Seminar 3

Critical perspectives on using narrative in research

Monday 23rd November, 2015: 15.00 – 17.30
Venue: Room 941, Owen Building, Sheffield Hallam University

Professor Pat Sikes, Sheffield University
Challenging master narratives: stories which have to be told

Professor Jacqueline Stevenson, Sheffield Hallam University
The weight of stories: on the problematic nature of using narrative in research

Discussant: Dr. Ruth Barley

Abstracts and Resources

Challenging master narratives: stories which have to be told
Pat Sikes, Sheffield University (

In this presentation I will tell some stories about research projects which I felt that I had no choice but to do. One project focused on secondary school teachers who had been accused of sexual misconduct that they said they hadn’t committed (and which the burden of evidence suggested they were innocent of) and the other (funded by the Alzheimer’s Society) and currently in progress, is investigating the perceptions and experiences of children and young people who have a parent with dementia. Both projects raise significant ethical issues, not least in that they challenge master narratives, and they both have roots in the imperative that C Wright Mills throws out to social scientists to employ the sociological imagination to make private troubles public concerns in order to move towards transformation.

Presentation Recording

The weight of stories: on the problematic nature of using narrative in research
Jacqueline Stevenson, Sheffield Hallam University ( )

Narrative research ‘brings theoretical ideas about the nature of human life as lived to bear on educational experience as lived’ (Connelly and Clandinin, 1990, p. 3). Its usefulness to us as researchers, therefore, is that it allows us to glimpse in to other people’s worlds and make sense of their experiences. However, using narrative can be difficult, giving rise to a range of ethical and methodological challenges during all phases of the research process. In this presentation I draw on narrative research undertaken in two prisons and also with refugees and asylum seekers, some of who were the same prison inmates. I describe uncomfortable moments, visceral responses to individual stories, my feelings about the ‘sacredness’ of the stories I was gifted, and how I dealt with being given unexpected stories.

Presentation Recording

Panel Discussion Recording


 Pat Sikes is Professor of Qualitative Inquiry in the School of Education, University of Sheffield. Over the past 40 or so years Pat has been committed to using auto/biographical narrative approaches, primarily to study aspects of educators’ lives and careers. More recently, intimate acquaintance of living with dementia has led her into new areas of research which also use these approaches and further allow her to extend her interests in ethical issues around investigations in the social sciences.

Jacqueline Stevenson is Professor of Education Research and Head of Research in the Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University. She draws on narrative approaches to explore the social and academic experiences of higher education students from diverse social, ethnic and religious backgrounds, including refugees and asylum seekers.. Her forthcoming edited book brings together national and international research exploring religion and belief in higher education.

Dr. Ruth Barley is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology, Sociology and Politics, Sheffield Hallam University. Her recent book ‘Identity and social interaction in a multi-ethnic classroom’ draws on research findings from an ethnography conducted with young children that explored patterns of interaction and notions of difference and identity in a multi-ethnic Early Years classroom in the North of England.


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