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A creative approach to narrative inquiry: using literary characters and concepts in the writing of research texts

Netolicky, D.ORCID: 0000-0002-5258-0890 (2015) A creative approach to narrative inquiry: using literary characters and concepts in the writing of research texts. In: Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) Conference 2015, 29 November - 3 December 2015, The University of Notre Dame, Fremantle.


Narrative researchers are faced with the challenges of ethically co-constructing human data and writing meaningful, readable research texts, which protect participants’ anonymity. This paper adds to the conversation of qualitative, and especially narrative, inquiry by presenting one creative approach to these challenges. It proposes that using extended literary metaphor and known literary characters, as analytical and conceptual tools, develops allegoric layers of meaning while preserving participant anonymity. Situating narrative research in the realm of imaginative story may help readers and researchers, like Alice in her Wonderland adventures, return from their journey through the research storyworld portal with new insights and heightened understanding of those phenomena being revealed and illuminated through narrative.

My imaginative approach to framing my data involved selecting characters from Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as the symbolic figures to represent the researcher (Alice), the teacher (White Rabbit) and the school leader (Cheshire Cat). These character names were selected deliberately to add to the meaning-making of the stories: Alice as curious wonderer; the White Rabbit as pressured time-watcher caught between layers of power; and the Cheshire Cat as sometimes-supportive, sometimes-philosophising, disappearing, reappearing guide and advisor, often deliberately revealing only part of itself. The use of these meaning-laden names was also intended to capture the reader’s imagination, encouraging their engagement in the storyworld. The study used two distinct voices to

demarcate the connected modes of analytic researcher (Waking Alice) and storyteller (Dreaming Alice). The signpost ‘Down the rabbit hole’ is used to signal to readers that they are entering the story world of Dreaming Alice and ‘Up and out of the rabbit hole’ to indicate that they are returning to the methodical world of the researcher.

Colour illustrations, too, were used as visual signposts and meaning-makers to frame the emblematic characters for the reader. While not be traditionally viewed as deliberate analytic tools of research, these illustrations worked to dismantle popularist constructions of Alice characters and re-form them in the reader’s mind’s eye. The illustrated character portraits also serve to remind readers of the storybook genre, helping them to enter the storyworld.

The concepts and tools available to a researcher who mines the rich depths of literary concepts and characters can help to communicate the meaning of participant data in ways which enrich conceptual frameworks and develop compelling reports in which participants are honoured and protected.

Item Type: Conference Item
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
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