Sometimes we don’t know much about a topic. We can tell that it is really important, because it affects people’s lives and wellbeing, but it is big, complex, and we may not know much about it. War is a good example. How do the young Congolese, who experienced wars and mass violence in eastern provinces of North and South Kivu, make sense of the prevalence of violence in their home-provinces, and what solutions do they envision for a peaceful future? The research which addressed this question found deep-seated feelings of resentment towards those who were deemed responsible for the Congo’s suffering. These findings were uncovered by an examination of the narratives young Congolese recounted about the war and conflict.

Another reason for narrative research: narratives shape our perceptions of reality, and can also influence policy. When narratives are examined, the researcher looks for how people perceive reality, in attempt to identify how they are likely to act on it. The abstract of this | article provides and example.

Data sources for narratives can be primary, which means you collect the data yourself, like interviews (using the oral history technique, for example), or secondary, such as published biographies.

The process of narrative research can be broadly described as follows:

  1. Identify a phenomenon to address, or a political issue to study, with narrative research
  2. Select individual(s) who can provide an understanding of the phenomenon
  3. Collect stories from the individual
  4. Review the data of the story, and re-tell it in a sequenced and organised way
  5. Identify themes which shed light on the phenomenon or issue you were interested in
  6. Group related themes, summarise, and organise. Use tables if you can!

Media: Further knowledge

A video presenting Narrative design in education (not political science) offers a brief review of the main principles of narrative research


Reflective Activity: how could your research be informed by narrative research?

Share the answers to the following questions with the group in the discussion forum.

  • What would your research question be?
  • Who would be your likely participants?
  • How would their responses inform your research question?