Research work ‘that can change your life’

Published 14 July 2009

loriniaMore than 100 researchers from around Australia and overseas met at the University of New England this week to discuss their work of “discovery through narrative”.

The 2nd Australasian Narrative Inquiry Conference, on Sunday the 12th and Monday the 13th of July, brought together delegates from England, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Narrative inquiry, a method of investigation that brings a holistic approach to research in the arts, humanities, health sciences and social sciences, involves collecting otherwise unobtainable information about a research topic by engaging in conversation with the subjects of the research.

As one of the keynote speakers – Associate Professor Matt Englar-Carlson from California State University – pointed out, in listening to people’s “stories” researchers can gain access to a wealth of information that would otherwise be lost. The conference heard reports of projects using this approach in fields including Indigenous research, health and social care, education, ethics, gender studies, and the humanities.

“There are narrative researchers all over the world,” said Dr Englar-Carlson, who is also an Adjunct Professor at UNE. He said the conference was – among other things – an opportunity to celebrate “a way of doing things” that differs from more traditional “quantitative” research methods.

He and his fellow keynote speaker Professor Jeffrey Kottler – also from California State University – presented a joint address titled “The power of stories: reciprocal influences between the researcher and the participant” in which they explained how the narrative inquiry process can bring about changes in both participant and researcher. “This work can change your life,” Dr Englar-Carlson said.

The first keynote address was by Lorina Barker (pictured here), an Associate Lecturer in Australian History at UNE, who spoke about her research that has included making a film on the hitherto largely undocumented subject of Aboriginal shearers – a film that focuses on the story of her own family members, the Barker Brothers.

A separate, complementary stream of the conference dealt with “narrative through the arts”, and included seminar presentations, installations, exhibitions and performances. In a presentation called “Artist’s life experience: a personal narrative”, UNE’s Dr Terrence Hays and Dr Frances Alter used practical demonstrations of piano performance and visual media in discussing narratives associated with works of art.

The conference, titled “Embracing Multiple Dimensions”, was convened by UNE’s Dr Myfanwy Maple and Dr Helen Edwards. “It was a really good mix of different content areas all sharing the same methodology,” Dr Maple said, “and highlighted some new and exciting ways forward.”

She said the location of the Narrative Inquiry conference at UNE recognised the University’s significant level of activity in this field.

Dr Edwards said that visiting delegates had commented on the prominent position of Aboriginal people and their research in the conference. “They were also impressed by the cross-disciplinary nature of the presentations and the  delegates’ engagement with narrative research methods,” she said.

Clicking on the photograph of Lorina Barker displayed here reveals a photograph of (from left) Professor Jeffrey Kottler, Associate Professor Matt Englar-Carlson and Dr Myfanwy Maple at the conference.