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Discourses We Live By

 | 
Hazel R. Wright
, 
Marianne Høyen

I. Discourses we live within: frameworks that structure

I. Discourses we live within: frameworks that structure

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Photo by Tom Perkins, CC-BY 4.0

1 Together the chapters in this section address some of the discourses through which we humans give our lives structure: the big frames like truth and fiction, language, health and ill-health, beliefs and socio-political groupings, cultures of knowing and acting in relation to the natural world, appear within the four chapters placed here.

2Firstly, in ‘Truth and Narrative: How and Why Stories Matter’ (Ch1) Janet Dyson examines the potency of literature and poetry in capturing and conveying truth (s). She draws on a long-term interest in the ‘truthfulness’ of fiction developed during a career as a teacher trainer with a specialism in reflective practice. Janet encourages her trainees to write descriptive factual accounts of their experiences and later reflect on them but also to write and think with stories and poems to gain new perspectives and broader and deeper understanding (s). This chapter sets out the theoretical and practical framework for her approach (including her commitment to the narrative inquiry tradition set out by Clandinin and Connelly) and its benefits as a pedagogic practice, illustrating claims with evidence from published literature and story-work with trainees.

3Secondly, situated within a French theoretical framework, we have ‘From Experience to Language in Narrative Practices in Therapeutic Education in France’ (Ch2). This study, by Hervé Breton, explores ways of sharing patients’ experiences verbally in a health context as a contribution to making such services more democratic. Making medical practitioners more aware of patients’ needs and feelings acts to redress power imbalances between patients and professionals. The study shows how formulating experiences as stories makes them ‘sayable’ and worthy of attention in an account that highlights new practical uses for narratives. This is a beautifully crafted chapter, thoroughly supported by a range of French academic literature. To assist those for whom this may not be accessible, some English texts are added in the chapter.

4In the next chapter, ‘Narratives of Fundamentalism, Negative Capability and the Democratic Imperative’ (Ch3), Linden West and Alan Bainbridge together explore politics, religion, economics and ideology through a case study of fundamentalism (and, indirectly exclusion and poverty) in a post-industrial city in the north of England, ironically the home of the Workers’ Educational Association, which was founded in 1908. The chapter offers a wide-ranging discussion of its subjects through a psychological lens, drawing on John Keats’ notion of negative capability to theorize fundamentalism as a determination to ‘grab’ at new belief systems, or remain securely within established ones, rather than risk more nuanced understandings or change as these can appear threatening.

5Lastly, ‘Understandings of the Natural World from a Generational Perspective’ (Ch4) collects the views of members from four generations of the same family in order to ascertain their knowledge of nature (meaning, here, plants and animals) and the ways in which this was acquired. Hazel Wright is interested in examining the extent to which residual learning stems from family practices, schooling or from other everyday experiences. She later compares her findings with ‘grand narratives’ around nature, reflecting on how such discourses become embedded within society.

6Together, these chapters offer ideas that underpin our interpretations of human life. Truth, communication, political and cultural contexts and the human relationship with the natural environment resonate with most people, so these chapters may provide the sequential reader with ideas to take forward into later chapters. They also offer a taste of the different styles and literatures underpinning national research traditions, since they exemplify the philosophical, the praxeological, the rhetorical and social-constructivist approaches.

7However, none of these chapters claim to offer more than a single exploration among many ‘potentialities’. A broader, yet personal perspective on narrative methodology can be found in Horsdal (Ch28), who looks back on a long engagement in the field. For readers interested in forms of expression, Evans’ work with conversation analysis (Ch17); Formenti and colleagues’ study of children leaving care (Ch11); and Pathak’s rhetorical discussion of punishment (Ch9) may be useful, among others. Dyson’s focus on trainee teachers relates to Dahl’s work (Ch6), and her interest in reflexivity is relevant to the work of Mazzoli Smith (Ch25) and Woodley (Ch26). Aspects of Breton’s work also resonate with Castiglioni and Girotti’s discussion of the power of narrative in work with gamblers (Ch12). Readers of Bainbridge and West (Ch3) may choose to look at the González González (Ch14) and Zientek (Ch16) chapters, as both work within highly politicized contexts, or glean different facets of Islam from the work of Rasmussen (Ch19) and Oikarinen-Jabai (Ch27). Like Wright, Mazzoli Smith (Ch25), Høyen and Rasmusen (Ch5), and Mascarenhas (Ch18) consider how prior experiences shape future learning and learning choices.

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