Telling stories of research. By: Evelyn, Debra, Studies in the Education of Adults, 02660830, Spring2004, Vol. 36, Issue 1
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Telling stories of research 

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Experimental narrative forms of writing research can offer empowering representations for adult education and feminist researchers. This article presents a selection of academic storytelling in the form of scanned transcript poems or 'Learning stories', produced through interviews with women who participated in a special access program in rural New South Wales, Australia. I suggest that such forms can allow the 'voices' of those researched to express both individual and collective experience in concise and unique ways, cutting across arbitrary divisions between public and private, objective and subjective. The form not only offers wider audiences for academic writing about the education of adults, but is also potentially liberating for those within the academic context who wish to read and produce research in different but representative ways. Finally I discuss some of the controversial questions raised by poetic narratives as academic writing, proposing that their production is a form of analysis, which does not overwhelm the data with the researcher's narrative, and that they are indeed a legitimate form of research that generates knowledge. I propose that the potential applications for such research writing methods are still emerging in adult education and beyond.

Keywords academic storytelling; feminism; voice; poetic narratives; research; experimental writing

Keywords academic storytelling; feminism; voice; poetic narratives; research; experimental writing


In this article I share parts of my personal quest to supplement the academic discourse of adult education by representing the learning experiences of a group of women students who participated in an Australian special access program. I first discuss how emerging experimental forms of writing research can offer feminists and other researchers in adult education concerned with social justice ways of empowering those who are researched, as well as the researcher. Second, I argue that narrative is a form of research and representation, which is inherently educational. I propose that a hybrid form of academic poetic storytelling is capable of conveying both the subtleties of individual subjective experience and collective aspects of experience in concise and unique ways. Third, I propose that exploration of new forms of academic writing offers adult education researchers potential for producing academic writing suitable for a variety' of audiences. Fourth, I suggest that the narratives presented allow academic readers possibilities of experiencing their own responses to the research, not as a substitute for analysis but in the sense of allowing for the 'hearing' and 'seeing' of the stories, without the overwhelming intervention of the researcher as narrator. I present for the readers' consideration sections of three of the learning stories I have produced through interviews with students and conclude with a discussion of adversarial questions the work may provoke: How is narrative poetry more representative than traditional academic analysis? When are such writing methods useful and appropriate? Is the analysis left to the reader? Are these stories research?

A journey toward telling academic tales

Adult education, as both practice and discipline, has historically been associated with issues of social justice. Feminist theories of social sciences have similarly been concerned with overcoming oppression. Yet as a practitioner and post-graduate student of adult education I have been struck for some time by how relatively sparse the representation of women's programmes and feminist theory is within the academic discipline. Despite significant feminist academic contributions to adult education, as outlined, for example, by Leicester (2001), these remain somewhat sidelined, as displayed by successive content analyses of adult learning journals by Hayes and Smith (1994), Sissel (1993) and Taylor (2001).

This sidelining of feminist issues is particularly noticeable in relation to my own work in adult education, where the majority of students in all the courses on which I teach are women. As part of this work I have taught for over 13 years on a women's access programme entitled 'Career Education and Employment for Women' (CEEW)( n1) in two rural towns of different sizes approximately an hour's drive apart on the coast of New South Wales. Like a number of my colleagues, it is one of my most rewarding experiences as an adult educator. The programme is specifically designed for mature age women, run by the state government Technical and Further Education Commission (TAFE), which has offered the programme in various forms and contexts across the state for longer than my years of employment on the course. Yet very little has been written academically about the programme, or the women who participate in it. The small number of studies on women's access programmes conducted in Australia over the years focus largely on programme evaluation (Binns, 1989; Jenkins, 1984; Rawsthorne, 1988; Richards, 1987; Ritchie, 1998; Scott et al, 1995). This partially reflects the paucity of practitioner research in adult education (Rose, 2000), as well as the relatively low profile of women.

When embarking on my own research project it thus seemed a worthwhile enterprise to investigate and represent the experiences of learners in these courses, which in my observation were tremendously successful at stimulating the women to pursue and achieve their personal, study and employment goals. I wanted to deepen my understanding of the learning processes the women experienced in the course and how this learning subsequently affected them.

My observations as an adult educator provoked a number of research questions that seemed worthy of exploration. What did women learn from the course and how did they value this learning? What helped or hindered the women's learning? What did a women-only environment mean to participants? What factors brought the women to the course and did they perceive their previous experiences as influencing their learning? So I began with a fairly traditional feminist urge to add women's voices to the academic discourse on adult education, so succinctly criticised by Johnson-Riordan (1994, p 12): 'adult educators have tended to engage in a universalising masculinist discourse, speaking about (but not to or with) "adults", as though the conditions of "our" existence, "our" life experiences are the same for every body everywhere.'

An important corollary to these research questions was always the issue of methodology: how might I conduct the research in ways that were respectful of the women who agreed to participate? In my dual role as course coordinator and teacher I try to work with learners in ways that are empowering, allowing them voice and space. In the CEEW programme this is crucial. From the first contact I have with each group, and increasingly as the students become more comfortable and confident as adult learners, I try to structure my teaching to share 'ownership' of the classroom and learning activities with the women. When first researching, it was not difficult to continue in this mode. I offered the option of voluntary participation in the research project to the group of students I was working with at the time. They had some months to consider whether they wished or were able to contribute, given their interest, future plans and other commitments. The eight women who decided they would be involved asked questions and made suggestions for the ways they could contribute, both before and during the research process. My already established mentoring relationship influenced the relative ease of meeting with the women, taping group discussions and individual interviews, despite the unfamiliarity imposed by recording equipment and the research situation.

However, as I sought ways to write about my research there seemed to be serious constrictions on how I could meet the requirements of writing for an academic audience and at the same time maintain this relationship. As my study developed I became increasingly concerned with the issue of how to represent my research data in ways that were compatible with my beliefs as an adult educator and feminist. Minh-ha (1989, p 67) critically encapsulates this research dilemma: 'A conversation of "us" with "us" about "them" is a conversation in which "them" is silenced. "Them" always stands on the other side of the hill, naked and speechless, barely present in its absence.'

The nature of my research was framed by my own purposes, not those of the students, yet I had no wish to silence or diminish them. How could I foreground the voices of the women I researched and thus empower their interpretations of their learning experiences, to sit alongside mine, within the traditional modes of academic research representation, which tend to present the researched only within the framework of the researcher's analysis? Eventually, emerging experimental forms of writing academic research seemed to offer a pathway through these straits. Initial inspiration arose in a journal article where Maori educator Nora Rameka discusses her work in a fascinating edited interview transcript (Rameka and Stalker, 1996). 'Nora's voice' not only gave me great insight into the context of another adult educator's work but also reminded me that narrative forms are inherently educational: 'Narrative has never been merely entertainment for me. It is, I believe, one of the principal ways in which we absorb knowledge' (Morrison, 1994, p 7).

I was further guided toward narrative forms by the embodiment writing of my postgraduate supervisor at the University of New England, Margaret Somerville (Davies et al, forthcoming), who pointed me toward other experimental text forms. One such was the work of American sociologist Laurel Richardson (1992, 2000), who provided models of narrative possibility for writing research. In particular, her presentation of '"Louisa May's Story of Her Life", a transcript masquerading as a poem/a poem masquerading as a transcript' (Richardson, 1992, p 127) offered a conceptual challenge, breaching the norms governing sociological interview writing: 'Why did I not simply paraphrase Louisa May's life, write it as a case study, or quote her words as evidentiary text?' (Richardson, 1992, p 130).

Like myself, Laurel Richardson felt dissatisfaction with the usual representation of lives in social science writing and a lack of faith in the deadening nature of much academic prose. She found this experiment a compelling method to push through not only the narrow boundaries of academic writing conventions but also to break through a writing block imposed by these. Her method was to unite her two voices, the poetic and the sociological (Richardson, 1992, pp 130-32).

Similarly, as I 'played' poetically with my own first interview transcript, I began to see that this hybrid form of writing, bred of academic research and poetic storytelling, was capable of conveying experience in concise and unique ways. The concentrated language of the poetic form was particularly appealing from a practical viewpoint, since I wanted to represent the stories of eight individual women, rather than one, as in 'Nora's voice' (Rameka and Stalker, 1996). By reading, re-reading and highlighting my printed transcripts, then word processing to peel away connecting non-essential words and hesitations, I began to reveal key meanings. I listened and looked for the women's perceptions, thoughts, feelings, the ways in which they grouped meanings. I followed the rhythms, stresses and intonations of the women's everyday language. What was revealed to me was a distilled essence of each woman's experiences of learning and their response to the research process. I began to perceive some beauty in this poetic narrative: its conciseness, and its ability to portray- both individual experience as well as infinitely subtle shades of similarity and difference between individual experiences, yet simultaneously represent experiences which, through my observations over the years, I knew were shared by many women who undertake the program.( n2)

A further appeal in this experiment with form was that it might allow me to write both for an academic audience and a less traditional audience. As Laurel Richardson (1992, p 136) points out: 'Louisa May's life takes me to poetry bars, literature conventions, women's studies classes, social work spaces, and policy making settings.'

The possible audiences for the women's learning stories in the form of scanned transcripts highlighting the prose poetry embodied in their words, have yet to be fully explored. They may be accessible to audiences beyond academia, for although the stories are poetic in form, the language is everyday, immediate and the poetic form brings conciseness and clarity. The poetic narratives may be read with interest by the women themselves, by other women who have participated in the course or will do so in the future, by other adult educators or students of adult education, by administrators, or by a variety of wider audiences.

A growing number of people in the traditional academic audience are also interested in changing forms of representing research. In a previous edition of this journal Stalker (1998, p 200) from New Zealand explains: 'I have struggled to change the way in which I write as an academic, to break away from the formula so often required for publications. I am trying to bring together more comfortably my heart, my passions and my intellect.' Tom Griffiths (2000, p 129) expresses similar concerns from an Australian context: 'What do we need to do to make writing a significant and meaningful part of our scholarly lives? How might we confront and subvert the disabling conventions of writing in universities?' In an article on 'creative analytical practice ethnography' Richardson (1999, pp 2-4) cites examples of a variety of experimental forms of research representation arising in diverse contexts around the world, from Chichen Itza to Canada, from France to Mexico.

For readers interested in adult education, feminism and the lived experiences of adult learners, scanned transcripts in the form of poetic stories may allow for new understandings. Stalker (1998, p 202) argues that poetry blurs the lines between the arbitrary divisions of public and private, objective and subjective spheres that support male bias. She suggests that poetry complements the notion of a third sphere of intimacy, which cuts across these dualities, by 'integrating the dislikes, desires, and aversions with the remote, standardized and neutral... through the common base of experience' (Stalker, 1998, p 202).

I believe that the poetic stories of the women's learning that follow also allow both for the subtlety of individual experience and meaning to be voiced by the women themselves, and for the reader to 'negotiate their own reading' of these as academic texts, in the sense proposed by Hall (1990, pp 32-34). Although I have crafted the poems from the transcripts, the process is largely one of paring. The words are not mine, my voice does 'narrate' the women's comments: 'Writing in a way, is listening to the others' language and reading with the others' eyes. The more ears I am able to hear with, the farther I see the plurality of meaning and the less I lend myself to the illusion of a single message' (Minh-ha, 1989, p 30).

In this article I ask you, the reader, to test my justifications. I introduce sections of three of the women's learning stories which explore the question of what the women learnt and demonstrate how they valued that learning. I have chosen to present three students' stories since two stories placed together seems to immediately invite less complex comparisons. The stories represented are chosen randomly, in the order in which the women were interviewed and are offered in the sequence in which they appeared in the original transcripts, to allow the women's own emphases to remain apparent. However, interspersed stories which relate more closely to other research questions asked such as 'How did you learn?' are omitted. Thus I invite you to consider what knowledge of adult learning is gained through the women's stories, while 'listening to the others' language and reading with the others' eyes'.

GAI'S LEARNING STORIES about going for a job
how to use past skills
Don's son came
his girlfriend
was applying in the bank
she didn't have experience
but worked in retail and l said
'Didn't she do the till, make up
the money at the end of day?
That's banking!'
To be more confident
like you taught us
ask anyway if they say no
they say no so what

write your resume stuff like that
I didn't know nothing about them
Academic wise
was real good and

computers was
whole purpose
learnt heaps in that
enough to go home
start playing

same with
the other girls
not to be scared
of this machinery
dealing with people
dealing with those women
one-on-one don't think I've ever
really had to    all these years
worked with a heap but you're
at work doing a job
it was every day then lunchtim
had to learn how to interact
have patience know when
don't say anything
different personalities hard

I nearly dropped out
when we got into that discussion
um sex and incest and that
thinking well I didn't come here
for this
do I want to keep going
pull out?
After   I sat back   thought
these women really needed
to do that
didn't really hurt me
...just upsetting...

another woman made it hard
trying to pull me down
but I thought    No
I'm stronger than that
just had four years all men
basically on my own
they'd come and go
yeah men are a lot different
talk about
different things
they're not real

then all of a sudden
this heavy talk
even the old peer pressure
couldn't go sit by yourself
everyone would want to know
what's wrong with you

good in the end
glad I stuck it out
Study again
enjoy it again even when
we had to do portfolios
Science I thought 'Oh shit
Bloody women's health'
but we had to

down to the women's health place
up to the hospital
talked to them
got all my paperwork
sorted it all out      sort of
work the brain up
read put words
on paper again
long time since I had to do that

... twenty years ago
Just brilliant when we went
Career Reference Centre
had to pick two areas investigate
started to look seriously at
then when we went into it
I said 'No, that's not for me'
would take too much on board
emotionally    administration
have to take it home with you
that careers place was mind-blowing

don't know why it's not known
for the kids down here
And Isobel's
Learnt lots, which I
didn't think     I would
The history of this country
I never knew

But that first class was Bad
Kooris started everyone's back up
just BANG really heated
Good you saw her explained
we started getting into it
schools are now too
cause we didn't
learn nothing at school
Ail the butchering...

Just Captain Cook landed here

Didn't like history

but that was...
interesting history
got the video
'Destination Australia'
wrote my own notes
So I could learn more
what the hell
was going on in this place
why the Aborigines are
where they are
Pat O'Shane
she's great
should be
Prime Minister
coming through
being Koori
sticking up for women

a different type of Judge
doesn't go by the letter of the law
applies the law to today
not what standards were
when they were made
at the end
didn't want to get stuck
I'd go to the library on weekends
lot of time going through books
liked that not doing enough now
only half as much      want more
writing up on the fridge
all the things we'd need
started doing my ironing
in the mornings seven o'clock
getting up at six going for a walk
I've kept that going
working in a club odd hours
organising kids had to re-arrange it
with the course as in a day
I have heaps more time
JO'S LEARNING STORIES most positive thing
was to be positive
about myself
have more self esteem
be a little bit more aggressive
in things I want to do

'Oh, I'm basically stupid'
Realised I'm not
I can do
a lot of things
if I put my mind to it
Assertive - -aggressive—
Well it works
In my course
if I didn't like
I could just speak up
'Can you explain it more?'
or 'Can you help?'

before, I'd just sit back
'Oh, don't worry,
I'll get to it myself'.
how well I could write
when I sat down
thought about it
Marie showed us to proof-read
She'd say, 'Hey put in your
punctuation marks' explain
'go through read them again
so you know you are right'

quite surprised
how well
I was doing
clammed up with maths
but Leslie would draw diagrams
make it really easy
with decimals
put numbers on a see-saw
if tipped that way
this would fall off
would become this
really helped me

thought 'I don't know what
the heck you're on about'
but when she
did these diagrams
I could understand
much better
careers like
didn't realise what I wanted to do
work with children or travel
I think that children won
been wanting to for a long time
going to the Careers Centre
made me look

then I decided to go for it
started the Child Care course
children magnet
loved that
work experience
soon as I walked in
swamped with children
had fun got on the floor
in the sand pit
helped with lunches
had a ball

kids absolutely thought
I was wonderful

didn't want me to go
must have been

something special
trouble with that survey
self-esteem quiz thing
before I was thinking
'what do I put for this?'
doing it again now
just breezed through

so easy
big in beginning
being nervous
first coming
not knowing
what it's going to be
lot in common
really helpful
to relate
comfortable class
it was so easy
to make friends
how others perceive you
wrote down good points
about someone else
found that interesting
figured no-one would lie
good to see things
about me that are okay
sometimes it's hard
to see my own good
actually surprised
at a couple of things
people wrote
never thought I was
but they said it
so must be right
I just believed them
'always smiling
having a laugh'
class was like that
isn't me all the time
I didn't know I was funny
'A good listener'

was surprised
they picked that up
self-esteem lesson
especially assertiveness
something I needed
'cause I was the total
am trying to
put into practice everyday
don't always get it right
but always remember it
found I can be assertive
some people not others
ones I feel comfortable with
I've been laying it on thick
but gee it feels good
when I'm able to do it
job interviews
confidence builder
mock panels
putting together resume
learnt a lot about myself
once I put it on paper
on academic level
only subject learnt
was maths
other lessons
what was
didn't really learn
anything new
but did really enjoy
the work we did
goal setting
I'm not sure why
guess I never had to
being married young
becoming dependent
husband to provide
had no need to be
a goal setter

when I found myself
on my own
I realised
how important that was
had to learn how
find my own space
time at home
has been difficult
impossible actually

managed to get by
without it
still get things done
that I have to do
I've probably got a space
up there in my head
to switch on or off
and somehow
it works
forgot to mention
computers I learnt a lot
probably will do more
next year
you can forget
if not using everyday
don't have one at home
now I'm doing
medical terminology
looking at being receptionist
in medical field somewhere
so I'll have that certificate
just need computer next one up
Can demonstrate
computer skills
spreadsheets was something
a flier a layout a border
use desktop publishing
draw pictures really fun
business letters
set out properly
really useful
really fun
wanted something different
maths we did biorhythms
'oh this is really good'
but you never use it
never ever use it
yet interesting
hated timelines
I thought
'look what I've done
with my life'
you've got it so clear
in black and white
hated it hated my life
got to do something
about it
got to change
just loved
my rights

going to write up bigger
something I can stick up
look at   keep learning
all things I actually believe
but no one has said
you can have these things

you should have them
to think about
the way women
can be
other than how
they have been
in the past
how I'd like to be
a non-stereotype
in the court case
surprised myself
thought I was going to
but I didn't

did a lot of
self-esteem stuff
just before
sure that helped
his lawyer tried
get me
tongue tied
to catch me out
say wrong thing
and I didn't

don't know how
but I stumped him
instead of him
stumping me
someone said to me
this particular lawyer
never ever seen him
stumped in court
what to say next

that day I did it!
he was coming from
I'd planned something
to get an AVO
on my husband
I made this occur

tripped him up
'Of course
always my fault
'cause all ever got
was that things
had started to see
in assertiveness
things weren't
always my fault
I wasn't always
one in the wrong
started to see
wrong things in him
his behaviour
in a different way
in a different light

but that's because
I see myself
in a different light
Discussing controversy about telling such tales

Making academic room for women to speak about their experiences as they do in these learning stories seems particularly important given the findings of feminist researchers in the United States, who in interviews with 135 women from diverse backgrounds and different educational settings discovered how 'again and again women spoke of "gaining voice"' (Belenky et al, 1986, p 16). My belief is that these poetic learning stories give voice to the research participants as well as provide readers with windows of knowledge into the experiences of the women who undertake the Career Education and Employment for Women course. The women's stories also give insights into the nature of the programme itself, as a particular contextualised instance of adult education. I would suggest that these poetic narratives offer readers information, interest, resonance and reflection.

However, since the form of research and representation are 'different', I also anticipate a range of reactions including some scepticism, controversy, even outright rejection. I am grateful to Pat Bazeley,( n3) for providing me with sufficient provocation to consider the adversarial questions in this concluding discussion. First, how is narrative poetry more representative than traditional academic analysis? Second, when would such writing methods be appropriate and useful? Third, is the analysis left to the reader? Finally, and perhaps most significantly, do these stories qualify as research?

Some readers may question how the form of narrative prose poetry is more representative than traditional academic analysis. I would argue that all research representation is just that, and no form has any claim to being absolutely more representative. That is, I would support 'the (noncontroversial) claim that no interpretive account can ever directly or completely capture lived experience' (Schwandt, 2001, pp 41-42), while maintaining 'an optimistic response' that acknowledges 'the importance of the rhetoric of representation' but does not dissolve 'the responsibility of the social scientist to describe and explain the social world' (Schwandt, 2001, p 42). The question then is not whether poetic narrative forms are more representative than traditional forms of academic analysis, but whether they provide possibilities for different, yet representative analysis.

Patton (2002, pp 17-20), in demonstrating the power of qualitative research, offers a wonderful example of how useful knowledge is sometimes produced by the detail of individual voices. He outlines how the negative results of a standardized questionnaire to teachers about a new accountability system were at first dismissed by school administrative officials as union-influenced, biased and inaccurate. By contrast, the personal comments in the responses to two open-ended questions included in the questionnaire could not be so easily dismissed, as they displayed the depth of anguish, fear and concern felt by individual teachers working in the atmosphere created by the accountability system. In this case the researchers provided direct quotes in the body of their report to provide such detail.

I would argue that the academic form of narrative poetry offers some useful variations on this method. Narrative form allows for the expression of individual, personal stories, as well as the knowledge that individual stories also represent shared elements of collective experience, which in turn interact with and modify our individual and collective knowledge, as Clandinin and Connelly (1994, p 415) explain:

In effect, stories are the closest we can come to experience as we and others tell of our experience. A story has a sense of being full, a sense of coming out of a personal and social history... Experience, in this view, is the stories people live. People live stories, and in the telling of them reaffirm them, modify them and create new ones... Stories such as these, lived and told, educate the self and others.

The poetic form also enables a conciseness and concentration of language, which conveys meaning in a way not exactly replicated by direct quotes, case studies or even other narrative forms. As Ely et al (1997, p 137) point out and illustrate, 'the intensity and compression of poetry' emphasizes 'the vividness' of experience. This combination of story-telling and concentration facilitates comparison without overshadowing similarities, differences and shades of contrast in a modicum of words. Richardson (1994, p 522) goes so far as to argue that poetic form may actually better represent the speaker than the practice of quoting snippets of prose, since it 'honors the speaker's pauses, repetitions, alliterations, narrative strategies, rhythms, and so on'.

In presenting sections of the learning stories I am asking my audience to test my claims, so pose my own questions for your consideration. Does the form empower the researched to have voice and visibility? Does the form allow freely for expressing lived experience and emotion? Does the form enable the crossing of arbitrarily imposed divides between private and public, subjective and objective? Does the form empower researchers, writers and readers who wish to respond in ways that meld both their mental and empathic powers?

Also, some adult educators and researchers may question where the use of such poetic narratives is appropriate and useful. It is not my wish to prescribe or proscribe the use of poetic narratives as research method and representation, as I do not choose to make such universal claims. Like the women in the learning stories, I prefer to voice my own experiences and perceptions.

I have found this research technique particularly harmonious with the skills required by my work as an adult educator. Daily in classrooms I 'listen and see with multiple ears and eyes', continuously measuring and blending an awareness of spoken language and non-verbal cues: expression, tone, gesture, posture; as I initiate with and respond to shifting sets of individual humans, groupings and sub-groupings. The production of the learning stories, listening and seeing and paring down the student's meanings, seems a natural progression from this work.

In addition, I am a teacher of English and Communication, a lover of language and literature, a writer. The production and representation of research in ways which may be pleasurable and educative to those who have contributed to the research, as well as to a variety of academic and non-academic audiences, is particularly appealing. I share the vision of academic writing held by Griffiths (2000, p 131):

We mustn't be less thorough in our research or less humble in the face of our subject. But we do have to avoid using language and status to intimidate, obfuscate or exclude. We do have to acknowledge, and stop feeling embarrassed by, the power of stories. We do have to stop seeing passion and objectivity as mutually exclusive. And we do have to see writing as an essential and primary part of our work.

In regards to the usefulness of this technique, the qualitative study I have undertaken has involved in-depth interactions with a relatively small number of participants exploring significant aspects of their lived experience. The women in the CEEW course have spent four days every week for 18 weeks together, and I have taught them for at least five hours of each of those weeks, spending additional time with them both individually and in groups, either formally or informally. In this research situation, I found poetic narratives a useful approach which maintains the integrity of these relationships, and my values as an adult educator and feminist. I see the poetic learning stories as a means of empowering the women who participated by giving primacy to their voiced interpretations of their experience. I also see each poetic story as a 'gift' I can give back to the women, in the hope that this recorded reflection of their experience is useful to them in ways which one of the participants, Kate, indicates when asked about her response to the interview process:

feel okay

it's interesting I guess...
what you're looking at
is making me stop
look back think
'Oh, look how far I've come'

I can only guess whether, for example, other researchers may find this technique equally useful for smaller or larger numbers of participants in different research situations. I trust that the presentation of poetic narratives may stimulate other researchers to find appropriate contexts for the technique, or create further thought and discussion about this and other forms of representing research, both in adult education and beyond.

Third, still others who contest such representations may argue that the reader is given only data and must do their own analysis. My reply to this contention is twofold. I agree that the reader is given data, to which they will bring their own perceptions and interpretations, but would argue that this is the case in relation to any text, any representation of research, including data framed within academic analysis. It could also be seen that this method in fact empowers the reader to bring their own responses to the data, without the overwhelming intervention of my own analysis as narrator of 'truth'. On the other hand, I would suggest that significant analysis of the data has already been done during the writing process. The data have been grouped and issues foregrounded for the reader through the selection and paring of language.

The learning stories may or may not replace further analysis. In my own case, I wish to allow the stories first to speak for themselves, but intend in my complete study to complement them with analysis separately, as I believe this will yield further knowledge for me as an adult educator and enable me to theorise these representations in a variety of useful ways. For example, I would like to explore issues of experiential learning, since a number of the women highly value instances of this, whether through excursions or work experience, yet this form of learning has become increasingly devalued and difficult to provide in a competency-based system focused on narrow learning outcomes and affected by successive cuts to funding. I expect that my readers will be able to consider any such analysis in light of their own experience and reading of the data represented in the learning stories. Richardson, on the other hand, chooses to allow Laura May's story to represent the research solely. Similarly, since this article focuses on method rather than content, I also allow the stories to stand on their own in this context.

Finally, and perhaps the most serious opposition to this form of representation I expect, is that some may contest whether poetic story-telling is in fact research at all. Yet I could rephrase this question to ask: Does poetic story-telling produce knowledge, is it educative? As readers you will have your own replies, based on your own responses to the learning stories. Academics who support only a scientistic, empirical tradition may no doubt still state a resounding: 'No'.

Conversely, my answer would be a definite 'Yes'. Through reading and re-reading and paring down the language of the interviews, I have highlighted key issues, perceptions, emotions and experiences conveyed by each woman about her adult learning in this particular programme. The lengthy, painstaking yet equally pleasurable process of hearing, reading, selecting, editing, empathising, thinking, further paring and shaping language in search of the kernels of meaning in the women's words, is arguably a form of research in itself.

Through this research process, I have entered into a new analytical relationship with my research data, and conveyed my findings in a way that I believe is accessible and inherently educational. The writing process allows a re-connection with the research subjects, an immersion in the interview material that is not exactly replicated in my experience of other methods of qualitative analysis, which tend to overemphasize the objective sphere.

Richardson (1992, pp 134-36) points out how her production of Laura May's story created new knowledge and ways of being for her. Similarly, the production of the learning stories has entered my life and practice as a teacher in a deeply integrated way. The research writing process has so imbued the women's learning stories into my being that I regularly make connections between a segment of a story and current situations in my classroom and workplace. For example, when I am once again battling frustration through administrative and funding minefields to organize an excursion, about to swear 'never again', I am reminded of Gai's 'Just brilliant when we went'. In the staffroom I have pulled out a poem from Jo's stories to discuss the experience of maths fear and successful maths teaching methods (an area in which I have no prior expertise) with a head teacher of the discipline. Talking about building self-esteem recently with a student undergoing a difficult divorce settlement, I was instantly reminded of Kath's 'victory'. The audiences and applications for the knowledge produced by the poetic stories as research are only beginning to emerge.

The understandings produced by researching-writing the learning stories is not a finished, finite product but something still developing and evolving. Clandinin and Collelly (1994, p 425) point out that personal experience methods are inevitably relationship methods:

As researchers we cannot work with participants without sensing the fundamental human connection among us; nor can we create research texts without imagining a relationship to you, our audiences... It is in the research relationships among participants and researchers, and among researchers and audiences, through research texts that we see the possibility for individual and social change.

The women's stories of learning continue to resonate, evoking each individual, but also connecting with collective experiences of courses both past and current. My research work, the poetic narratives the women have created with me, make satisfying links with a tradition inspired by empowerment, in keeping with my profession as an adult educator and my passion as a feminist. The women's learning stories are thus, for me, one form of 'research as re-vision', as coined by Rich (1972, p 18): 'Re-vision -- the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction', and extended by Helen Callaway (1981, p 457):

taking up and continuing the poet's play on meanings: 'revision' in the standard sense of correcting or completing the record; then, 're-vision' as looking again, a deliberate critical act to see through the stereotypes of our society as these are taken for granted in daily life and deeply embedded in academic tradition; and, finally, 're-vision' in its extended sense as the imaginative power of sighting possibilities and thus helping to bring about what is not (or not yet) visible, a new ordering of human relations.


AVO: An Apprehended Violence Order from the courts to protect people from threats or attacks of violence.

Koori: Person, the traditional name used by Aboriginal people from particular parts of Australia, including most of New South Wales.


( n1) The course was previously known as 'Career Education for Women' (CEW). The name change reflects changes in the course structure, which allowed more vocationally oriented training options to be included.

( n2) Thank you to the reviewer who pointed out that the forthcoming work by Morwenna Griffiths on Social Justice discusses such notions of the social construction of knowledge more fully.

( n3) I am indebted to Pat Bazeley who not only provided provocative mentoring but also a wonderful space for working on this article at the Bowral Research Farm, not to mention company over delightful, home cooked sustenance when it was 'time for a break'.


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By Debra Evelyn, Illawarra Institute of Technology, Australia

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