Portfolio Task 2: Analyzing a personal narrative interview
The process of analyzing the personal narrative is for Crossley crucially about an attempt to understand the ‘content’ and ‘complexity of meanings’ (2000:88) That said it is possibly more important to first comprehend that the world and the individuals that populate it are diverse and complex. Equally the reality that these individuals inhabit is furthermore transient and changeable. This Ontological view of reality; for the researcher; recognizes the position of multiple realities (interpretive ontology. Sparkes. 1992) that, ‘…the world is not an objective thing out there but a function of personal interaction and perception’ (Merriam. 1988:17). There are similarities here with post-modernity in that the quest for the ‘one truth’ is an illusion. Individuals construct multiple realities in a similar fashion to that of the modern consumer, as Lyotard offers;
‘One listens to reggae, watches Westerns, eats MacDonald’s for lunch and local cuisine for dinner, wears Paris perfume in Tokyo and retro clothing in Hong Kong.’ (1993)
However the relativist may not be as mobile between the realities as the consumer is for the variety of choices. The point to make here is that any attempt to ‘pin down’ and ‘categorize’ an individual in a finite way fails to grasp the individuals future potential whether such futures are actually freely chosen is a matter for another debate at another time.
One final assumption that needs to be considered is that of the nature of the relationship between the researcher and those being researched. In this qualitative study the researcher takes an epistemological stand point and interacts with those being researched in an attempt to close or bridge the gap between the two. (Cresswell. 1998:76) Furthermore the researcher; rather than shy a way from any bias; accepts the position as adding a richness and value to the study.
Getting back to Crossley’s process how do we attempt to analyse such a multiple reality? The short answer is we don’t. Rather than attempt, I’d say unsuccessfully, to manipulate multiple realities in totality for the purposes of analysis why not reduce the problem into manageable parts. Lieblich agrees offering, ‘…life stories may be processed analytically by breaking the text into relatively small units of content… (et al. 1998:12). In addition to this Smith and Sparkes also offer a raft of analysis types from conversational, discourse and narrative which [they] suggest should be added to the ‘stockpot’ of social research methods (2005:235). This seems to make a great deal of sense with differing analysis types eliciting certain but not mutually exclusive data in manageable chunks.
This piece of work will utilize Crossleys’ suggested narrative psychological analysis (2000:89-96) which does appear similar to other descriptions of content analysis (Lieblich et al. 1998, Smith and Sparkes.2005:228) given that it deals with central themes and paradigmatic categories rather than a structural analysis. However, as referred to before no one ‘technique’ should be considered a panacea to conduct analysis (1998:235).
Familiarization with the script
Crossley (1998:89) puts forward a chronological order to the analysis starting with the familiarization by the researcher with the texts. Smith takes this still further suggesting that,
“…the investigator engaging in an interpretive relationship with the transcript…not just transparently available in the interview or transcript. Rather, it has to be achieved through a sustained engagement with the text and a process of interpretation.”
This is an extremely time consuming process that requires almost ‘living with the texts’ in that they need to be carried on the person for a while akin to a favorite paperback that can be dipped into whenever the need arises. Thus, the text can be read via; one hopes; a variety of moods maybe eliciting something different in the interpretation of these vignettes.
McAdams (1995) cited in Crossley (2000), points out that, ‘narrative tone’ is the most persuasive feature of a personal narrative in adulthood.’ Yet Crossley pays limited attention to it and seems to have glossed over this element not doing it justice. Denzin adds, that ‘the researcher begins an analysis by identifying an objective set of experiences in the subject’s life.’ (1989:146). Furthermore, for Bogdan & Biklen (1992), displaying the data adds clarity and focus to future analysis. It was therefore necessary to bolster Crossley’s analysis which allowed for both the identification of experiences and the clear display of data.
It was felt that a more graphical representation would facilitate the grasp of the more holistic picture especially during the early stages of the analysis, coupled with an increase in the descriptive attributes (progressive, stable and regressive) that would allow for more detailed picture.
Whilst the narrative tone was being sought it soon became clear that a singular overall tone was too reductionist and greater insight could be available through the fragmenting of the overall tone into 3 distinct ‘threads’ – cricket, relationships and education.
Fig1 The overall narrative tone shows a graphical representation of the combination of life threads; cricket, education and relationships. A border line referred to as a line of satisfaction separates the pessimistic (negative) from the optimistic (positive) episodes in the participants’ collection of vignettes. The linear representation has been discarded in favor of a more area based diagram allowing for the notion of ‘how much‘ optimism or pessimism which is felt better represents a particular ‘period’ in time rather than a specific ‘point’ in time for the participant. Moreover rather than peaks and troughs that relate to singular points in the life of the individual it is the area between that seems to show what could be considered as episodes of prolonged optimism or pessimism. The graphic shows that the overall narrative had much more optimism than pessimism but does not attempt to gloss over the importance or interest of specific high or low points. Whilst it is acknowledged that the tale was full of optimism; shown in Fig1; this is too reductionist and fails to tease out many realities hidden within the varying threads. Figs 2-4 attempt to represent the narrative tone of the individual threads and also point to particular areas of interest that may warrant closer investigation.
Fig 2 The cricket
narrative tone graphically shows
the steady progressive climb from childhood to early manhood with a
episode at the peak of his playing career at
Fig 3 The relationship narrative tone shows many interesting episodes from moving away from family to New Zealand, Durham and questioning NZ which appear pessimistic through to the more optimistic episodes of getting married and finally moving back to the UK. Interestingly as dramatic as this first appears the narrative tone of this life thread is optimistic, moreover with utilization of the trend line such optimism does appear here to be progressive
Fig 4 Finally; the education narrative tone; represents the leaving of education for cricket followed by a episode of stability then a progressively optimistic climb through real estate exams, a degree and ultimately enrolling on a Masters. The addition of a trend line confirms the progressive optimistic narrative tone.
Presenting the information in this way whilst on the surface may appear reductionist does provide a general overview that allows for blocks of complex information to be understood and manipulated. Hollaway and Jefferson concur positing this sort of summary is used to ‘…begin to convey some kind of whole’ (2000:70)
Imagery & Themes
Having analyzed the narrative tone Crossley now turns to the imagery and themes created within the narrative, suggesting that topic areas be explored for the individual imagery that can in turn shed light onto who we are. This is a little difficult having only one interview although that is not to say that there is not real value in using this approach across individuals or repeat analysis overtime but a singular interview limits the data sets to be compared and contrasted. This identification of imagery drifts into the discipline of semiotics or the ‘study of signs.’ For instance, 'What differentiates a polite from an impolite greeting, a fashionable from an unfashionable garment?' (Culler 1985, 93); the investigation of such practices involves trying to make explicit what is usually only implicit. The researcher can attempt to make meaning for particular uses of language or the juxtaposition of ideas that could illuminate the study. Bogdan & Biklen further posit, "Meaning" is the primary concern to the qualitative approach (1992).
The suggestion for Crossley is that a specific set of chronological topic areas (see appendices 1-4) is covered – Life chapters, Key events, Significant people, Future Script, Current problem and Personal ideology. Whilst there is scope for the precise content of the topic covered nevertheless the actual processional journey did feel a little rigid at times. So much so in fact the latter topic areas gleaned little information as compared to the initial topics (see appendix 1 and 4). This could have been in part due to actual length of interview being too long or just not a stimulating set of questions for the participant.
The information collected in the tabulated format (Crossley. 2000;89-96) was rather difficult to manage at times with the content seemingly giving way to a more messy and loose interpretation of episodes. This can be seen with the Phase 1: Childhood – primary and secondary schooling (see appendix 1) were the imagery is difficult to interpret. Contrast this with Phase 2: (see appendix 1) which elicits a much more clear picture of what may be going on between the ‘positive’ New Zealand (NZ) and the ‘negative’ (UK). The language stands out and on closer inspection it is apparent that other more semiotic information is available. The participant associates a positive stance with ‘team’ and a negative stance with ‘individuality.’ Note the language associated with NZ; ‘family’, ‘team’, ‘together’, ‘success’, ‘we won’ and ‘no premaddonas.’ Now contrast this with the language used for the UK; ‘individual’, ‘personal’, ‘themselves’, ‘own’, ‘me stuffed’, ‘selfish’ and the use of ‘I.’ This is the value of Crossley’s personal narrative analysis as it enables the clear presentation of a number of elements that can then be group or sequenced and then themed. Those who would suggest that this form of analysis reduces the narrative to lowest common denominator are correct but that fails to appreciate that this form of analysis should be part of a raft of measures utilizing many differing forms of analysis eliciting alternative realities.
Having conducted Crossleys analysis with amendments it is clear to me that this analysis has merit. For instance it is clear and relatively concise as a tool to aid the conduct of analysis. However, although reference was made to the necessity of ‘narrative tone’ it was felt that not enough emphasis was given to this particular area. As such additions were offered that allowed for greater depth in the potential for analysis (i.e. progressive, stable and regressive). The sequencing of topics in a sort of chronology serves to order the mind of the participant but I have to say much of the information elicited by the participant did not follow this pattern. In fact the apparent adhoc nature of this memory retrieval did mimic the relationship our memory has with smell, in that, a particular memory or episode triggers another. Although it is acknowledge that such a chronology serves as much purpose for the researcher as the participant. Furthermore nations of ‘tone’ as clarity or display (Bogdan & Biklen.1992) seemed under-represented in textual form and would benefit the researcher in a more graphical form enabling at a glance the holistic view of episodes and narratives, something that is more difficult and time consuming with texts.
Any analysis by itself will reduce the narrative down to particular elements, in this case imagery and then themes, but as previously stated this should not be seen in isolation and is not mutually exclusive as an analysis. Moreover such an analysis should form one part of a tool kit of differing types of analyses that can be used by the researcher to elicit various realities that illuminates the life of those we research.
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