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Introduction: What is narrative research?

Corinne Squire & Molly Andrews & Maria Tamboukou

I live in terror of not being misunderstood (Oscar Wilde, ‘The Critics as Artist’) In the last two decades, narrative has acquired an increasingly high profile in social research. It often seems as if all social researchers are doing narrative research in one way or another. Yet narrative research, although it is popular and engaging, is difficult; how to go about it is much discussed. People working in this field are frequently approached by students and colleagues, in and outside academia, asking questions like, ‘Should I request respondents to tell stories or not?’; ‘What happens if my respondents don't produce any narratives?’; ‘What is a narrative, anyway?’ and, most regularly, ‘What do I do with the stories now I've got them?’ Narrative data can easily seem overwhelming: susceptible to endless interpretation, by turns inconsequential and deeply meaningful. Unlike many qualitative frameworks, narrative research offers no automatic starting or finishing points. ...

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