Research: Partnership and Narratives

Understanding Everyday Narratives
Robin Hughes, Education Policy Adviser, Lancaster SU (r.hughes3@lancaster.ac.uk)

A session I’ll mention was one on Analysing Everyday Digital Narratives, a part of the NOVELLA project (Narratives of Varied Everyday Lives and Linked Approaches). The approaches that were taken in this project were specifically focussed around how narratives of “good” parenting affected parenting practice. Whilst in and of itself this is useful in relation to student parents, I also wanted to consider wider implications.

At its core, the project wanted to understand and predict behaviour by certain groups; “Individuals challenge and/or reproduce contextually located cultural expectations of ‘good’ behaviour in relation to environment in their narratives of everyday life.” The approach seemed to be straightforward; using interviews to establish narratives, and then identifying how individuals relate to the ‘Canonical’ narratives of their roles to attempt to understand ” the ‘disconnect’ between behaviour and constructed meaning in understanding habitual practice.”

This could be very useful for researching student groups, particularly where there are concerns about behaviour.

Although ongoing work, the biographical and narrative approach to interviewing brought out some very interesting discussions which might not have normally arisen, with questions centred around how individuals perform in their role versus expectations. (e.g. “How strict are you as a single parent?”) Although the group were concerned about the influence the interviewer may have, getting individuals to talk about how they acted and how they believed they were viewed was fascinating. If adaptable, it seems an interesting way to gather long qual’ data and begin to analyse it;specifically looking at how students identify or not with common narratives, and how this affects their behaviour.

The methods and methodologies being employed are still being developed, for their interesting project on parenting and for some capacity building training they run in the area I’d recommend checking out their web presence- www.novella.ac.uk

Research as part of an ethos of partnership
Kate Little, Student Engagement and Partnership Consultant, NUS (Kate.little@nus.org.uk)

In this piece I want to focus on Problem Centred Interviewing. This is a German method originating in the 80s, and emphasises a co-creation approach to research. So rather than the researcherbeing seen as neutral facilitators or questioners of the interviewee, the researcher’s pre-existing knowledge is explicitly called upon. The approach involves the meeting of a researcher’s prior knowledge and the interviewee’s practical experience in order to co-create new knowledge around a certain problem, issue or topic (in German, problemstellung does not have the negative connotations of its English translation). Dialogue and active co-construction of meaning are core facets of this approach.

I would like to situate this research method within the broader debate of partnership communities within institutions. In conventional conceptions of the researcher- interviewee relationships, researchers are neutral and only aim to gather knowledge from the subject. Similarly, consumerist conceptions of the student-teacher relationship place students in a similarly passive role. This approach acknowledges that within research, co-production of knowledge between experts and experiencers can be very powerful. The transferability of this to teaching practice is obvious. By broadening the partnership debate beyond staff and students, and beyond teaching and learning, I think the student movement has a real opportunity to strive towards academic community members co-creating the entire institution.

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