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Researching from the inside — does it compromise validity?
A discussion

Author - Pauline Rooney

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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 2004: 412).

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 By using historical reference points throughout his narrative, he allows readers to confirm if he is telling truth.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 1999: 133).

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.

4.3.1. Conclusions

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 2002: 327).

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.


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