In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Narrative Research in Education

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Narrative Research in Kindergarten to Grade 12

Education Narrative Research in Education
D. Jean Clandinin, Vera Caine, Margot Jackson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0175


While the study of narratology has a long history, narrative research became a methodology for the study of phenomena in the social sciences in the 1980s. Since that time there has been what some have called a narrative revolution, which is reflected in the rapid uptake in the use of narrative methodology across disciplines. There are diverse definitions of narrative research with different ontological and epistemological commitments, which range from semiotic studies and discourse analysis of spoken and written text to analysis of textual structures of speech and performances of texts as in narrative analysis to the relational studies of narrative inquiry where a focus on lived and told experience is central.

General Overviews

Here we attend to narrative research in education rather than only focusing on narrative research embedded in institutions of schooling. Doing this acknowledges that life’s experiences may be educational, whether they occur inside or outside of, and perhaps at times in spite of, the institutions of schooling. For us education occurs in community, peer group, and family, as well as in vast geographic places and with diverse people. This way of thinking speaks to our understanding of education as reflective of intergenerational linkages and inclusive of anticipated future events, places, and contexts. Education attends carefully to the larger social, cultural, linguistic, familial, and institutional narratives in which schooling also occurs. While debate is ongoing about the ways to engage in narrative research, researchers do agree that narrative research is the study of experience. For narrative inquirers, experience is the stories that people live and tell over time, in different places, and in diverse and unfolding relationships. Informed by Dewey 1938, Connelly and Clandinin 1990 notes that experience is understood as narrative phenomena. Bruner 1987 furthers our understanding by differentiating between narrative and paradigmatic knowing and, in this, points out fundamental differences from other research methodologies and ways to understand life. Polkinghorne 1988 adds a more nuanced understanding of analytic processes and emphasizes the importance of looking at the complexity and wholeness of a life. Since that time, scholarly works, such as Rosiek 2013 and Clandinin 2007, have articulated the strong link to pragmatist traditions, and they have situated narrative traditions more clearly in epistemological and ontological ways. Concepts of relational ethics were first made central in Clandinin and Connelly 2000, and they were developed further in Clandinin, et al. 2018, while Morris 2002 has differentiated thinking with from about stories as a central aspect.

  • Bruner, J. 1987. Life as narrative. Social Research 54.1: 11–32.

    An important early article that introduced narrative knowing as distinct from paradigmatic knowing. While some of these ideas were present in Bruner’s Acts of Meaning (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), the naming of narrative knowing marked an important shift.

  • Clandinin, D. J., ed. 2007. Handbook of narrative inquiry: Mapping a methodology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    First overview of research methods and concepts within narrative inquiry. Important text for social science researchers interested in narrative research and distinctions within narrative research. Introduces concepts of borderlands between narrative inquiry and post-positivist, neo-Marxist, and post-structuralist research. Translated into Korean and Chinese.

  • Clandinin, D. J., V. Caine, and S. Lessard. 2018. Relational ethics in narrative inquiry. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315268798

    Outlines an ethical stance appropriate to narrative inquiry. Building on Bergum and Dosseter’s understanding on relational ethics in clinical practice, the authors use six illustrative studies to show relational ethics as lived in narrative inquiry. Includes narrative inquiry that directly engages relational tensions between persons often seen as vulnerable and broader social forces. Afterword by pragmatist scholar J. Rosiek.

  • Clandinin, D. J., and F. M. Connelly. 2000. Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    First text to outline narrative inquiry as methodology and phenomenon. Widely used to introduce researchers to narrative inquiry. Illustrates narrative inquiry processes as moves from field to field texts to research texts. Introduces relational ethics as well as the importance of narrative beginnings. Translated into Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese.

  • Connelly, F. M., and D. J. Clandinin. 1990. Stories of experience and narrative inquiry. Educational Researcher 19.5: 2–14.

    DOI: 10.3102/0013189X019005002

    First article that linked narrative to inquiry in an explicit way. Published in a leading research journal, the article signaled narrative inquiry as a research methodology as well as a way to understand experience as a narrative phenomenon.

  • Dewey, J. 1938. Experience and education. New York: Collier.

    Outlines experiential view of experience as life. Often cited as philosophical grounding for narrative inquiry. Introduces Dewey’s criteria of experience as continuity and interaction in situations that are linked to the three-dimensional narrative inquiry space of temporality, sociality, and place.

  • Morris, D. B. 2002. Narrative, ethics, and pain: Thinking with stories. In Stories matter: The role of narrative in medical ethics. Edited by Rita Charon and Martha Montello, 196–218. New York: Routledge.

    Introduces distinction between thinking with stories as distinct from thinking about stories.

  • Polkinghorne, D. E. 1988. Narrative knowing and the human sciences. New York: State Univ. of New York Press.

    Brought concept of narrative knowing into developing understandings of narrative research in social sciences. Differentiated narrative analysis from analysis of narratives: The former focused more on contextual and holistic realms in narrative research while the latter focused more on the analysis of the texts themselves.

  • Rosiek, J. 2013. Pragmatism and post-qualitative studies. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 26.6: 692–705.

    DOI: 10.1080/09518398.2013.788758

    Significant in this article is the return to pragmatist philosophy and the thinking about practice in relation to narrative. Pragmatist practice, which shapes narrative inquiry research, is related to political action, imagination, and future possibilities.

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