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Enabling narratives in the 'unhomely' field of higher education research


Green, WJ, Enabling narratives in the 'unhomely' field of higher education research, Using narrative inquiry for educational research in the Asia Pacific, Routledge, S Trahar and WM Yu (ed), United Kingdom, pp. 14-28. ISBN 978-1138-02537-0 (2015) [Research Book Chapter]

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Copyright 2015 Sheila Trahar and Yu Wai Ming

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In her 1993 Nobel Lecture, the Black American novelist, Toni Morrison, described how dominant narratives work to 'sanction ignorance and preserve privilege'. 'Like a suit of armour, polished to shocking glitter, a husk from which a knight departed long ago', such narratives 'excite reverence' while summoning 'false memories of stability, harmony among the public'. Reading recent surveys (Haggis, 2009; Tight, 2008, 2013) of my field of research - higher education (HE) - I cannot help but recall Morrison's words. Since its birth as a new hub of inquiry some four decades ago, HE has defined itself through one dominant (positivist) narrative. Seemingly intent on creating 'false memories' of legitimacy, it has 'shored up certainties' (Haggis, 2009) by relying on a narrow range of well-worn theories and methods. For researchers with an interpretivist bent, HE has been an 'unhomely' field indeed (Manathunga, 2006). The terrible irony is that in this field, we all confront messy, 'wicked', ill-defined problems (Trawler, 2010), problems of students' learning, academic development, knowledge and curriculum and institutional change within universities, problems that have grown all the more messy in our 'turbulent epoch of globalisation' (Trahar, 2013a, p.301), problems that call on us not so much to know more, but to 'know differently' (Shay et al., 2009, p. 373).

Narrative research can help us 'know differently' by 'illuminating how individual identities are connected, inextricably, with the social, cultural and historical landscapes' of universities (Trahar, 2013a, p. 302). Yet until very recently, narrative has been one of the most marginalised memodologies in HE. Now it seems, narrative, along with other interpretivist memodologies, is coming in from me cold. In recent years mere have been a number of special issues of HE journals, which are fostering critical conversations about 'what we know and how we come to know' (Shay et al., 2009, authors' emphasis). In this chapter I aim to provide a critical account of the place of narrative in me story of HE research, from its marginalised beginnings to its recent emergence as a methodology of interest. Taking snippets from my own research about/with academics crossing cultural and disciplinary boundaries, I hope to reveal some of the richness narrative research can bring to our understanding of problems that confront us. I also hope to explore some of the barriers narrative researchers have experienced, and still experience, in HE, before finishing with some thoughts about how we might sustain narrative research and narrative researchers in my still 'unhomely' field. By criss-crossing between personal stories (my own and others') and the discursive and material conditions which shape our lives, I hope to reveal some of the 'radical' potential of narrative that Morrison also alluded to in her Nobel Lecture: the potential to 'creat[e] us at the very moment it is being created' (Morrison, 1993).

Item Details

Item Type:Research Book Chapter
Research Division:Education
Research Group:Specialist studies in education
Research Field:Specialist studies in education not elsewhere classified
Objective Division:Education and Training
Objective Group:Other education and training
Objective Field:Other education and training not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Green, WJ (Dr Wendy Green)
ID Code:107357
Year Published:2015
Deposited By:Curriculum and Academic Development
Deposited On:2016-03-11
Last Modified:2017-11-20

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