Thursday, November 23, 2006

Constructing case narratives

During the past 18 months I have been writing and re-writing a series of case narratives that draw on the outcomes of interviews conducted with doctoral candidates and two individuals identified by them as playing a significant role in their research. I documented my rationale and methodology in a previous post entitled Conducting Interviews. Reflecting on the process that has transpired since then, there are three points worth recording.

1. Overview
I am defining case narrative as a synthesis of data gathered from a set of discrete but complementary interviews (i.e. 1 candidate, 1 supervisor and 1 significant other constitute 1 data set). On a continuum, a case narrative is situated after ‘case data’ and ‘case record’, but before ‘case study’. I am endeavouring to incorporate multiple voices (i.e. in the form of poly-vocal narratives) that will richly describe contemporary doctoral practice. While I fulfil the role of narrator, I refrain from commenting on or drawing conclusions from the material presented within the text itself.

2. Ethical considerations
In accordance with ethics approval obtained in 2004, I gained the written consent of interviewees prior to commencement. Essentially, my objectives were to maintain informant confidentiality and to generate verified transcripts of each interview. However, a further ethical issue arose with regard to the ‘release’ of the draft narratives I was beginning to produce. Given that each of the ten candidates had nominated two significant individuals, there was potential for a breach in confidentiality within each of the data sets I had established (i.e. each informant knew the identity of at least one other informant). This led me to develop (quite a lengthy and detailed) process, whereby I began contacting the three informants in each set, seeking their permission to include select extracts from their verified, edited transcript in a narrative I was in the process of drafting. This meant that any refinements could be made and incorporated before the draft narrative was circulated to the three informants simultaneously with a view to ensuring that the narrative contained no factual errors. Hence, I wholeheartedly support the argument advanced by Israel and Hay (2006) that consent should be a “dynamic and continuous process” (rather than confined to the beginning of a research project).

3. Authorship, format and style
In a previous post on Exploring Doctoral Narratives, I referred to the perceived limitations of certain doctoral narratives. While narratives written by candidates about their doctoral experience constitute a highly valuable resource, the ‘journey’ metaphor is dominant, along with a focus on the ‘agony and ecstasy’ associated with doing a PhD. Given my goal of generating more comprehensive accounts, and with up to four voices at my disposal (candidate, supervisor, significant other and my own as candidate & researcher), I needed to resolve a range of issues including authorship and genre (e.g. who’s story should this be, and how should it be told?). After trialling many and varied approaches, I am now generating accounts where the authentic voice of informants permeates the text; a journalistic style is employed (i.e. there are no indented or italicised quotations with a view to avoiding any privileging of text); and a variety of perspectives, insights and reflections are incorporated in order to avoid creating (or be seen to be creating) a single or ‘correct’ version of events.