Moving beyond the text

by Katrine Møller Hansen

Friday the 13th of November Centre for Narrative Research hosted an event at Goldsmiths University with the title “Narratives Beyond the Text – sound and proces”.

We, a group of 10, mainly PhD students, were going to explore and discuss the quality of different narrative modalities, and the different possibilities they offer, together with Dr Cigdem Esin and Dr Linda Sandino who had brought examples from their own research. How can we move beyond the standard transcript, that we may find ourselves restricted to, was the initial question of the day.

Linda presented sound and text material from her research and we explored and experienced how our interpretations evolved and changed as we went from the reading of a transcript further on to a voice recording, supplemented by a photographic portrait of the storyteller. The step by step analysis exemplified how text, sound and photographies enable different “imaginative spaces” – imaginations experienced in this case by us, the interpreters. Our imaginations supported or challenged certain interpretations and we discussed how engaging with material in different ways can lead us to new understandings of the material. Voice and orality has been attributed a certain authenticity as it stands for lived experience and represents the materiality of the body (Portelli, 1994; Barthes, 1981). However, when we considered the listener’s embodied experience, which Linda presented as a key term, and how different recording devices, background noises etc. affect this experience, the sound became inseparable from the process of listening.

Different ways of engaging with materials may not only allow for new analytical possibilities but also offer participants a creative and less restrictive space for their autobiographical narratives to take form. Cigdem gave examples, from her and her colleagues’ research, of how autobiographical narratives of young women from East London emerged as they presented themselves through visual materials, interviews and interactions during the process. The spoken, visual and interactional modalities came together in a way that allowed for a narrative understanding incorporating contradictions, incoherencies and multiple levels of co-constructions. Engaging with participants around activities can furthermore have the benefit of creating “contact zones” where different cultures meet and where power relations can be negotiated.

The ethics associated with the use of visual and sound material to represent and co-construct participants were addressed in our discussions. For example we discussed how the publication of sound material can be problematic in terms of protecting a participant’s anonymity, and ways of dealing with such issues. With attendees from various fields and with different research interests the day, apart from being a “sound and process day”, also came to illustrate the broad application of narrative approaches. Despite different research subjects, we seemed to face similar experiences and challenges which the day was an opportunity to explore through interdisciplinary exchanges.


The photo is borrowed from:


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