narrative clauses corresponds to the sequence of events as they actually occurred.
But there are other types of clauses in narratives: evaluative clauses let you explore the narrator’s stance toward the events depicted in the narrative (Labov & Waletzky, 1967).
Narratives may occur naturally in dialogue, but in most interviews you will typically have to think of questions that will produce a story.
There are several techniques for eliciting narratives. For instance, you can ask about an important past experience. It will depend on whom you’re interviewing and the context of the interview.
In my case, I asked students to think about a particular problem they had faced at school and to elaborate on how they had resolved it.
These types of questions let you explore issues of identity and agency.
You can ask about a particular bad or good experience, and you may also need to provide some context. For instance, you can ask something like: Can you remember a particular incident in which you…..?
Sometimes people will tell you a full narrative from beginning to end, as in Narrative 2.
Other times you may need to ask more questions in order to produce a full-fledged narrative.
Remember that a narrative without evaluative elements is a narrative that loses direction.
You need to first identify the sequence of events or narrative clauses: What is this narrative about? What happened to the narrator? This is the referential function in narratives.
Evaluation in narratives may take several forms, but you can start by going through the sequence of events and looking for places where the sequence is suspended. Most likely there will be an evaluative clause. This is the evaluative function in narratives.
Evaluation in narratives can give you a good insight into the figured worlds that make up a person’s space of authoring.
In Narrative 1, Brenda’s figured worlds about teachers and school authorities revealed inconsistencies between school’s regulations and teachers’ arbitrary and unfair actions.
In Narrative 2, Gabriela’s figured world about school authorities was quite the opposite: when punished by “unfair” teachers, school authorities were an important source of support for students.
Conceptually, figured worlds can help understand how someone uses language (discourse) to enact a particular socially situated identity (Discourse).
For instance, in Text 1, Jaime observes that a discourse (the specialized language of chemistry: “to combine molecules”) is meaningless for him because he’s lacking the “realm of interpretation” (figured world or “storyline”) that would let him perceive funny things such as molecules “combining” in particular ways. Therefore, Jaime is unable to enact the identity of “competent” student in chemistry.
Dialogical figured worlds, which can be found in evaluative elements in narratives (but not only), encode different voices in narratives.
Once you’ve identified the figured worlds in evaluative clauses, think about the people behind the d/Discourse.
Why are these elements important for the narrator? What does it say about the experience being narrated?
Go back to the rest of the interview and see if you can find traces of these figured worlds.
Now go back to the sequence of events, the referential function of the narrative: What kind of narrative plot is revealed in the referential function?
How is the narrator portrayed? Do “things” happen to her/him or is she/he an active agent?
In Narrative 1, Brenda sees herself as part of a collective group but with limited possibilities for action.
In Narrative 2, Gabriela sees herself as an individual in charge of her own life/destiny. She won’t allow unfair things to happen to her. She sees herself as a resourceful person who has a good support system.
Suggested Readings Worlds
Bruner, J. (1991). The narrative construction of reality. Critical Inquiry, 18(1), 1–21.
Hymes, D. (1996). Ethnography, linguistics, narrative inequality: Toward an understanding of voice. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Labov, W., & Waletsky, J. (1967). Narrative analysis: Oral versions of personal experience. Journal of Narrative Analysis and Life History, 7, 3–38.
Ochs, E., & Capps, L. (1996). Narrating the self. Annual Review of Anthropology, 25, 19–43.
Wortham, S. (2005). Learning identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.