Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000


Making Meaning of Narratives

Ruthellen Josselson and Amia Lieblich
Sage Publications: London
1999
0761903275 (pb); 0761903267 (hb)
11.99 (pb); 26.00 (hb)
296 pp

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The contributors in this volume come from a number of disciplines - sociology, criminology, psychology, literature and nursing. This serves both as an indication of the breadth of scholarly interest in narratives, and a reflection of the variety of perspectives for understanding and analysing narratives. The text is not a recipe book on the technicalities of narrative analysis. Rather it provides a range of examples of narrative research in practice - as an active process of inquiry.

In many ways the first chapter is the least engaging. Here Price provides a brief review and critique of qualitative methods texts. This is inevitably a highly selective exercise, and only skims the surface of the wealth of materials and texts now available. As it is a personal selection it would be unjust to take issue with the texts discussed. Rather it is questionable whether such a review is desirable or useful in a volume specifically dealing with approaches to narrative research. The chapter covers the whole area of qualitative methods, and actually says very little about the intellectual and methodological context of narrative research practice.

Chapters 2 and 3 are interesting, although slightly obscure. Each provides a different re-reading of a monograph by a Norwegian anthropologist, Marianne Gullestad, on autobiography and everyday life. The two contrastive readings - from the perspectives of literature and psychology - illustrate the importance of conceptual frameworks in analysing and understanding narratives. They demonstrate the ways in which sense, meanings and identities are derived and understood through the analysis of biographical accounts and life narratives. These chapters also emphasise the different meanings and interpretations of narrative work that are possible.

The rest of the chapters report on research projects and data, where narratives and stories play a central role. Although covering diverse topics, they share some common themes. Several are concerned with aspects of generation and gender. Rogers and her colleagues explore the 'sayable' and the 'unsayable' through an analysis of young people's narratives; Holloway and Jefferson present generational narratives as a way of encapsulating the reproduction of gender and culture; Mizrachi draws on the narrative of Anna, a professor of anthropology, to explore the relationships between the public and the private; Crowther analyses young girls' diaries as narrative texts. Dien's chapter (re)reads a short Chinese story about a young girl as a way of exploring the stories of transition from childhood to adult (woman) hood, and Haavio-Mannila and Roos consider love stories in the sexual autobiographies of men and women. Other themes include explorations of identity formation, the (auto)biographical work of narrative and the role of narrative in transforming as well as sensemaking. The power of the narrative is particularly well illustrated in Abma's chapter on the role of stories in sustaining and transforming professional practice in a psychiatric setting.

This book is the sixth volume in the Sage series The Narrative Study of Lives. Like the companion volumes, it provides broad and contrastive perspectives on narrative analysis and the study of lives. It's strength lies in this breadth of coverage, and the appreciation of multi-disciplinary work in the field of narrative research. The volume provides both methodological and theoretical insight, as well as data interesting in their own right. Any dissatisfactions with the volume are minor ones. The chapters do not necessarily hang together as a coherent hole, which can be frustrating for the reader. One or two of the chapters are rather esoteric and may not have broad appeal. Nevertheless this is a book which should find a wide academic readership.

Amanda Coffey
University of Cardiff

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000