Mythopoetics and narrative inquiry: what’s the difference?

Why did I hesitate when, last week, someone called my research methodology ‘narrative inquiry’? Why am I drawn instead to talking about ‘a mythopoetic methodology’?

Narrative inquiry, as I understand it, involves the use of narratives – people’s stories – to get at dimensions of a phenomenon. It sees these stories or narratives as forms of evidence, as data that can be drawn on to inform useful insight about the way the world is. Even the most subjective strand of narrative inquiry – autoethnography, the telling and analyzing of the author’s own stories – has this sense of bringing to the surface, or subjecting to the gaze, pre-existing data in order to study it.

Mythopoetics is about something slightly different. It’s about creating something new. It’s not about unearthing and making sense of what exists already; it’s not about gathering data. It’s about the scholar submitting him/herself to the novelist’s or the poet’s discipline, finding words for intuition and the products of the imagination, and then subjecting those words to the disciplined process of distinguishing between the clever and the authentic, the slick and that which resonates with how the writer actually experiences life.

I’m wondering if the different approaches of Jean Clandinin and Margaret Somerville is significant here. Clandinin’s focus is on the stories that people tell and how these stories creates identity: stories to live by. Somerville talks about a methodology of postmodern emergence, an approach which privileges waiting patiently and with an open mind in the place of unknowing, immersed in certain almost meditative practices in order to allow meanings to emerge.

Mythopoetics is in the Somerville camp.

If I’m right here, about this distinction, and if I’m in the mythopoetic rather than the narrative camp, will my faculty – see that there’s room for the mythopoetic in a faculty collaborative research project? As we investigate, for example, the field of mentoring and professional development in a climate that privileges accountability and standards, will those leading the projects see a role for mythopoetics?

As soon as I typed that sentence, the theme of my Prague talk popped into mind. What do stories do? They agitate, complicate, induct and animate. That’s the role they’d need to play in the bigger project, doing their work first on the research team itself, then as part of the research team’s findings.

It’s important, for myself, to keep in mind that I’m not a researcher doing narrative inquiry, but someone trying to understand and practise a mythopoetic methodology.

5 thoughts on “Mythopoetics and narrative inquiry: what’s the difference?

  1. Pingback: Mythopoetics and narrative inquiry: what’s the difference? | Birds fly, fish swim

  2. There has to be a place for mythopoetics in Educational research – stories that inspire, provoke and generate… There is so much of how we experience the world and how in turn we are able to express that in the field of learning and teaching. I love a mythopoetic methodology. Better than a narrative enquiry or a case study elaboration or a philosophical dialectic. I love the way your thoughts pool here. A very quiet, untempestuous reflection.

  3. I was thinking about this again. I think stories can fill an acute need in education training.

    One of the problems that I encounter in conversation and in teacher training is a lack of real connection between theory and persons – not theory and practice – that connection between ‘what’ teaching is and ‘who’ it is for and ‘who’ it is done by.

    I understand the pitfalls in anecdotal evidence, in the lenses (which are still there anyway) in the way we view the world or ‘story’ teaching. Still, it is a humanistic endeavour. Case Studies with factual information do not translate into those human to human encounters that learning and teaching is founded upon. Students teachers talk about student learners, not really imagining or making the connections to the lives and people that their students are. And while they read about bias and unconscious discrimination or disadvantage and the struggles of different family groups, they feel they are immune to those pitfalls or that somehow these social theories are ‘inflated’ or not relevant to them or the students they teach. They read words but remain blind. Perhaps that ‘remove’ even works for them, in many ways.

    Perhaps stories would work well to bring that theory home. Stories from a student perspective would illluminate so much. Stories about teachers, personalised, about the struggles of a classroom. Stories about little achievements. I am sure it is not so different for your faculty collaborative project either.

    I appreciate the academic rigour that a methodology implies. I understand values of scholarship, of research. Writing, creative writing is certainly not without these things. It is a different kind of data that is being provided: not statistical, not quantitative.

    Yet teaching, and teacher education, are humanistic endeavours after all.

    • I do hope you’re right. I think you are. I’m working on a manuscript of a book to be published by Sense Publishers next year, tentatively titled ‘Imagined worlds and classroom realities’. It’s aiming to do what you describe.

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