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2 Narrative analysis in migrant and
Mike Baynham and Anna DeFina
Narrative analysis has become one of the most important methodological
tools for the study of processes of uprooting, relocation, adaptation to new
surroundings and linguistic realities, and the consequent identity struggles of
migrants and transnational individuals. It is widely accepted that narratives
are a fundamental means through which people make sense of and share
their take on experiences, no matter how big or small, how life- changing or
insigni cant. Narratives are a ubiquitous discourse genre given the many
functions that they ful l in social life. Stories are told to create common
ground and to share experiences, to amuse and to instruct, but they can also
be used to differentiate, to feed disputes and arguments. They are tools for
both sociability and con ict in everyday life; however, they are also often
imbricated in institutional practices and public communication and underlie
many linguistic struggles. It comes as no surprise then that the study of
narrative has attracted the attention of sociolinguists and other scholars
interested in the interactions of language and social life and that it has
experienced such a surge in popularity in the last decades.
Nonetheless, the use of narrative analysis in the investigation of individu-
als and communities in transnational and migratory contexts and of their
language practices is relatively recent. Early studies of migrants focused on
narrative as a text- type. Researchers looked for signs of L2 pro ciency in
the narrative production of immigrant adults or children, who were evalu-
ated as more or less pro cient “bilinguals” (see, e.g. Berman, 1998 ; Berman &
Slobin, 1994 ). Narratives were dissected in terms of linguistic devices, strate-
gies and topics in order to assess bilinguals’ development in the target lan-
guage. Studies invariably focused on immigrants. Cognitive research also used
narrative- eliciting techniques to study cognitive development and/ or loss in
bilinguals (see Schrauf & Rubin 1998 ). Thus stories as texts, not storytelling,
was the focus of analysis in these early studies, and immigrants were seen as
bi- or multilinguals who were always in a state of ‘disadvantage’ with respect
to native speakers.
In this chapter we focus on a very different approach to narrative analy-
sis:one that has been developing throughout the last two decades and that
can be characterized as practice- oriented and ethnographic in nature. Within
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32 M. Baynham & A.DeFina
this approach, the focus is on storytelling as a meaning- making practice that
can throw light on the way immigrants, transnational communities and indi-
viduals act within and experience processes of relocation and uprooting, on
their identity constructions and negotiations and on the power relations in
which they are involved. Below, we provide some background on the main
theoretical in uences that have contributed to shaping this approach and we
highlight narrative analysis’s role in the study of migration, transnationalism
and multilingual spaces. We focus on two main areas:studies that have ana-
lyzed narrative as embedded within institutional and everyday practices, and
research on a variety of topics related to identities, language and the represen-
tation of experiences of migration or uprooting through narratives produced
in interviews and other research- generated contexts.
It is thanks to the ‘narrative turn’ in the social sciences (Bruner, 1991 ;
Riessman, 1993 ) that researchers have started shifting their attention from
stories towards storytelling. Indeed, narrative- turn analysts promoted an
anti- positivist, poststructuralist stance on research that put the stress on
qualitative methods and a re- evaluation of narratives as an essential site for
the articulation of subordinate subjects’ own voices. As a result, narrative
analysis has become a primary method for the elicitation of migrants’ and
diasporic individuals’ talk about their own experiences and stances.
Besides being in uenced by general trends towards qualitative instruments
and the re- evaluation of subjectivities in the research process, narrative inves-
tigation has also responded to a more general shift in sociolinguistics towards
exible, practice- oriented understandings of the connections between dis-
course phenomena, identities and social processes that have developed
in response to the new social relations and forms of communication that
characterize globalized, mobile and highly complex late modern societies
(Blommaert, 2010 ). Traditional variationist sociolinguistic frameworks that
conceived of stories in structural terms as texts de ned by speci c discourse
and linguistic characteristics re ected the focus of earlier research paradigms
on the stability of cultural norms, identities and ways of speaking within well-
established communities delimited in terms of class, ethnicity and other xed
variables (see, e.g. Labov, 1972 ). But such a paradigm can hardly provide a
frame for the analysis of discourse in globalized societies that are character-
ized by a high degree of mobility and by a breaking up of notions of identity
as homogeneous and grounded in well- de ned territorial spaces. Theoretical
developments in identity and postcolonial studies (see Giddens, 1991 ;
Bhabha, 1994 ) have established a view of late modern identities as essentially
fragmented and polyphonic. Polymorphism, mobility and hybridity are even
more central concepts to the understanding of processes of identity forma-
tion among immigrants and transnational subjects. Indeed, global ows push/
pull more and more people to seek new destinations, either to better their
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Narrative analysis 33
life perspectives or to ee violence and instability. At the same time, mobility
de nes the experience of being “in between” that is so prevalent in their lives.
Thus, one important strand of narrative analysis has focused on new under-
standings of the ways people index and negotiate relations between space,
discourses and identities (see Baynham & De Fina, 2005 ).
Another in uence on recent developments in narrative analysis has come
from sociolinguistic approaches that emphasize the need for the close study of
discourse phenomena through ethnographic lenses and with particular atten-
tion to the contextualization of meanings in local interactions (Rampton,
2006 ; Pennycook, 2010 ). From this perspective, the semiotic processes through
which mobile, transient and uprooted individuals and groups represent and
negotiate their own experiences need to be investigated, not presupposed. For
this reason, narrative studies are increasingly becoming aligned with a view
of narratives as social practices (De Fina & Georgakopoulou 2008 , 2012 ),
that is, as emergent and embedded within speci c contexts of interaction and
communication, be they interviews (see also De Fina & Perrino, 2011 ), or
non- research- generated everyday contexts. Within this framework, storytell-
ing needs to be investigated as a process that always involves presuppositions,
co- construction and negotiations by participants. Thus, recent research on
storytelling has paved the way for the study of how different kinds of nar-
ratives, not only canonical ones, are used in a variety of contexts to varied
purposes and with different effects.
In the area that we are examining here of narratives in transnational and
migratory contexts, for example, even if most work has focused on autobio-
graphical and biographical narratives, there has also been a keen interest in
other kinds of narratives. The latter have been studied and de ned based on
the close analysis of discourse in context and not on the basis of a single
model or schema. For example, Baynham ( 2003 ) showed how generic narra-
tives were used by Moroccan immigrants to the UK to construct a gendered
representation of the process of migration. Carranza ( 1998 ) demonstrated the
signi cance of habitual narratives in the discourse of Salvadorans in the USA
to explain and motivate their need to leave their country of origins. De Fina
( 2009 ) provided an analysis of how accounts given by Mexicans in interviews
were designed to answer interviewers’ questions and justify personal choices.
Relaño Pastor ( 2010 ) focused on the role of small stories co- constructed in
focus- group interviews with migrant youngsters in Madrid schools in rep-
resenting processes of “ tting in.” Recent work has started to look at the
way online narratives are used in identity claims by immigrants and as sites
for the negotiation of transnational identities. For example, Kresova ( 2011 )
investigated blogs by Russian migrants, while Galasinska and Horolets ( 2012 )
analyzed how forum discussions by Polish individuals in the UK contribute
to the construction of a grand narrative about migration. In brief, research-
ers in this tradition underlie the need for ethnographic approaches to data in
order not only to understand the value systems, categories of belonging and
social representations underlying narratives, but also to describe the kinds of
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34 M. Baynham & A.DeFina
storytelling practices that are enacted by migrants and translocal individuals
Research on narrative as embedded within institutional
and everyday practices
As mentioned above, a great deal of work on narrative has taken as a starting
point data generated in research- related contexts such as interviews and focus
groups, particularly in the area of identity and language experiences and
ideologies. However, scholars have also investigated contexts in which stories
are not elicited but are naturally occurring in order to understand processes
connected to migration, settlement, transnationalism and their relationship
with linguistic issues. This type of work takes an ethnographic approach
in order to study the processes that surround and underlie storytelling.
Participant observation is generally adopted as a research strategy and this
is often complemented by interviews. Below we discuss examples of this kind
of research. For example, research on storytelling in institutions focuses on
the rules that regulate the production, entextualization (Bauman & Briggs,
1990 ) and delivery of different kinds of narratives and on relationships of
power that affect story ownership, performance and negotiation. In many
cases, such studies are not devoted exclusively to narratives but consider their
role within wider social processes. An illustrative example is that of Katrjin
Maryns’ ( 2006 ) ethnographic study of the asylum seeker’s process in Belgium,
which involves crucially the use of stories. Through careful observation and
analysis of transcripts of asylum seekers’ interviews Maryns demonstrates
how lack of pro ciency in the language of the of cial interviewer and
the ltering processes through which stories are entextualized to become
acceptable within the institutional process deprives asylum seekers of the real
possibility of telling their versions of what happened. Maryns also illustrates
the fundamental role that interviewers have in the co- construction of those
stories, both through direct intervention and through presuppositions about
what a good account needs to look like (see also Jacquemet, 2005 for similar
research and Berg & Millbank, 2009 on the narratives of asylum claimants
based on sexual orientation).
Roberts and Campbell ( 2005 ) have investigated the role of narratives as
a form of self- presentation in job interviews and the ways that expectations
concerning how a story should be told systematically penalize black and eth-
nic minority applicants. Roberts ( 2013 :84)writes about a successful applicant
“responding to the question with a vivid personal narrative”; however, the
research identi es a preference for a normative Anglo narrative, with non-
Anglo applicants being penalized if they are not seen to followit.
Ethnographies of immigrant or immigrant- origin communities provide
accounts of the role of stories in various processes related to identities and
intergroup relations. An example of this type of research can be found in De
Fina’s ( 2008 ) study of an all- men card- playing group in which participants
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Narrative analysis 35
were both recent immigrants from Italy and second- or third- generation
Italian Americans. De Fina observed the club’s meetings for around a year,
conducted interviews and tape- and audio- recorded sessions. She found
that among the most common stories that the Italian American men told
each other in conversation were narratives of trips to Italy, migration stories
related to family history and anecdotes about family life. She argued that, at
the micro level, individual stories fundamentally contributed to legitimizing
members of the club as real “Italians,” but that, at the same time, because
of their common glori cation of Italian traditions, these narratives had an
important role in shaping the club as an ethnic organization by building a
collective narrative of immigrant success which in turn re ected more gen-
eral processes of accumulation of cultural capital by Italian Americans in the
In another long- term ethnographic study of a new Latino neighborhood
in the US, Wortham etal. ( 2011 ) investigated a particular kind of story, the
“payday mugging narrative,” and discuss how it re ects and shapes rela-
tions between Mexicans and African Americans residing in the area. Payday
mugging narratives revolve around assaults by African Americans against
Mexican residents who have just received a paycheck. Wortham etal. trace the
trajectories of these types of narratives through ethnographic notes and inter-
views and describe how such narratives follow paths that go from newspaper
reports to talk among residents to interviews about life in the neighborhood,
thus shaping and contributing to ideologies of personhood.
These studies are all examples of ways in which the analysis of narratives
in naturally occurring contexts can throw light on institutional and even local
neighborhood practices of exclusion, and on linguistic ideologies and repre-
sentations about self and others and the construction of identities.
Narratives in research contexts
Much narrative analysis has relied on data drawn from interviews, speci cally
the open- ended sociolinguistic or ethnographic interview, and we will begin
this section by reviewing studies in which the interview was used as a frame
for eliciting narratives and will then go on to research that does not focus
speci cally on narrative, but uses narrative analysis in interview- based studies.
Researchers representing the rst trend, such as De Fina ( 2003 ), Relaño
Pastor and De Fina ( 2005 ), Baynham ( 2005 , 2006 ), Liebscher and Dailey-
O’Cain ( 2005 ), Farrell ( 2008 ) and (Miller 2012 ), have made narrative the
central focus of their research, using it in open- ended sociolinguistic or
ethnographic interviews for the purpose of generating rich and involved
talk about fundamental experiences with work, language and personal rela-
tions lived by migrants and/ or translocal individuals. In this sense, they can
be regarded as belonging to a tradition initiated by Labov ( 1972 ) which
exploits the potential of narrative as a high- involvement genre. This research
focuses on issues of identity construction (for example on dimensions such
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36 M. Baynham & A.DeFina
as agency), and on the representation of self and others (for example on cat-
egories used to describe self and others) in the telling of signi cant experi-
ences. Among such experiences, linguistic and intercultural encounters have
had a central role. Indeed, narrative is seen by researchers in this tradition
as a central locus for identity work, though this is often assumed rather than
In an effort to address this lacuna, Baynham ( 2015 ) argues that the affor-
dances of narrative as a genre make it a privileged site for identity work,
through narrative characteristics such as repeatability , involvement , distribu-
tion of evidential responsibility , and pragmatic and metapragmatic explicitness .
For example, the repeatability of narrative lends itself to the sedimentation of
identity positions in habitus. In hiswords:
The characteristic of involvement binds the interlocutor into the identity
positions being constructed, hailing them as it were. To use Althusser’s
other formulation, interlocutors are quite literally interpellated into the
narrative through the pragmatic work required of them to make sense of
features like shifts in pronoun anaphora, deixis and reference.
We will illustrate the rst approach (interviews designed to elicit narratives)
through the research of Relaño Pastor ( 2014 ) and Relaño Pastor and De Fina
( 2005 ) on the narratives of rst- generation Mexican women in the area of
San Diego, California, and through work by Murphy ( 2010 ) on the narra-
tives of sans papiers (undocumented migrants) in Paris, France. In Relaño
Pastor’s study, the research questions focus on how Latinas use narrative to
talk about language dif culties and issues of access to language resources.
Aprevious investigation (Relaño Pastor & De Fina, 2005 ) concentrated on
the kind of agency these speakers project in their narratives, the kinds of acts
of resistance they talk about and on whether there is a gendered dimension
to their narrative re- tellings. Agency was de ned as “the degree of activity
and initiative that narrators attribute to themselves as characters in particular
story worlds” (p.41). According to the authors, agentive reactions to troubles
and dif culties can be placed on a continuum from low to high and can be
analyzed based on complicating action clauses and evaluations. Complication
clauses are divided into:(1)complicating events (CE); (2)reactions (RE); and
(3) resolutions (RES). Evaluation is particularly associated with reported
speech and emotional language (ibid.:42– 43). Using this framework, Relaño
Pastor and De Fina ( 2005 ) analyze data on language con icts. For example,
an interviewee recounts how she went to hospital, nobody spoke Spanish there
(CE), she felt horrible but lled out the paperwork as best as she could (RE),
had an encounter with a doctor who spoke a bit of Spanish and, in the end,
could communicate with her (RES). Evaluation of this episode of language
dif culty was expressed through the language of emotion me sentí horrible
(I felt horrible). The analysis demonstrated both how language encounters
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Narrative analysis 37
represented highly charged moments in the life of Mexican immigrant women
and how these women, contrary to stereotypical visions, presented themselves
as strongly agentive characters in story worlds.
Besides investigating substantive issues such as identity and agency via
narrative analysis, such research can also contribute to extending the scope
of narrative theory. Further contributions in this direction come from recent
work on spatial orientations and practices in narrative. Post- Labovian work
on narrative (Baynham, 2003 ) has made a distinction between the spatial/
temporal orientation of narrative as a backdrop against which the story line
is played out, and a constitutive, performative understanding of space/ time
relations in narrative. From this perspective, mobility in space/ time is the
story. This perception is well captured by Giddens:
We can only grasp time and space in terms of the relations of things and
events:they are the modes in which relations between objects and events
(Giddens, 1991 :31)
An example of work on narrative which problematizes and develops our
understanding of the spatiality of narrative is Murphy’s ( 2010 ) investiga-
tion of narratives told by sans papiers in France. Murphy’s analysis of spatial
practices draws on the philosophy of Merleau- Ponty ( 1992 ) and Heidegger
( 1962 ), on Bachelard’s ( 1994 ) psychoanalytic work on the poetics of space,
on Bakhtin’s ( 1981 ) chronotope, and on the work on spatial cognition of lin-
guistic anthropologists such as Haviland ( 2005 ) and others. It involves eight
ii static or dynamic space:shelter and displacement
iii lived space understood as an interactionalevent
iv spatial identity as discursive activity
v physical space structured by socialspace
vi cognitive representations of space and spatial terminology
vii ctionalized movement in the discursive expression ofspace
viii spatial reference in the narrative.
Take, for example, spatial identity as discursively constructed. Murphy starts
with a quote from Dixon and Durrheim ( 2000 : 27):“Questions of ‘who we
are’ are often intimately related to questions of ‘where we are’ ”. He illustrates
this with the example of the sans papiers being conceived of as hors la loi
(outside the law). This echoes Bourdieu’s remarkthat:
Like Socrates, the immigrant is atopos , without place, displaced, unclas-
si able ….Neither citizen nor foreigner, neither truly on the side of the
Same, nor totally on the side of the Other, the “Immigrant” is located
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38 M. Baynham & A.DeFina
in this “bastard” place of which Plato also speaks, the frontier between
social being and non- being.
(Bourdieu, 1991 :9)
Static or dynamic space is illustrated by the dialectics of “at- homeness” and
“displacement,” drawing on the work of Bachelard ( 1994 ).
With regard to the social structuring of physical space, one example
Murphy analyzes is the role in the narratives of the sans papiers of the major
Paris railway station– the Gare du Nord– which is transformed into a place
to be feared even though it is a necessary route, because it could betray their
illegal status. Indeed, as a transport hub, it presents a high risk of random
paper checks by the Police aux Frontières (PAF) [Frontier Police], which
would expose the immigrants’ illegal status.
A great deal of work on narrative, particularly in the context of second
language or intercultural studies, has focused and still focuses on life stories.
Researchers use these types of elicited narratives particularly to study identity
construction and adaptation processes by migrants. Life- story research, partly
like research on narratives of personal experience, mostly looks at agency.
Recent developments have started to put greater emphasis on the role of
the interviewer and on the interactive, co- constructed characteristics of the
research interview (cf. De Fina & Perrino, 2011 ). Current understandings of
this communicative event have been informed by the insights generated by the
study of narrative in everyday conversational contexts, and therefore research-
ers pay closer attention than in the past to the processes through which inter-
viewer and interviewee interactionally achieve and jointly construct meanings.
For example, researchers have shown how interview participants build on
unspoken presuppositions and ideologies in order to co- construct and inter-
pret narrative accounts dealing with con ictual events in the life of narrators
(see Cavallaro Johnson, 2008 ; Van de Mieerop & Clifton, 2012 ; De Fina &
King, 2011 ; Miller, 2012 ).
In addition to research where the study of narrative is the central focus, as
is the case in the work of Relaño Pastor and Murphy above, it has become
clear in other kinds of investigations that any social science interview of an
open- ended ethnographic sort is likely to be rich in narrative features, whether
fully performed narratives or momentary shifts into narrative performance.
Such momentary shifts have been characterized by Georgakopoulou ( 2007 )
and Bamberg and Georgakopoulou ( 2008 ) as “small stories,” stories told as
an example of an argumentative point, generic narratives, hypothetical nar-
ratives, and so forth. Along with other kinds of expository, evaluative or
argumentative talk, and interacting with them, narrative is thus an intrinsic
constituent of the talk generated in the course of such events. We will illus-
trate this point with examples of studies where narrative is not the primary
focus yet which prove to be rich in narrative talk and, indeed, where the func-
tions of narrative prove to be crucial in making sense of the data. We will
argue that it is always pro table for the researcher working with interview
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Narrative analysis 39
data to be aware of the way narratives of different sorts are contributing to
the meaning- making. We will also argue that it is necessary to move beyond
the dichotomy between ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ data which is collected in everyday
contexts via methods such as participant observation and arti cially elicited–
hence ‘inauthentic’– data gathered, for example, in interviews. As discussed
above, current developments in sociolinguistics are problematizing the notion
of the ‘authentic’ in everyday interactional contexts and here we seek to also
problematize the notion of the interview as ‘inauthentic.’
An interesting case is that of the emergence of unbidden narratives in con-
texts where researchers were not anticipating their possible signi cance for
data interpretation. For example, Tullio Maranhão recounts how in a study
undertaken in north- east Brazil, with no initial orientation towards narrative,
designed to elicit local men’s classi cations of sh and their cognitive planning
in sailing and shing, the shermen responded to detailed questioning with
long, intricate and unexpected narratives of shing prowess. He eventually
discovered that the shermen were interpreting his detailed learned question-
ing as an implicit criticism of their shing and sailing prowess and were telling
the narratives to demonstrate their skill and bravery (Maranhão, 1993 ).
A second category refers to interview- based research which, while not set-
ting out to investigate narrative, nevertheless generates data with a rich variety
of text types, including various kinds of narratives. This case is represented
by Liebscher and Dailey- O’Cain’s ( 2013 ) study examining bilingual language
use in the German urban immigrant community in Canada. The focus of the
research is on immigrant identity and the construction of space, and the role
of positioning and membership categorization in identity work. Although the
investigation is not speci cally on narrative, the researchers are clearly aware
of the potential role of narrative in their data, when they describe instructions
to eldworkers “to improvise on follow- ups in order to elicit more informa-
tion and longer narratives from informants …” (Liebscher & Dailey- O’Cain,
2013 :9). The interview data they use to exemplify their discussion is indeed
full of narratives, for example this illustrative small story (translations are in
01 Nanda: my son used to like the Fischerchoir
02 IntW: ah jaaha.
03 Berta: ja.und die herz[buben
yes. and the Herzbuben (name of aband)
04 Nanda: and when we had German visitors coming, they said oh howcan
you listen tothis
05 Suse: mhm
06 Nanda: and he was so eh you know eh (…) eingeschnappt ( upset ) because
07 how can you listen to some music like this? [(.) but he likes to
08 Berta: [ja
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40 M. Baynham & A.DeFina
09 Nanda: the German music still [(.) because I brought him up from
10 IntW: [ja
11 Nanda: listen to German programs.
12 IntW: ahja.
This small story indexes both a southern German space and Nanda’s son’s
enjoyment of and alignment with it, exempli ed by a choice of particular
German music, an enjoyment and alignment which is upset when the German
visitors position him by challenging his choice. This extract illustrates the
pervasiveness of narrative in such ethnographic interview data (which
Liebscher and Dailey- O’Cain call “conversational”).
In another recent interview- based study, Piller and Takahashi ( 2013 ) inves-
tigated language work in English and Japanese in a low- cost airline. Again the
interview data seems to be rich in narrative as interviewees recount problem-
atic or challenging interactions with customers and others:
Ryoko:He went like “You are not Japanese! Irun a business, but you
all are blah, blah, blah. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Aren’t you
ashamed to call yourself Japanese?” Iwas like, “I don’t represent Japan.”
aaa. Idon’t represent my company either aaa. He made me a representa-
tive just because I’m Japanese.
Here Ryoko tells a small story about an encounter with a Japanese customer
who is dissatis ed with the service. The customer attempts to position her as
an inauthentic Japanese but she resists that positioning argumentatively by
insisting that “I don’t represent Japan” (Piller & Takahashi, 2013 :109).
These examples give some sense of why narrative is such a rich source of
data on identity work, precisely because narrative as a genre both performs
and condenses actions and assessments, evaluations and arguments about
actions, giving a kind of intensifying affective focus to the recounting of the
everyday. In each of these extracts there is a challenge by one actor to some
assumptions deeply held by another. Nanda’s son’s taste in music is put on
the line by the German visitors. In Ryoko’s case, the offended businessman’s
negation of her authenticity as a representative of her national culture could
potentially be very destabilizing for her sense of identity. Ryoko, however, sees
through the gambit and rebuffs it robustly.
It is perhaps obvious from the discussion so far that a vague and generic
notion of ‘identity’ does not quite suf ce to account for the interpersonal
struggles that are involved in identity work. Notions of positioning, stance
and alignment are useful here (cf. Baynham, 2011 ) as well as membership cat-
egory analysis. Speakers position themselves in relation to what is being talked
about. As such, they take up a stance, aligning with or distancing themselves
from particular topics under discussion or other speakers. Du Bois ( 2007 )
synthesizes these interrelated concepts in a useful de nition:
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Narrative analysis 41
Stance is a public act by a social actor, achieved through overt means, of
evaluating an object, positioning the self, and aligning with other subjects
in respect of any salient dimension of the stance eld.
Moving on now to membership category analysis, membership was identi-
ed as signi cant in interactional work by Sacks ( 1992 ). Membership
categorization, which can be de ned as the analysis of “situated and re ex-
ive use of categories in everyday and institutional interaction” (Benwell &
Stokoe, 2006 : 38), is often used as a tool to investigate work on identity
boundaries. Membership is at stake in both the data examples above:Nanda’s
son’s taste in German music is categorized and othered by the German visi-
tors. The businessman’s attempt to offend Ryoko turns on her membership
in the category “Japanese,” which the businessman attempts to put at stake.
Linked to this is the notion of positioning, a typical process in conversation
in which interlocutors constantly put themselves and others in speci c posi-
tions, sometimes aligning with each other, sometimes disassociating from the
other, even in such extreme forms that they could be described as “othering.”
Indeed, both Ryoko and Nanda’s son are othered by their interlocutors. All
of these interactional devices serve to emphasize the dynamic and performa-
tive aspect of identity work, the fact that identity is not something we have as
an unchanging attribute but it is rather something we do. As shown in these
examples, narrative as a genre is a privileged site for these dynamic and per-
formative characteristics of identity work to emerge, hence its importance in
the study of migrants, translocal and transnational communities.
In this chapter, we have reviewed key developments in narrative theory, both
in everyday interactional contexts and in research contexts, most notably the
open- ended ethnographic interview, glossed as conversational by Liebscher
and Dailey- O’Cain ( 2013 ) and others, even though we have pointed out
the importance of bearing in mind the generic constraints of the research
interview. We have shown how ways of conceiving the research interview
have been in uenced by interactional approaches. Rather than regarding the
research interview as a convenient format for grabbing data, we now tend to
see it as dynamically co- constructed by participants. Throughout, we have
illustrated the discussion with research and data examples taken from work on
multilingual and/ or diasporic individuals and communities. We have shown
how narrative is a privileged site for identity work. This can be explained
partly in terms of the constraints and affordances of the genre and partly in
terms of the interactional work to which it is put in conversation.
We have seen how identity as a generic construct is not enough to cap-
ture the dynamic emergent quality of identity work, which is particularly in
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42 M. Baynham & A.DeFina
evidence in narrative. We need more speci c notions such as stance, position-
ing and alignment to engage with the ways that people do identity rather than
have identities. This again has been illustratedabove.
What narrative can tell us about the social world can perhaps be explained
with reference to the notion of tellability (Labov’s “so what” factor) and to
the immediacy that the creation of story worlds brings about. If Ryoko’s
Japanese businessman had complimented her on the service and she had
thanked him, the actions would have constituted a pleasant conclusion to
a service encounter but would not have merited a story. It is because of
Ryoko’s presentation of her opponent’s utterance as so challenging and
provocative, so charged with discordant values, in itself creating a diver-
gence, attempting to other Ryoko in a particularly profound way that her
response becomes interesting. It is in the challenge and counter- challenge,
the attempt at positioning which is resisted and countered by a divergent
positioning that the story’s tellability lies. Furthermore, narratives are per-
formances that mimic real time and hence audiences become involved in a
sequence of events and its consequences and in the evaluative judgments
which constitute the disputed social meanings interactively at stake. As
such, narrative proves an invaluable resource for researchers interested in
how people make sense of their social worlds and work with and against
others to constructthem.
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