Researching from the inside — does it compromise
Thus it could be argued that Convery's narrative reinforces Atkinson's
claim that personal narratives are used to create a `romantic construction
of the self' (Atkinson quoted in Ellis
and Bochner 2000: 745). Eliot reinforces this, describing teacher's
personal narratives as springing from `the need of academics to
construct research identities that they could live with' (Eliot
quoted in Convery 1999: 143).
Another factor which may impact on the validity and reliability
of Convery's account is its reliance on the narrator's memory, which
is fallible. As Shotter states, narrative is always a story about
the past and not the past itself (Shotter quoted in Ellis
and Bochner 2000). In addition, the narrator may prefer to forget
certain events. `Memory is not simply an exercise of recalling;
there are many ways of remembering and different reasons why we
may (or may not) want to remember' (Errante
There are also arguments, however, to defend the validity of Convery's
account. Feldman (2003) argues
that to ensure the validity of self-study we should demonstrate
how we constructed the representations and provide reasons why others
should trust our findings. Convery demonstrates these strategies.
By using historical reference points throughout his narrative, he
allows readers to confirm if he is telling truth.
Swidler (2000) describes
how direct quotation can be used to affirm validity in personal
narrative. Through this, Swidler argues that one can claim narrative
authority and impress upon the reader that a conversation like this
did take place. Convery uses this strategy in his account of a conversation
with a teacher who refuses to be videotaped in class. `I suggested
that I might video her teaching and see if she found that similarly
helpful. She declined my offer: ``that's different'' she said' (Convery
Although these strategies may invite the reader to believe the
narrator's account, it is still impossible for the reader to ultimately
determine if Convery's account is reliable and trustworthy.
We return to our original question — does Convery's insider
status compromise the validity of his study? Because Convery is
the subject of his own research, traditional and neo-positivist
notions of validity and corresponding methods of respondent validation,
triangulation and so on, are inappropriate. From these perspectives,
it is impossible to confirm the validity of personal narratives
as they are an inherently subjective genre.
However, from a postmodernist perspective, Convery's account may
be seen as a valuable and valid piece of research. This perspective
argues that because researcher's subjectivities are inevitably embedded
in their studies, either quantitative or qualitative, exposing these
subjectivities openly in the text can potentially increase validity
and allow the reader to construct their own interpretations. As
Coffey (2002: 327) argues,
the value of personal narrative lies in the fact that it makes visible
that which is often dismissed or rendered invisible in research.
From a postmodern perspective therefore, it could be argued that
personal narratives are valid because they represent an individual's
thoughts, interpretations and perspective on events in their life.
Ellis and Bochner (2000) argue
if reality and knowledge are created through the human mind, then
why not focus on the mind? If the researcher is always implicated
in the product of knowledge, then why not investigate the researcher?
As such, personal narratives can be a useful source for insightful
analysis. However, there is also the danger of a personal narrative
being a `mono-vocal and self-indulgent text' (Coffey
Convery's aim in writing his narrative was to contribute an insider
perspective on `teacher-thinking' (Convery
1999: 132). To that end, it can be argued that he achieved this.
He provides the reader with an insight into how he developed into
the teacher that he is today. Thus, it could be argued that his
personal narrative is valid as it represents his own `teacher-thinking',
a useful insight into how he has developed personally and professionally.
However as is evident from this analysis, the nature of personal
narratives ensures that validity from such a postmodern perspective
is extremely difficult, if impossible, to ascertain.