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Discourses We Live By

Hazel R. Wright
Marianne Høyen

VII. Discourses through a self-reflexive lents: thoughts from researchers

VII. Discourses through a self-reflexive lents: thoughts from researchers

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Photo by Tom Perkins, CC-BY 4.0

1This final section comprises chapters in which there is a strong element of reflexivity in the examination of discourses within a particular context. We have an account from the UK in which the author reflects on the mechanisms that encouraged her to transcend family expectations and go to university, before using this experience to examine wider participation in higher education. Then another chapter in which the travel is reversed: what starts as a study of schooling for excluded students in the UK becomes a reflective account of the benefits of using a journal during research, not just as a means of recording events, but as a means to interrogate one’s own views and understanding during the research process. A third chapter from Finland discusses a collaborative project to support citizens with a Muslim background. In so doing, it offers an insider view of the challenges encountered in handling a creative and transdisciplinary research process that will be of particular interest to those aspiring to join funded projects. Section seven (and the book) ends with a personal overview of a lifetime spent in narrative research from an eminent and recently retired Danish academic. We think this makes a fitting coda.

2In ‘Diversifying Discourses of Progression to UK Higher Education Through Narrative Approaches’ (Ch25), Laura Mazzoli Smith reflects how her teenage reading of Iris Murdoch’s novels made her aware that it was possible to challenge social expectations rather than conform to them. This enabled Laura to create an agentive personal counter-narrative to overcome family tradition, go to university, and follow an academic career. Seeing herself as an early example of ‘wider participation’ and the Murdoch novels as what Raymond Williams terms ‘resources of hope’ she considers how, by creating and disseminating a diversity of stories that capture individual’s learning journeys, we could encourage a broader range of students to apply to university and democratize the system.

3In the chapter, ‘Using Journaling and Autoethnography to Create Counter-Narratives of School Exclusion in Britain’ (Ch26), Helen Woodley describes how she initially sought to give excluded pupils a voice, in the hope that she could put their views to policy-makers and, consequently, convince them to make appropriate adjustments to decisions that affect such pupils. As part of the process, Helen was also exploring ways to collect data without disrupting class activities. This led to her choosing to write field notes, then to more reflective writing and eventually to journaling. Initially this was a way of recording, reflecting and analysing in narrative form but it became a means of self-discovery. Her chapter offers insights into the way this method can be adopted by others.

4In, ‘Reflections on a Creative Arts Project to Explore the Resilience of Young Adults with a Muslim Background in Finland’, Helena Oikarinen-Jabai (Ch27) offers a detailed and candid account of the reality of involvement in a participatory project that is a collaboration across disciplinary boundaries. Both researchers and participants held different priorities and the creative nature of the project further widened the scope for interpretation. The author offers interesting insights into the processes of bringing the project to conclusion in a successful exhibition and also conveys the issues that were important to participants with a Muslim background (captured, for example, in this appellation).

5‘Discourses, Cultural Narratives, and Genre in Biographical Narratives: A Personal Overview’ (Ch28) offers a fitting coda to the chapters in this book. Marianne Horsdal shares insights developed over a long career in narrative research and explains her own choice of cultural narratives as an alternative framework to discourses.

6The chapters in this section have a joint coherence in their focus on reflection and reflexivity but also relate well to other contributions in the book. A degree of reflection is common within narrative and life history research; in this book, also in the chapters by Dyson (Ch1), by Middleton (Ch8), Pathak (Ch9), Mascarenhas (Ch18), Sprung (Ch20), Chan (Ch21), Ylitapio-Mäntylä and Mäkiranta (Ch22), and in the conversations captured in Brayshaw and Granville (Ch24). Readers of Mazzoli Smith may find Sheridan’s study of progression in an Irish University useful (Ch10); those reading Woodley’s account of pupil exclusion should be mindful that this represents the next stage, if preventative work in schools such as the Nurture groups that Middleton examines (Ch8), fails to turn behaviour around. They may also like to look at Etta’s story in Dyson (Ch1) that is also about Pupil Referral Units. Readers of Oikarinen-Jabai may wish to look at the other texts that describe creative interventions, the chapters by Sprung (Ch20), and Brayshaw and Granville (Ch24).

7All four chapters in this final section demonstrate the usefulness of reflexivity through either academic deliberation and/or in practice. Importantly, they link reflexivity to external research themes demonstrating how individualized thinking and writing can inform the interpretation of material about others. In effect, the authors are using reflexivity to question their own thinking and in writing reflexively are making internal processes visible, either with a broad gaze, like Horsdal, or through a more focused lens. They are trusting the reader to accept their once private thoughts respectfully even when he or she disagrees with what is said. This position of trust seems an appropriate endpoint for a collection of chapters in a book that holds diversity and respect for others as core values.


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