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Understanding Narrative Inquiry

Understanding Narrative Inquiry
The Crafting and Analysis of Stories as Research

March 2015 | 368 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

This comprehensive, thought-provoking introduction to narrative inquiry in the social and human sciences guides readers through the entire narrative inquiry process—from locating narrative inquiry in the interdisciplinary context, through the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings, to narrative research design, data collection (excavating stories), data analysis and interpretation, and theorizing narrative meaning. Six extracts from exemplary studies, together with questions for discussion, are provided to show how to put theory into practice. Rich in stories from the author's own research endeavors and incorporating chapter-opening vignettes that illustrate a graduate student's research dilemma, the book not only accompanies readers through the complex process of narrative inquiry with ample examples, but also helps raise their consciousness about what it means to be a qualitative researcher and a narrative inquirer in particular. 

This book has received the 2017 Outstanding Publication Award from the Narrative Research Special Interest Group (SIG) of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). The award honors research-based texts dedicated to advancing the educational process through research or scholarly inquiry.

1. Locating Narrative Inquiry in the Interdisciplinary Context
Scientific Research and Qualitative Research in Tandem

Narrative Inquiry

Narrative Inquiry in Different Disciplines

Some Cautionary Tales About Narrative Inquiry

Narrative Inquiry as the Synergy of Interdisciplinarity

Learning to be a Storyteller in the Interdisciplinary Context

Conclusion: A Falling Apple

2. Philosophical/Theoretical Underpinnings of Narrative Inquiry
The Role of Theory

Philosophical/Theoretical/Interpretive Paradigm

Theory and Narrative Inquiry

Critical Theory

Critical Race Theory

Feminist Theory



Dewey's Theory of Experience

Bakhtin's Theory of Novelness

Conclusion: No Theory Used as a Procrustean Bed

3. Narrative Research Design: Engaging in Aesthetic Play
Engaging in Aesthetic Play

Standards for Humanities-Oriented Research

Learning to Think Narratively

Plowing Before Sowing: On Reviewing the Literature

Developing "Good" Research Questions

Imagining the Researcher-Participant Relationship: From "Spy" to "Friend"

Ethical Issues in Narrative Inquiry

Qualitative Writing vs. Scientific Writing

Imagining Narrative Writing as Aesthetic Play

Conclusion: Where Your Heart Belongs

4. Narrative Research Genres: Meditating Stories Into Being
Narrative Inquirer as a Midwife

Narrative Research Genres

Autobiographical Narrative Inquiry

Biographical Narrative Inquiry

Arts-Based Narrative Inquiry

Literary-Based Narrative Inquiry

Visual-Based Narrative Inquiry

Conclusion: Blurring Genres

5. Narrative Data Collection Methods: Excavating Stories
Narrative Thinking

Interview Logistics

Types of Qualitative Interview

Narrative Interviewing


Artifacts: Cabinets of Curiosities or Cabinets of Wonder

Visual Data

Digital Archival Data

Conclusion: Excavating Stories as Data

6. Narrative Data Analysis and Interpretation: "Flirting" With Data
On Flirtation

Qualitative Data Analysis

Theorizing Narrative Data Analysis and Interpretation

Methods of Narrative Data Analysis

Narrative Analysis in Narrative Genres

Conclusion: Variegations of Narrative Analysis and Interpretation

7. Narrative Coda: Theorizing Narrative Meaning
On Coda

Researching Signature

Answering the Question "So What?"

Desiring and Audience

Avoiding an Epic Closure

Theorizing Findings

Planting the Seed for Social Justice

Becoming a Scheherazade

Conclusion: Ongoing Stories

8. Critical Issues in Narrative Inquiry: Looking Into a Kaleidoscope
Looking into a Kaleidoscope

Contradicting Stories: The Rashomon Effect

Temptation of Backyard Research

On Reflexivity

On Bricolage and Bricoleur

On "Small" Stories

Storytelling as Performance

Conclusion: Pushing the Boundary of Narrative Inquiry

9. Examples of Narrative Inquiry: Theory Into Practice
Narrative Inquiry as Phenomenon and Method

Narrative Inquiry as Oral History

Narrative Inquiry as Life Story

Narrative Inquiry as Autoethnography

Narrative Inquiry as Creative Fiction

Narrative Inquiry as Fiction

Conclusion: Learning to be a Storyteller

10. Epilogue

This is a thorough and inclusive book that can serve as an excellent introduction to narrative forms of qualitative research in the fields of education, medicine, psychology, and legal studies. But Understanding Narrative Inquiry may also serve to extend the knowledge of researchers and practitioners in those fields who are already familiar with this rapidly maturing inquiry approach. Extremely well researched and referenced, it deftly addresses sophisticated theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of narrative research, including the rationales and justifications for engaging in both storytelling and the analysis of stories. And it also explores a wide variety of helpful strategies for interviewing, fieldwork, and writing. But just as importantly, it grounds and humanizes its sophisticated scholarship through an inviting, conversational style replete with personal anecdotes, while its many concrete examples of research practice in action further enhances its usefulness. A remarkable achievement.

Tom Barone
Professor Emeritus, Arizona State University

This is an outstanding text on narrative inquiry. Kim offers the historical and philosophical context for narrative research, ample methodological instruction, and robust examples, making this a truly comprehensive text. I am particularly impressed with her attention to the different genres of narrative including arts-based and visual-based. This is a must-read for anyone interested in narrative research.

Patricia Leavy
Independent Scholar and Author of Methods Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice

Jeong-Hee Kim masterfully positions readers to enter the storied fabric of human life through the medium of narrative inquiry. Readers across all disciplines and interests will find themselves locating and articulating the textured significances of stories as research. Philosophical/theoretical connections substantively frame and permeate the text with readers importantly gaining context, language, and capacities to design and undertake fitting narrative inquiries.  The concrete examples depicting a cross section of genres and the inclusion of a glossary make this comprehensive text an invaluable resource for all interested in crafting and analysis of research through narrative inquiry.

Margaret Macintyre Latta
Professor and Director, Centre for Mindful Engagement and Graduate Programs, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Canada

This text offers novice and practicing scholars of narrative inquiry provocative philosophical and methodological insights. The text is beautifully written and draws on art, music, religion, philosophy, and literature to inform researchers’ understandings.

Mary Louise Gomez
University of Wisconsin-Madison

The author’s use of a conversational toneas if she is talking directly to her studentswhile guiding the reader through complex theoretical material is noteworthy, as are the expertly designed “Questions for Reflection” and the “Activities” sections at the end of each chapter. This text will be of interest to anyone teaching Qualitative Research Methods looking for ways to engage their graduate students.

Thalia M. Mulvihill
Ball State University

Committee selected a different text

Dr Anton Camarota
College of Management and Technology, Walden University
May 18, 2021
Key features


  • A wide range of narrative research genres are covered including autobiography/autoethnography, oral history, life story/life history, Bildungsroman, literary-based narrative research, and visual-based narrative research.
  • Strong coverage of the historical, theoretical, and analytical aspects of each narrative genre is combined with practical suggestions for how to conduct narrative inquiry.
  • An emphasis on the interdisciplinary nature of narrative inquiry demonstrates the multiple contexts where narrative inquiry can be used.
  • Six extended examples of narrative inquiry studies translate theory into practice and help readers visualize and implement their own narrative inquiry.
  • Coverage of contemporary critical issues encourages readers to further investigate unexplored territories of narrative inquiry.

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 4

Chapter 6

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