Narrative Matters

    Activity: Attending or organising conference/seminar/workshopConference


    Ethical Tangles in a Woolly Methodology? Knotty Tales from Narrative Research
    Aimee Quickfall and Kaisa Pihlainen

    Our paper addresses the following prompts from the Narrative Matters conference committee:
    •emergent methods, ideas, and issues in narrative studies
    •the study of storytelling rights and privileges; re-thinking of empathy

    In this paper, we describe three ethical dilemmas that arose during narrative research in three different studies; with teachers who are also mothers, with trainee teachers and with women in academia. The dilemmas relate to issues of anonymity, the issues of authorship/ownership and third-party characters in narratives. We problematise our ‘favourite methodology’, in terms of ethical dilemmas and challenges, which have had an impact on our participants, but also on our own well-being as researchers. Narrative research is often considered woolly (Andrews, 2021) and ownership of the stories concerned is a central ethical issue (Smythe and Murray, 2000). University ethics processes often centre considerations that minimise institutional liability (Busher and Fox, 2021; Quickfall, 2022), which do not address the challenges of ethics in narrative research adequately, and offer insufficient guidance to researchers (Josselson, 1996).

    Narrative researchers are therefore often conflicted; between their own understanding and the participant’s understanding, between their own ethical principles and those of their institutions, between the ownership of the research and the ownership of the narratives. As part of this presentation, we will suggest some ways of minimising these conflicts, using reflexivity tools such as the ‘kitchen table’ (Folkes, 2022) and uncomfortable reflexivity (Pillow, 2003) as well as our own reflections on how we have tackled these ethical dilemmas.

    Andrews, M. (2021). Quality indicators in narrative research, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 18:3, 353-368, DOI: 10.1080/14780887.2020.1769241
    Busher, H. and Fox, A. (2021). The amoral academy? A critical discussion of research ethics in the neo-liberal university. Education Philosophy and Theory 2021, 53, 469–478. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
    Folkes, L. (2022). Moving beyond “shopping list” positionality: Using kitchen table reflexivity and in/visible tools to develop reflexive qualitative research. Qualitative Research, 2022; (in press). [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
    Josselson, R. (1996). Introduction. In R. Josselson (Ed.), The narrative study of lives: Vol. 4. Ethics and process in the narrative study of lives (pp. xi–xviii). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
    Pillow, W. (2003). Confession, catharsis or cure? Rethinking the uses of reflexivity as methodological power in qualitative research. Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education. 2003, 16, 175–196. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
    Quickfall, A. (2022). "Reflecting on Ethical Processes and Dilemmas in Doctoral Research" Education Sciences 12, no. 11: 751.
    Smythe, W. & Murray, M. (2000). Owning the Story: Ethical Considerations in Narrative Research, Ethics & Behavior, 10:4, 311-336, DOI: 10.1207/S15327019EB1004_1
    Period14 Jun 202317 Jun 2023
    Event typeAcademic conference
    LocationTampere , FinlandShow on map
    Degree of RecognitionInternational


    • ethics, education
    • feminist approaches
    • anonymity
    • authorship