Telling 'Stories': A Mixed Approach in Collecting and Analyzing Data on Values
8 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2012
Date Written: February 28, 2012
Our paper illustrates the potentialities and the limits of the “telling stories” approach, an alternative technique in collecting and analyzing data on values of people of contemporary societies. This technique was originally developed by Alberto Marradi (1996; 2005). It relies mainly on narration and it may integrate quantitative and qualitative features both in collecting information and analyzing data.
The narration of an significant episode, from a socio-cultural point of view, appears particularly suitable for surveys on values: "story-telling has always been used to raise moral issues, to convey values, to justify norms (as parables). Every good teacher knows that anecdotes are the most effective means to invoke or enrich his audience’s tacit knowledge of environments, situations and personalities" (Marradi, 2005). The importance of narration in cognitive processes has been highlighted by many authors; one of these, American psychologist Jerome Bruner (1990, 2002), has discussed this topic with a particular reference to the formation of moral and legal judgments.
“Stories” are substantially interviewing tools, designed to explore the position of respondents on various ethical dimensions (for example, universalism/particularism; responsibility/dependence; passivity/activism, and so on). These dimensions are considered as a continuum whose extremes are semantically anchored to opposite moral concepts.
Administration of "Stories" essentially consists of two parts: a) a verbally reported episode (occasionally illustrated by a drawing) presenting a situation that usually implies a moral dilemma or a controversial choice. This should stimulate a genuine reaction in the respondent that should make clearer his collocation on the conceptual dimension surveyed; b) a direct question inviting the respondent to express his or her reactions on the narrated episode.
In methodological literature it is possible to trace some techniques like “stories”. For example, “vignettes” or similar tools were used by Nosanchuk (1972), Neff (1979), Converse and Presser (1986, 26) and Finch (1987). There are also affinities to an instrument used by Kohlberg (1968) and built upon Piaget's ideas (1932) to point out six phases of moral development. However, “Stories” differ significantly from these techniques, because they are totally based upon a process of meaning negotiation with interviewees which has original characteristics.
Another important feature of the “stories” is its wide versatility from a data analysis point of view. Drawing insights from the results of our research, we also illustrate how data collected with this technique could be analyzed with quantitative or qualitative tools (for example hermeneutics) and how these data could be a textual corpus for sociolinguistic studies (for example, pragmatic and syntactic analysis).
Keywords: research methods, stories, qualitative analysis, values
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