Storytelling as an Invitation to Become a Self in the World: The Promise of Narrative Inquiry

Storytelling as an Invitation to Become a Self in the World: The Promise of Narrative Inquiry

Aaron Samuel Zimmerman (Texas Tech University, USA) and Jeong-Hee Kim (Texas Tech University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5164-5.ch011


Narrative inquiry has been a popular methodology in different disciplines for the last few decades. Using stories, narrative inquiry illuminates lived experience, serving as an alternative to research methodologies that are rooted in Positivist epistemologies. In this chapter, the authors discuss, first, the primary methodological features of narrative inquiry, second, the importance of the act of narrative theorizing within narrative inquiry, third, the way in which narrative inquiry prioritizes the act of becoming over the state of knowing, and, fourth, the manner in which narrative inquiry can deepen one's appreciation for one's self and for others.
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Narrative inquiry is a research methodology that utilizes narratives and stories to understand the human condition. It has become a popular research methodology employed not only in education but also in many other disciplines over the last three decades. For example, the disciplines of psychology, sociology, law, anthropology, medicine, economics, and nursing have all developed narrative inquiry as a rigorous and legitimate research methodology within their respective field (Kim, 2016).

Narrative inquiry is a powerful tool for gaining insight into human functioning, for, as we are immersed in our daily work and activities, we do not always engage in deliberative, discrete decision-making; rather, within the context of our everyday, “fast” thinking (see Kahneman, 2011) we tend to rely on intuition and habit rather than logic and rationality (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1988; Schön, 1983). Said differently, although adults do use empirical evidence to make sense of the world, they often use stories to make sense of who they are and what they are doing. Gathering and retelling these stories is at the heart of narrative inquiry.

Much research concerning adult education and vocation requires attention to particulars: particular contexts, particular roles, and unique individuals in particular situations. Thus, the application of narrative inquiry (with its attention on unique stories) is especially appropriate for research in this field. Through careful attention to rich, specific details (rather than generalities), researchers are able to present audiences with portraits of what is most lifelike (van Manen, 1990). These portraits are, then, able to provide insight into the human condition, for, to paraphrase therapist Carl Rogers (1995), that which is particular is also that which is most universal.

Potential topics suitable for narrative inquiry might include the following:

  • What it is like to become a teacher (see Cranton, 2010)

  • What it is like to be mentored and what it is like to become a mentor (see Tummons & Ingleby, 2012)

  • What it is like to transition from being a teacher to becoming a principal (see Rios & Reyes-Guerra, 2012)

  • What it is like to live through the experience of workplace incivility (see Reio & Trudel, 2013)

  • What it is like to be a widow undertaking adult education (see Usman, 2011)

Each of these contexts, while unique, illuminates a significant dimension of the human experience. The methodology of narrative inquiry allows researchers to investigate the experiences of adults who work, live, and learn in unique contexts and to explore how stories meaningfully shape adults’ engagement in the world.

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