Day 71: Living In The Brackets

260px-Brackets_svgNow I no longer have to be at home for Dylan at the end of the working day I make a point of going to events which I wasn’t able to get to previously.  Recently I have been enjoying a series of seminars on theory and methodology and was particularly looking forward to tonight’s discussion of the use of narrative methods in research. The research discussed during the seminar included projects undertaken with prisoners, asylum seekers and young people who have a parent with dementia. There was some reporting of project data but because the primary concern was with methodological issues the main focus of the discussion was story as a ‘way of knowing’.

Although the event was not ‘about’ the topic I write about here, I found myself making links with Dylan. One researcher, for example, reminded us of the difference between ‘story’ and ‘narrative’; the personal material which prisoners had shared during interviews were ‘stories’ but the researcher’s re-telling of these stories turned them to ‘narrative’.  This blog also incorporates these different layers of text in that it reports Dylan’s story through my narrative lens. Given the orchestration of such narratives is in the hands of the researcher (or blogger) rather than the story-teller, ethical issues are raised by the subject’s lack of power or control.

I wondered, during the seminar, if we could increase the power of subjects by involving them in the construction of their own narrative; could creative writing techniques be used, for example, to help them re-frame their stories? This was something I had tried to do, I reflected, when working on a project with prisoners some years ago (albeit as a writer rather than researcher). It is, however, considerably more challenging to find ways of involving Dylan in the construction of his own narrative. Perhaps this is something which marks the learning disabled out from other vulnerable groups whose stories we need to hear; refugees and asylum seekers, for example, or elders.

Inevitably the seminar discussion turned to the therapeutic use of story. Despite the unequal distribution of power, the subject was felt to benefit from involvement in the research. The simple act of ‘being heard’, it was argued, was helpful to those whose stories might not otherwise be told; ‘being present’ was therefore as much a gift as ‘the sacred stories’ themselves. Again I tried to apply these ideas to Dylan. Does a blog enable me to be more present for Dylan? Or would I hear his story anyway?  Am I present for him differently because I challenge myself to narrate his tale?

This blog is, however, no longer Dylan’s story: the switch from Living With Autism to Living With(out) Autism marks a shift from writing about Dylan to writing about the impact of Dylan’s move to residential care on me. In this situation, I am both story-teller and narrator. There is still, however, a therapeutic quality to the story-telling: my 100 day framework for transition is a sort of ‘half way house’ from where I look forward and back. This is limbo land, a place in brackets; I am neither living with autism nor entirely without it. From this healing space I can hopefully learn to let go lightly. It is, perhaps, a therapeutic place in so far as a blog offers the story-teller the gift of ‘being heard’.

One of the presenters at tonight’s seminar suggested that stories are powerful because they can challenge ‘master narratives’.  Single stories, it was argued, can undermine a dominant discourse, unsettling traditional power structures and establishing new knowledge. The examples given included beliefs about teachers wrongly accused of sexual misconduct and beliefs about the experience of being parented by a mother or father with dementia. In both cases, it was suggested, we need to listen to individual stories in order to adjust our perception of the issue.  As I drove home from the seminar I asked myself which ‘master narratives’ about autism Dylan’s story might challenge and transform.

5 thoughts on “Day 71: Living In The Brackets

  1. Many, I would think.
    That’s what particularly grabbed me when you started the blog. From a background of working as a professional in special needs education and then rejecting this role, I thought – yes, this is what needs to be said – something original and from everyday experience. The ‘master narratives’ need challenging from the inside. The professionals have too much of a stake in keeping things as they are to be the only knowledge-makers.

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    • Interesting. I don’t think I’d really had that thought before. I think I’ve mostly seen stories as illustration/illumination, or as a sort of ’embodied sense-making’, and therefore as essentially confirmatory. Story as challenge? Well yes – it makes sense to me now 🙂

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  2. I taught a workshop in exactly this in September! I called it “Beyond Story time : Narrative in Adult Learning “. It was an elective workshop I designed for a Certificate in Adult an Continuing Education that I teach for in my “spare time. ” I have always been fascinated by the power of story and the degree to which we are wired to make meaning in this way. My Masters thesis used narrative methodologies.

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    • Ah Anna that sounds fantastic 🙂 I absolutely agree about the use of story in ‘meaning making’; narrative is such a helpful way of making abstract knowledge concrete (thinking about school learning) but is also a powerful tool for making sense of our own lives. I have run a writing group, on and off, which explores the use of creative writing in our personal and professional development – poetry in the workplace essentially. I must get back to doing more of that – how marvellous to have approached your entire Master through it! x

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  3. Pingback: Day 72: ‘Master Narratives’ | Living with(out) Autism

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