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Some thoughts on stories

I’ve managed to plough through Liz Stanley’s “The auto/biographical I” and to read far more quickly Goodson, et al’s “Narrative Learning”. I want to capture some of the main ideas for me from the two books.

First and foremost is Stanley’s argument that there is no real divide between autobiography and biography – they are both part of the same and are constructed accounts of a life or part of a life.

The idea of a constructed account is evident in both books. Stanley uses a number of biographical accounts to demonstrate how the author has present a construction which omits essential and important aspects of the life being presented. She also shows how different authors can and do present very different interpretations of the same life. Such constructions often say as much, or more, about the author and their presuppositions than they do about the person. Goodson, et al, also make it clear that personally narrated life stories should not be considered as objective accounts, but rather they are the interpretation of the past that makes sense in that time and place and are liable to change as a result of further life experiences; in essence a life story narrative is a construction of one’s life and how it is currently understood.

Another common thread in both books is that our stories are part of other’s stories. When I hear somebody else’s story, it becomes part of my story. Whether or not I reference my own story, in telling the story of another in some senses I am telling my own story. This relates to the construction of stories described in the last paragraph, but it also relates to the inter-relatedness of humanity.

Goodson, et al, focus on learning, and recognise that learning takes place in a wide range of different settings and that often learning experiences, that are recognised as such, are triggered by specific events or critical incidents. In considering stories, they looked for learning potential (evidence of learning from the story) and action potential (what the story teller does with the learning). Whereas learning is frequently defined as involving some kind of change in the learner, Goodson, et al, appear to recognise that much of the learning implicit in people’s life stories has much more a tacit dimension and is not recognised by the story teller.

What are the implications for me and my research? Firstly, there is a clear recognition that when I hear the stories of others learning in relation to the autistic spectrum domain, my own experiences and understanding of those experiences influence what I hear and how I hear it. My reactions and responses may well say more about me than the person I am talking to. How do I guard against denying the voice of others because I am listening too much to my own voice?

Secondly, and perhaps less importantly, I am predetermining to some extent the nature and structure of the story by the initial question I ask. Clearly I do not want a question as open as “Can you tell me about your life?”, but maybe I need a question which invites people to tell me about the autistic spectrum domain from their perspective without suggesting a starting point. On the other hand, maybe for my purposes the semi-structured account is more efficacious if I can ensure that I leave room for people to include the stuff I may not ask about and may not realise that I want to know about.

Goodson, I., Biesta, G., Tedder, M., & Adair, N. (2010). Narrative Learning. Abingdon: Routledge.
Stanley, L. (1992). The Auto/Biographical I. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

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