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Discourses We Live By

Hazel R. Wright
Marianne Høyen

III. Discourses we work through: challenges to overcome

III. Discourses we work through: challenges to overcome

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Photo by Tom Perkins, CC-BY 4.0

1 The chapters in this section demonstrate how professionals in a range of contexts have found ways of working that mediate constraining discourses, whether through processes of endurance, through individual effort or through developing collaborative practices. The first chapter covers a difficult topic (punishment) in a Nepalese context; the second addresses failure within the Irish higher education system. The final two introduce Italian contexts, one focusing on overcoming the stigma and disadvantages inherent in growing up in care, the other studying the theoretical and practical frameworks for using narrative work with those addicted to gambling.

2In chapter nine, ‘Punishment Discourses in Everyday Life’, Khum Raj Pathak is motivated by his insider knowledge as a student, then a teacher in Nepal to collect the stories of adults who suffered similar regimes of punishment. Working within a philosophical tradition he presents a powerful rhetorical argument about how violent language constructs punishment discourses, reminding us, through a flying visit to the British press, that such language is common in other cultures too, but may go unnoticed. In his narrative research he further explores the links between physical punishment and discourses of punishment and how together these disempower the individual who is punished.

3Vera Sheridan’s account (Ch10), of ‘Irish Students Turning First-Year Transition Obstacles into Successful Progression’, sits within the framework of academic retention and progression but focuses on students who overcome failure after being asked to write a reflective account of their situation for their repeat assessment. The professional input here (visible through the choice of strategy) is understated, but evidenced by the subsequent biographical interviews that capture the student’s problems and the process of overcoming them. Despite its modest claims, this chapter actually presents an empathetic approach that scaffolds a transition from would-be to successful student.

4‘Care Leavers in Italy: From ‘Vulnerable’ Children to ‘Autonomous’ Adults?’ (Ch11) makes appropriate use of its multiple authorship as Laura Formenti, Andrea Galimberti and Mirella Ferrari use different discursive frames to convey the problems associated with leaving care. Laura’s tale is event-focused, looking at supportive relationships in different phases of her participant’s life; Andrea’s is relational, reflecting the interactive style of the interview; Mirella’s fictionalized, creating meaning differently; so each researcher draws upon their individual strengths. In many respects this is a performative piece even though the medium is a written one, so little attempt is made to compare the merits of each approach. It is for you, the reader, to engage with the texts and decide how each approach works and what is useful to you and your research. Thus, the chapter avoids prescription and maintains its polyvocal stance, reaching out for interactive engagement.

5Finally, in ‘What Game Are We Playing? Narrative Work that Supports Gamblers’ (Ch12), Micaela Castiglioni and Carola Girotti trace the notion of play back to its philosophical origins, as a pursuit that is important to adults and children alike and made up of games of competition, chance, simulation and vertigo. Drawing upon European theorizations (from, for example, Huizinga and Caillois) gambling is clearly situated in the category of chance (Alea), as the authors explain, and this very act helps to reduce the associated stigma, as it becomes play gone wrong. The authors discuss the usefulness of narratives in capturing the essence of difficulties with recovering addicts in two Italian contexts, although they keep the actual narratives confidential in order to maintain anonymity.

6The chapters in this section cover troublesome issues in different ways, seeing them, in the case of punishment and gambling, as extreme versions of common behaviour patterns; in terms of student failure, as a temporary obstacle that can be overcome; and in the case of Italian care leavers, inviting the reader to consider the stories themselves and the act of telling, thus seeking to stimulate engagement with the issues.

7They relate well to other chapters in the book in terms of content and approach. Particularly, we draw attention to the work of Linden West and Alan Bainbridge (Ch3) and Rob Evans’ chapter for its interest in language (Ch17) in relation to Khum Raj Pathak’s study of punishment; to the entire second section (Chs5–8) and Janet Dyson’s (Ch1), Laura Mazzoli-Smith’s (Ch25) and Helen Woodley’s work in education (Ch27) with regard to Sheridan; to Teresa Brayshaw and Jennifer Granville’s performative treatment of film-making with senior citizens (Ch24) and Matthiassen’s (Ch13) and Cooper’s (Ch23) studies of ex-offenders trying to rejoin civilian life in Denmark and Britain respectively in relation to the ‘leaving care’ text. The ex-offender texts (Chs13 & 23) can also be usefully read alongside that on gambling as all are seen as ‘deviant’ behaviours by general society even if treated more generously here.

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