Saturday, 19 September 2009

What story am I telling?

I choose a quote to illustrate something and my supervisor asks me who said it. Or I don't choose enough quotes and my supervisor asks for more, so as to get an idea of the personality. But no-one checks that I haven't made up the quotes, or that the story I'm telling is what actually happened. Apart from my supervisors observing the process I'm following, because names and organisations are confidential, no-one knows who or where I got the data from.

So why couldn't I make up a story?

To some extent, I am making up a story. I take someone else's words in a document, or from an interview. I transcribe the interview words, losing the hand gestures, and the facial expressions, and the emphasis. I put in punctuation; punctuation doesn't exist when you talk - you just talk. So straight away, I'm creating a story slightly different from the original that was intended by the interviewee - it's a story that is my interpretation of what I think I heard the interviewee say. Then I wrap the interview quotes up with my own words in the paper I write. Then my supervisor reads it and interprets it in a different way from what I meant - gets a different story or even no story from it.

And so it goes on - it's the sociological equivalent of the old IT cartoon about the user requirements where the systems analyst understood a piece of wood had to hang from a tree branch, the designer wanted to hang the wood with three pieces of room, and the programmer sawed the tree trunk in half, propped it up, and hung the wood from two ropes on opposite branches. All the user wanted was a tyre to swing on. The discrepancies between expectations are analysed here.

So the story I'm telling could be as varied as there are people involved in telling it and listening or reading it. That's constructionism.

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