Narrative Inquiry, Methodology, TL-TS Research Channel, New Materiality

Reflections on an Exploration of Narrative Inquiry in a Public Seminar with Dr. Gary Barkhuizen

October 03, 2019

By Samuel Chen

It was a packed house for Dr. Gary Barkhuizen’s public seminar at SFU Harbour Centre on Sept 11, 2019.  The visiting lecturer from the University of Auckland spoke about a longitudinal narrative inquiry of the identity of a Hong Kong study abroad student and drew on a broad overview of the field of narrative inquiry in applied linguistics. Throughout the seminar, Dr. Barkhuizen referenced his work on core dimensions in narrative inquiry from his chapter in the Routledge Handbook on Research Methods in Applied Linguistics.

In attendance was a cross-section of faculty members in Language, Cultures & Literacies Education and graduate students, making for a lively discussion.  The majority of the talk focused on how surveys and interviews were translated into short stories by multiple researchers in different countries and subsequently analyzed using a narrative inquiry methodology. While most of the audience was interested primarily in narrative inquiry rather than study-abroad, the particular research project that Dr. Barkhuizen referenced had some significant findings on learner identity and L2-mediated personal development.  He discussed  reflexive identity (how we see ourselves) and imagined identity (pre and post study abroad experience) for international students.

Translating Data into Stories

Elaborating on narrative inquiry methodology, Dr. Barkhuizen introduced the concept of writing as analysis and narrative as data. In the project he spoke about, his research team was required to first read the survey data keeping in mind what question the project was trying to answer then excerpt salient points and lift out quotes. This was then all put together in short-story form. There was a lot of discussion about how challenging this process was and the possibility for translation error.  To enhance participant validity, Dr. Barkhuizen said the short-stories were sent back to the participants to review for corrections and to provide them the option to remove certain parts of the story if they were uncomfortable.

There are many methodological questions related to analyzing the stories. One of the first questions raised was why participants weren’t asked to write the story themselves?  Dr. Barkhuizen responded that it was impractical asking the full-time international students to write lengthy narratives as part of the study.  He also addressed that the process of translating the surveys into narrative form was also a way that the researchers were analyzing and making meaning of the data.

“Who’s story is it anyways then?”  “And in this process where students were sent the researcher’s interpretation of their story, is there not the risk of students re-interpreting their own experiences?”  These were some of the questions which revealed the complexities of how stories are constructed and co-constructed. Dr. Barkhuizen noted that stories must be balanced with rich contextual information recognizing the hermeneutic circle of reinterpretation and the possibility of multiple layers of mediation in the meaning making process.

Analyzing Short Stories

To analyze the short stories, Dr. Barkhuizen and his research associates began to classify each line of the stories into who, when and where.  An in-depth analysis of the relationships and positionality of characters involved, temporal dimensions and spatial dimensions allowed for a dynamic classification of  details providing a framework for the emergence of themes.

While we were discussing this, an important question (see video at 50:05) arose around how materiality may feature in the analysis.  This is a relatively new field and Dr. Barkhuizen explained that although he was not an expert in the area, he did include materiality aspects into his analysis under the classification of where and when. For example, in the story of one of the participants, there was a theme that emerged about riding a bicycle to commute to school and work, which was a significant part of the study-abroad and lived experience in New Zealand. The interviewee explained that this cycling habit quickly subsided upon returning to Hong Kong.  The research team put this into the “where” aspect of the their analysis.  Dr. Barkhuizen acknowledged that that there may be different ways to look at new materiality, which he had heard was being looked at by different faculty at SFU.

Retelling the Stories: How Narrative Inquiry becomes Longitudinal

Another interesting feature of how narrative inquiry was used in the study is that in one particular incidence, the short-story was sent back to the interviewee two years after the fact with questions and comments in the mark-up sections. The participant provided responses and this was a quick way to track and generate a longitudinal view of the participant’s experience.

This public seminar was a great way to get an overview of a research methodology as well as provide an opportunity to meet faculty and graduate students in the field. If you’re interested in delving deeper into the topic of narrative inquiry, please take a look at the recorded interview with Dr. Barkhuizen.

Dr. Angel Lin and her post-doctoral fellows and graduate students are also in the process of creating a Community of Practice through a TL-TS Research Group.  There will be a series of live and recorded broadcasts on different research methodologies and research topics. For example, on Sep 13, 2019, they hosted a virtual seminar on ‘translanguaging pedagogy: Becoming critical linguistic ethnographers with our students’ with Dr. Saskia Van Viegen (York University) and Dr. Sunny Man Chu Lau (Bishop's University). There will be more live and recorded broadcasts with established and emerging scholars. Please consider subscribing to stay connected