Whoa, I'm actually enjoying this writing thing. This section is still rough -- you'll see at least one "NEED A REFERENCE HERE!" note -- but I'm starting to go from the (more) comfortable place of "hey, narratives -- they're a thing!" into the weirder territory of "HEY EVERYONE LET'S ALL EXPLORE POSTSTRUCTRUALISM!" which is where my heart really lies (in terms of this project, anyway).
In the preceding section, we explored cognitive apprenticeships as one possible way to see faculty-as-learners. Despite many advantages, this perspective had one significant drawback: because it was originally designed for young learners, its assumptions of agency are limited, as is its ability to draw on the prior experiences of learners.
Another way to see faculty-as-learners is to view them as narrators. Glesne speaks of the writer/narrator role as threefold: (1) artist, (2) translator/interpreter, and (3) transformer. (Glesne, 2011, p. 219) The role of narrator is thus a high-agency role, with narrators deciding how to create (as artists) a story-telling moment and how to translate it for their audience in order to elicit the desired reaction/transformation. Agency is heightened even more when the narratives are about one's own past. Autobiographical narrators paint themselves as characters in their own stories, drawing from their prior experiences and using their agency in the present to articulate their agency in the past. This "intentional state entailment" is a key feature of narratives; without characters with agency who make choices, we cannot have narratives at all. (Bruner, 1991, p. 7)
Narratives thus give us both a method and methodology for understanding faculty as learners that address the shortfalls of agency and prior-experience we found in cognitive apprenticeship theory. We will discuss narrative as method -- the concrete step-by-step process of carrying out a project -- later in this document. This section will explore narrative as methodology, examining the philosophical perspectives underlying and shaping the method.
In terms of methodology, narrative work usually falls within the intepretivist paradigm, where the purpose of research is to seek understanding (as opposed to creating predictions or causing emancipation). (Glesne, 2011, p. 7) Bruner's landmark 1991 paper, "The Narrative Construction of Reality," removes the boundaries between the mental process of thought and the discourse of its expression as a narrative. The narrative is not sitting precomposed in some idealized platonic space, waiting to be spoken or written by an unthinking scribe. Rather, narrative "operates as an instrument of mind in the construction of reality," (p. 6) and as such, cannot simply be chopped into parts for neat analysis because of its "part-whole textual interdependence."
Looking at the world through a narrative paradigm also requires that we examine our epistemological assumptions about the nature of "knowledge" and "truth." We distinugish between the "constructions generated by logical and scientific procedures that can be weeded out by falsification" and the "version of reality whose acceptability is governed by convention and 'narrative necessity' rather than by empirical verification and logical requiredness" (Bruner, 1991, p. 4-5). The first is called "forensic truth," the second one "narrative truth." As a knowledge-seeking methodology, narrative does not seek forensic truth; rather, it seeks verisimilitude, the possibility or resemblance of forensic truth and the "truth of personal recollection and memory." (PRECISE REF NEEDED, South African Truth & Reconciliation report).
Coming from this intensely personal perspective, narratives become boundary objects and mediated dialogues between an author (speaker) and a reader (listener), with both parties taking a highly active role in the process. In Bruner's words, narratives have "hermeneutic composability," meaning that they are things through which people express and extract meaning, but there is no single absolute meaning that can simply be dissected. Two people reading the same book can come out with very different insights. The interpretation being made depends on the background knowledge and intention of both author and reader, as well as what the author and reader know about each other. (p. 7-11) However, the information dissemination model of learning does not account for this hermeneutical interaction.
This hermeneutic composability leads to an expanded perspective on the part of both author and reader. Bruner writes about how narratives have context sensitivity and negotiability. By seeing that we and others may have different contexts, we are able to accept these differences. We recognize that we can immerse ourselves, like anthropologists, into someone else's process for constructing meaning. (Bruner, 1991, p. 16-18) Belenky describes the process from the perspective of a constructivist, where participants engage in "...becoming and staying aware of the workings of their minds... [seeking] to stretch the outer boundaries of their consciousness — by making the unconscious conscious, by consulting and listening to the self, by voicing the unsaid, by listening to others and staying alert to all the currents and undercurrents of life about them, by imagining themselves inside the new poem or person or idea that they want to come to know and understand."(Belenky, 1997, p. 141)
Narrative hermeneutics do not just expand perspectives within the author-to-reader connection. In fact, Bruner specifically depicts narratives as communal. Human societies pull multiple narratives into a larger assemblage of many narratives -- a "narrative accrual" -- that we share with others of our culture. (Bruner, 1991, p. 18-20) The history of a country, the "foundational" papers of an academic discipline, and the dinner-table stories that "everyone in the family knows" are all examples of narrative accruals. These narrative accruals are important enough that we legislate that children to learn national and world history in school, require graduate students to focus their first few years on reading a common core of "foundational" works, and make sure that prospective sons- or daughters-in-law learn certain family stories and traditions when they come to visit. Communities of practice and their narrative accruals therefore co-construct each other.
Learning the stories of one's community -- becoming a fluent reader of this narrative accrual -- is a key part of enculturating into a community of practice. Without a common language, we are unable to communicate. Think about two kids on the playground bonding over a favorite TV show: "Did you see the episode where Superman did...?" "Yeah, but my favorite episode is where he..." Alternatively, think about the way researchers refer to common theories to get their ideas across; by invoking Wenger & Lave's communities of practice theory in the preceding section, and Bruner's narrative analysis work here, I draw my research into a web of ideas others have already thought and written about. Practitioners tell each other stories about their work all the time; telling the "right" kinds of stories about the "right" kinds of things (for instance, in a literature review) is a mark of belonging in its own right. "For newcomers," say Lave and Wenger, "the purpose is not to learn from talk as a substitute for legitimate peripheral participation; it is to learn to talk as a key to legitimate peripheral participation." (1991, p. 109)
However, it is not enough to become a passive reader of this narrative accrual; a full community member must contribute to the joint process of creating the collective story pool. "Our individual autobiographies... depend on being placed within a continuity provided by a constructed and shared social history in which we locate our Selves and individual continuities. It is a sense of belonging to this canonical past that permits us to form our own narratives of deviation while maintaining complicity with the canon." (Bruner, 1991, p. 20) As we place and shape our own narratives within the narrative accrual of our community, we place and shape ourselves within and in relationship to our community. The transition from passive reader to active writer can be difficult. "She must learn again to speak," says a poem by Marge Piercy, evoking the learning process of individual-yet-communal sensemaking that engaging in narration fosters. "starting with I / starting with We" -- and yet it is only in this mutual engagement with the stories of "I" and "We" that sensemaking can begin its work of bridging and transforming.
Just as communities of practice overlap and bridge across each other, so do narrative accruals. A Japanese child my age may have shared my weekly viewing of the Pokemon TV show, but she may have watched the Japanese show Sailor Moon immediately afterwards, whereas I turned off the TV and read American novelists like Mark Twain. These overlaps can and do often interact to cause interesting shifts and merges in the "libraries" of individuals, and eventually in the narrative accruals of a broader culture itself. For instance, two teenagers may talk about their favorite band, then one may introduce the other to a new musician: "If you like Sara Bareilles, you should listen to Vienna Teng." Eventually, if enough people in their social group come to enjoy Vienna Teng, that musician's albums enter their narrative accrual and become a source of lyrics to be quoted, songs to be sung on road trips, and so forth. Similarly, a researcher may start writing from what she thinks will be common ground with her readership ("you're probably already familiar with some cognitive apprenticeship literature and the idea of narrative analysis...") and then branch out into what's likely to be less familiar territory ("now let me introduce a fellow named Roland Barthes, and we'll explore how his ideas tie in.")
With that in mind, we now turn to a fellow named Roland Barthes.