Borland, K. 1998. “‘That’s Not What I Said’: Interpretative Conflict in Oral Narrative Research.”

Borland, K. 1998. “’That’s Not What I Said’: Interpretative Conflict in Oral Narrative Research.” Pp. 310-321. In The Oral History Reader, 2ed. Ed. Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson. New York: Routledge.

How do we negotiate researcher and participant interpretation of the same story – without damaging construction of participants’ self.  Personal narrative as a simultaneous two-level activity in meaning construction – interaction between participant and event itself, and the participant and the story that is described. Contextual, situational.  Those who work in oral narratives often fragment and re-figure the told tale.  Reflexivity must be minded to our interpretive presence of story at hand, as well as the presentation of “scholarly competence.” Interpretative authority is problematic for feminists – how to empower the narratives of women, and yet, tie them in with the scholar-interpreted structures that are applicable to them? How we construct audiences for narratives impacts how participants structure and tell their stories. Mediated by reflexivity.

Participants frame and re-frame significance, dramatic events, sequence, emotionality… but it is up to researcher to organize and frame these themes.  Who truly controls the text, then?

“The performance of a personal narrative is a fundamental means by which people comprehend their own lives and present a ‘self’ to their audience. Our scholarly representations of those performances, if not sensitively presented, may constitute an attack on our collaborators’ carefully constructed sense of self” (317). Assumption of unity of social location, familiarity of context, consciousness can be very undermining. Does not suggest mandatory agreement or validation of texts prior to final product, but a dialogical process of clarification and construction of mutual meaning, even it may be multiplex and at times conflicting.


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