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This chapter portrays a meta-journey. It describes my journey
to understanding the personal journeys of three Caribbean Canadian
women as they portray their successful rite of passage from childhood
to their post-college years. It outlines three ethnographic frames
on which the study is hungentering the field, collecting
the data, and analyzing the data. It concludes with an explication
of the three alternative forms of representing the data collected
as I sought to capture the essence of the women's lived experiences.
This study developed in response to my puzzlement' (Stake, 1995) about how young women's definition of success is shaped and developed. It is, in essence, a longitudinal study thick with heuristic, narrative description designed to help readers hear the voices of three young women as they recount how they counteracted stereotype vulnerability' (Way, 1995), garnered support, challenged obstacles, and achieved their goals.
Encompassing a period of nine years, from 1989 when it first began to 1998, this study explores the women's lives against a thematic network. It illustrates that no life is singly dimensional (Smith, 1994). It illuminates the context of their successtheir
support and distractions, and the critical psychosocial events which accentuate the salience of their strong inner core.
Narrative inquiry drove this study. The spontaneity of oral narratives offered an
unabridged and intimate perspective of the young women's interpretation and
understanding of their own lives (Etter-Lewis, 1993).
The dissertation aims to provide a text so vivid with narrative that it sets the scene for readers' vicarious participation in the lived experience of success building. This rich description provides a deeper level for understanding the success of young women often marginalized by society. The study validates the experiences of others who walk in similar paths, and shows others how to become successful, particularly as it is mediated through familial and educational support. Interpretation undergirds the telling of the account: from the field to the text, to the reader (Denzin, 1994).
Entry into the Field
Travel Guides Introduced
The 1989 phase of the study focused on nine Caribbean Canadian
women who were viewed, by teachers and peers alike, as likely
to succeedbased on their academic skills and their positions
in student government. These young women were born in Canada or
had spent the majority of their lives in that country.
In the 1997 phase of the inquirythe post-college years, three of the nine women who had provided the dialogical resources for the first phase of the study are studied in depth as the investigation continues. These three women constitute a convenience sample whose inclusion in the study is based on their willingness to participate, and their accessibility in eastern North America. That they had informally communicated with me during the interim years facilitated my search for their whereabouts. These young women are now in their mid- to late 20s, have completed at least 2 years of college, and are well on their way to their self-regulated image of success as their 1989 transcripts reflected it. The women, Jade, Silver, and Eboni, are introduced in chapters 5, 6, and 7 under the jeweled nomenclature which reflects some aspect of their personae.
Sites for the Storied Journeys
The site of the 1989 phase of the study was my office in a
small private boarding high school in suburban Ontario. The office
was spacious and private, with windows looking out on the lush
well-manicured lawns of the campus. It was furnished with the
requisite large desk, upright chairs and filing cabinet. A plum
colored leather love-seata favored sitting area of most
participantswas tucked into a distant corner of the room.
To preserve anonymity, the interviews were conducted after schoolin
the early evening.
The sites for the two-meeting interview sessions in 1997 were at locations within easy access to Eboni's and Silver's homes in urban areas of eastern Canada. I chose an airport hotel suite for the first segment of the session. They selected a park with a spacious view of a children's playground for their second site. I also observed them, as is discussed below, at a dinner we shared and at brunch the next day. Jade, who was
visiting in the Berrien Springs area at the time of her 1997 interview, chose my home for
her interview site.
My Role as Travel Coordinator
I am acutely aware of my privileged status as instrument, recorder,
and interpreter of the life events of these special women. As
co-researchers they have given me, in essence, the power to name
and control meaning in the bared segments of their personal narratives.
They granted me trust, and an entree into a field which at one
time was quite similar to theirs.
They may have granted me such trust because they were unconcerned about being overheard by an academic audience (Powney & Watts, 1987). In their discourse prior to the 1989 interviews, the women and their mothers assert that their openness stems from their desire to enlighten the uninformed.
With that trust and openness comes a great responsibilitythe need for the ethics of caring (Noddings, 1984), mutuality, and responsive listening to avoid "filtered out" truths (Mishler, 1986), and the urgent need to avoid the pitfalls of "listening dangerously" (Rasi, 1997), a dominant force in qualitative inquiry (Chase, 1995; Reinharz, 1994). Mindful of Mishler's (1986) advice that rhetors need to be allowed to tell their stories in their own way, I allowed them time to hold the floor beyond the 30-second pause. I used my silence to give them time and space to speak in their own voices, control the flow of topics, and extend their responses. My silence equalized the power balance.
Nel Noddings's (Witherell & Noddings, 1991) well-known thesis is that the ethics of care involves the centrality of listening, connecting and taking responsibility for the research relationship. While noting that embedded in feminist biography are themes of pain, dilemmas, and joy, Shulamit Reinharz (1994) posits that care is demonstrated not only in the way the interview is handled, but in the way women's ideas and lives are validated in a tradition that once ignored the voice of women. Susan Chase (1995) cautions that we pay special attention to participants' vulnerability and analysts' interpretive authority.
As travel coordinator, I seek rigorous authenticity. This translates as trustworthiness, the constructivist equivalent of internal and external validity, reliability and objectivityterms associated with veracity and fidelity (Barone, 1997, p. 222). Lincoln and Guba (1985) unpack the term to reveal three essentials: credibility, confirmability, and dependability. In turn, Garman (1996) explains that these components answer the questions: Does this ring true? Will the participants agree that it was said? Can it be "judged within the context of the community of scholars it represents" (p. 19).
As coordinator, I also function as interpreter. Denzin (1994) describes the function. "The researcher, as a writer, is a bricoleur. She fashions meaning and interpretation out of ongoing experience. As a bricoleur, the researcher uses any tool or method that is readily at hand" (p. 501).
In this case, my journal functioned as my tool for "experiencing the experience" (Clandinin & Connelly, 1994), and producing what David Plath (1990) describes as "filed notes." Through reflexive journaling, I sought to make sense of the lived experiences in the field by writing about it to myself first and then to the readership of this text. "What is written down is itself interpretive, for the researcher interprets while writing" (Denzin, 1994, p. 505).
By writing, and then using this reflexive writing as a source for the study, I present an insider's perspective on the language, feelings, emotions, and actions of the women studied. I also bring my particular and unique self to the text, tacitly claiming that I have some authority in the subject matter being interpreted.
In this fashion, I function in a role somewhat similar to Sojourner Truth's at the Women's Rights meeting more than a century ago: "I am sittin' among you to watch; and every once in a while, I will come out and tell you what time of night it is" (cited in Cole, 1995, p. 155).
My data include the verbatim interview transcripts, E-mail
dialogues, and reflective journaling which I simultaneously produced
during each phase of the research processinterview, transcription,
and analysis. Interpretation was inevitable at this point (Connelly
& Clandinin, 1990), dotted the pages of my journals, and is
woven into the portraits presented in the following chapters.
Observational notes from the field as I conducted the interviews,
and memos tabulating phone and E-mail communication combine with
the interview transcripts to form the primary data sources.
The field work for the first phase of the study describes a 3-week period during which nine high-school students were each interviewed and recorded for a 2-hour period (Appendix C). The second phase (1997/98) extends over an 11-month period. This is included as a log of the interview schedules (Appendix D). But it is story, the stuff of knowledge (Bateson, 1989), that provided the compass to guide usthe participants and mein our collaborative search for meaning.
Choosing Active In-depth Interviews to Find Meaning
A series of active, in-depth interviews form the basis of this study. The first interview (Appendix A)conducted 8 years prior to the secondestablished a "preliminary symptomatic reading" (Hollway & Jefferson, 1997) on the participant's reflections of their achievement as a function of four themes: the nature of their mother-daughter relationship; their fantasy visions in terms of educational, vocational, and social aspirations; the support networks to which they clung; and their perceptions of themselves as visibly different young women. In the second series, the interviews (Appendix B) became more collaborative. The young women worked more closely with me, both during and after the interviews to consider the linkages and horizons of meaning they shared with their narratives.
The function of the second set of interviews was to reaffirm and refine these linkages as we looked at them through different lensesones defined by developmental, social, and philosophical changes. As the study continued in 1997, the participants were asked to review their 1989 stories, and to discuss the critical points in their lived experience during the intervening years, 1989-1997.
The findings of the later interviews predominate in the study.
These interviews are loosely formulated around the women's storied
response to the research questions (cited in chapter 1) which
seek to uncover a description of success as mediated by maternal
support, social and educative contexts, and God-reliance, theme
which emerged during the1997 interviews. To proceed with the study
in 1997, I telephoned the three participants with whom I had maintained
loose informal contactthrough the occasional card, graduation
and/or wedding announcementsinviting them to continue to
participate in the rest of the study. When they accepted the invitation,
I sent them a letter of explanation defining the scope of the
study and the general nature of the interview, and sought their
signed consent to participate in this inquiry (Appendix F).
Prior to our meeting, I mailed to each of the three women, the following items:
1. A copy of the 1989 transcript for review
2. A disposable camera, so that each woman could capture the essence of her
success on film, and money to develop the film (Note: To maintain confidentiality the
photographs were returned to each woman at the end of the final interview.)
3. A stairway-to-success graphic (Appendix E) on which she could chart her
successes, both realized and projected, before our meeting. The participants had the option to wait until the interview to chart their success during the interview. All three women chose that option.
Connelly and Clandinin (1990) insist that to begin the process of narrative inquiry,
all participants must have voice. These three strategiesthe earlier transcript, the photographs, and the graphicprovided the springboard for the stories that flowed to form the reservoir of narratives for the study, triggered by a gentle probe, "Can you tell me [more] about that?"
The participants identified benchmarks, external and internal, which indicate progress to their self-identified goals, and storied how they practiced improvisations (Bateson, 1989) along the way to the success they now experience. Although the interviews were conducted in two discreet stages, the data are treated here in four chronological phases:
1. Their early childhood years as illustrated by the participants' "retrospective
musings" (Peshkin, 1978).
2. The high-school years as defined by the1989 in-depth interviews.
3. The intermediate years, 1989 to 1997, as presented in the narrative responses
to the cast-your-mind-back' questions.
4. The 1997 and 1998 years as captured by their self-selected photographs portraying the essence of their personal success; their responses to the questions about success I posed; their definition of success as illustrated by their staircase of success (Appendix E); the stories they share in the interviews; and the follow-up sessions which were conducted on E-mail, by phone or letter (Appendix D).
I explicitly encouraged narrative language as participants shared first-person
accounts during the interviews. My questions sought to gain thick description (Geertz, 1973) of the context of their stories. In general, they were of the "Cast your mind back to . . . " or "Tell me about it so that I can feel as if I was right there with you" ilk.
The Paraverbal Interpretation
I produced verbatim transcripts of the taped collaborative interviews myself (to ensure accuracy should participants choose to use the dialect on occasion). My focus was on the voices, no longer edited out or repressed by an unfriendly foreign power. I paid specific attention to pauses, silence, omission, and exotic language, tuning my auditory system to the sound of accents. I noted both the humor and the person in the voice of the rhetor: child daughter, adult daughter, eager student, career woman, wife, and/or mother.
I took particular care to be conscious of the latent or explicit need for revision as the women mailed back to me the verbatim transcription of their interviews with their corrections. I took pains to listen for their choice of key words and unexpected phrases; their deviant views and stories that captured the essence of each woman. As I pored over transcripts, listened to their tapes, reflected, journaled, and took the occasional collect call, I learned to listen for implicit truth. I heard it in laughter, since truth often follows on the heels of laughter. I learned to listen for it in the silence of omission. I saw it in the revisions each woman made during the interview or the verification of the transcript.
A Happy Accident
During the 1997 interview process I discovered that we all had access to E-mail.
This was the perfect mode of communication for the "on-second-thought" syndrome which was typical of the women in my study. The insights which they shared when they used that medium were invaluable to the study and added even more depth, through elaboration, to the member check process. Their messages, most of which were lengthy and carefully planned, are included in this study and analyzed with the same care as were the interview transcripts.
Silverman (1993) insists "that good research goes back to the subjects with tentative results, and refines them in the light of the subjects' reactions" (p. 159). After the interviews were completed, verbatim transcripts of the second set of taped collaborative storying completed in 1997 were made, delivered to the participants, and verified by them, as had been the case in 1989.
Robert Stake (1995) describes this as the time when the rhetor, whom he defines as the actor,
is asked to review the material for accuracy and palatability. The actor may be encouraged to provide alternative language or interpretation but is not promised that [her] version will appear in the final report. Regularly some of that feedback is worthy of inclusion. (p. 115)
Susan Chase (1995), speaking in her intentional feminist voice, argues that member checks of interview transcripts do more than satisfy the requirements of authenticity, it strengthens the researcher's hold on the collaborative interpretive process because "it breaks down the barrier between the researcher and researched. It acknowledges that my research depends on your story and that you have good reason to be particularly interested in what I have to say about your story" (pp. 49, 50).
Portrait Presentations: Data Analysis and Interpretation
Once the transcripts were authenticated, they were shaped into portrait presentations (Cline, 1996). These portraits are, in a manner of speaking, miniature case studies framed in narrative. In essence, these three portraits provide the contextual shape for the datathe narratives displayed. Through this medium, lived experience is presented and bound by emerging themes as the women portray the benchmarks on their journey to success graphic.
Portraiture is a disciplined process of description, interpretation, analysis, and synthesis. Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot, an expert in this methodology, points out the power of context and its changes:
As the researcher documents the contextrich with detailed description, anticipatory themes and metaphors, and allusions to history and evolution, she must remember that the context is not static and the actors are not only shaped by the context, but that they also give it shape. (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 1997, p. 57)
Because of the quantity of the data displayed, each portrait is loosely divided into themes which emerged from the study and are framed by the stories told in 1989 and 1997. An analysis of each case study is developed throughout each chapter. Special attention is given to two elementsthe content and emergent themes of the various stories and emerging metaphors. Each portraiture chapter includes a poem reflecting the essence of the young woman as her story distilled it, her words shaped it, and my analytic ear filtered it.
The Seed Story
While analyzing the women's life stories, I noticed that in their telling they often revealed a germinal account which emerged in early childhood and functioned as a metaphor for their lives, clarifying the route they chose to take. This brief account, while not necessarily life-changing, often stimulated retrospective recognition as it depicts a hint of the promise of each participant's persona. For the purposes of this paper, I define this minuscule plot as a seed story.
The Search for Metaphor
Embedded in the contextual frame, metaphors capture the reader's
attention, call up powerful associations, and resonate through
the rest of the piece. These metaphors serve as overarching themes
and rich undercurrents that resound throughout the portrait. Like
seed stories, "the metaphors act as symbols pointing to larger
phenomena that will emerge as significant and be developed more
fully later on in the narrative" (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 1997,
As interpreter, I watch for metaphors as signposts to meaning. "The metaphor," Lourdes Morales-Gudmusson insists, "piles meaning on meaning, thus enriching not only our language, but the way we see the world. And seeing the world as new is the greatest contribution poetry and art can make to our lives" (1997, p. 11).
Cross-Case Analysis: A Larger Portrait
Sharan Merriam (1988) insists that each case in a cross-case
analysis must first
be treated as a comprehensive case. She suggests, however, that by increasing the number
of cases, one increases the potential for generalizing beyond the particular case. "An
interpretation based on evidence from several cases can be more compelling to a reader than results based on a single instance" (p. 154). Miles and Huberman agree: "By comparing sites or cases, one can establish the range of generality of a finding or explanation, and at the same time, pin down the conditions under which that finding will occur" (1984, p. 151).
Glaser and Strauss (1967, p. 55) noted that case studies should highlight "both the
differences and similarities of data that bear on the categories being studied." The data
uncovered in this work were analyzed to find parallel themes. To preserve the integrity of the individual's contexts, however, individual bits of raw data remain audible.
As the three cases were studied individually, units of meaning were highlighted,
patterns detected, and themes clustered and subsequently color-coded. Ultimately the themes were compared and displayed in five word tables
Alternate Forms of Representation
About 60 years ago John Dewey excited the imagination of educational
practitioners and researchers with his book, Art as Experience. His influence still permeates the field. He wrote:
Art throws off the covers that hide the expressiveness of experienced things; it quickens us from the slackness of routine and enables us to forget ourselves by finding ourselves in the delight of experiencing the world about us in its varied qualities and forms. It intercepts every shade of expressiveness found in objects and orders them in a new experience of life. (1934, p. 104)
Eisner (1997b) followed his train of thought. He noted that
"exploring the potential of other forms of representation
for illuminating the educational worlds we wish to understand
is simply a symptom of a fertile imagination seeking to discover
its limits" (pp. 4, 5). In this study I used three forms
of arts-based representationsthe poetic transcription, the
playlet, and the graphic synthesisto portray the success
experiences, . and to stimulate the readers' imagination. Laurel
Richardson (1993) defines this as transgressive validity'.
She explains that transforming data from field text to research
text using alternate forms of representation exposes the truth
in a different wayintegrating the profession, political,
and personal at different levels. "I am not just talking
strategies, she asserts. "I'm showing them" (p. 697).
The research act thus takes on an entirely different light, and
engages multiple audiences, and persuades multiple readers. While
these forms are functions of the interpretive process, they are
also discussed here as products of the study.
The purpose of the alternative representations created in this study is succinct and straight-forward. I want to engage readers in making connections with rhetors whose stories are somehow similar to theirs in time, place, culture, age, ethnicity, or dreams. I aim to "cancel the distance between the reader and writer and written about" (Lather, 1997, p. 254). It is a purpose whose implementation is facilitated by the hours I spent listening to the taped interviews, hearing the percussive force of their telling, capturing their phrasing, their cadences, their silences, and their style. Three forms are selected in this study because of their capacity to trace, in different ways, the themes and textual ambiguities that are embedded in the stories under study.
"A poem is a potent form of communicating feelings, history, and interpersonal dynamics of complex multicultural phenomena" (Fukuyama & Reid, 1996, p. 83). Poetry, particularly free verse, is a powerful tool for representing. Part of the power of poetry is effected through its brevity and unusual juxtaposition of images. It "cuts to the quick" of human struggles for recognition (Lorde, 1984, p. 38).
Laurel Richardson (1994) appeals to social science researchers: "Experiment with transforming an in-depth interview into a poetic representation. Try using only the words, breath points, pauses, syntax and diction of the speaker" (p. 526). While entering the field in a path she cleared, I followed the tracks Corinne Glesne (1997) generated when she designed the poetic transcription after scrupulous attention to sorting and coding themes in her interview data bank. Glesne suggests that poetic transcription moves in the direction of poetry but is not necessarily poetry. Its attraction to researchers lies in its power "to give pleasure and truth" (p. 213).
The data representation used in this study also includes free-verse poetic synthesescomposites of the complexities of the major themes in all three women's journey stories. Implicit in the choice of free verse is the tacit knowledge that art abides in the souls of Black women (Wade-Gayles, 1995), and that there is power in the in between spaces of unspoken text. The short free-verse poem was also used as a collaborative research tool in this studya type of member check. After analysis of each case and development of the poem, I mailed each woman the verse I created for an accuracy and palatability check. She responded by revising or validating the piece. Using this genre reminds us that our stories need not be bound by traditional or external rules of rhyming. The brevity of the poems allowed for quick and cogent revision by the written about and begs evaluative ruminations by an audience. Laurel Richardson (1993) notes another function of the poetic transcription. "I had in mind writing sociologies which displayed how meaning was constructed, and which were helpful to people, and not boring" (p. 698).
As I worked with varied literary forms and experimented with formatting techniques during the transcription process, some scripts defined themselves. As the language patterns and styles evolved, and the multilevels of the speech acts emerged, I was struck by the tellers' frequent dialogic style.
Since performance texts make experience concrete, I chose to work with yet another form of representation. The text became a dramaturgical script which creates spaces for the merging of "multiple voices and experiences" (Conquergood, 1992, p. 10). It is, as Coffey and Atkinson (1996) note, a rhetorical structure whose juxtapositional function strengthens our understanding of the essentials of the women's stories under study. Drama captures and communicates the experience (Richardson, 1993).
The ability to grasp abstractions concretely in order to begin to understand them as is the requisite of this study. It requires "an enlightened eye; this is as true and important in understanding and improving education as in creating a painting" (Eisner, 1991, p. 1).
The research questions are therefore answered, in part, through the image/text balance of the oral history. This pastiche of visual metaphors illuminates the meaning of each woman's journey toward success. It illustrates both the similarities and uniqueness noted. It is, in effect, a "sign complex', a set of visual signifiers intent on representing data analyses that are usually communicated in narrative form" (Radnofsky, 1996, p. 386). It challenges presumption, disquiets, perplexes, and delights (Stake, 1995).
Eisner's renowned interest in arts-based research (1997b) coupled with my need for visuals as a spur to both my creative and critical thinking triggered the development of a layered model. This model is another portrayal' of the experience, with each portrayal adding a layered understanding to the storied experience. It is also designed to encourage the viewer to understand that visually representing data is an interactive activity. It draws upon the viewers' deep reflection of the data and my interpretation of them.
The three forms of representation described here "work toward a multiplicity and complexity of layers that unfold an event which exceeds our frames of reference, evoking insight into what not knowing means" (Lather, 1997, p. 254).
This arts-based interpretive study is designed to record the stories of three successful women of color. It documents, through voiced portrait presentations, their reflections on their definition of, and progress toward, their own view of success. The study traces, through narrative inquiry, the progress to their self-defined objectives from early childhood to young adulthood. Focusing on their trajectories of success, it plots their achievements and the benchmarks of their past successes. It records their dreams for their future.
The interview data were collected through observation, narrative inquiry, reflexive restorying, and journaling. The data were shaped into portrait presentations and stored separately. They were coded thematically and interpreted through parallel and cross-
case analyses. Themes were displayed in word tables. Ultimately they were represented in a triangulation of formsdramaturgical, poetic, and visualto highlight and add depth to multiple perspectives on the discourse. The alternate representations of the narratives allow us to uncover the hidden assumptions of life.
Narrative emerged as both phenomenon and method (Clandinin & Connelly, 1994) of this study. In the final analysis, it is narrative which binds the values, goals, and syntheses of the study together, ambushes the know-it-all, and brings meaning to this work. The three forms of representation used to interpret the findings of this study step outside the normative constraints for social science writing. (Richardson, 1993) In-depth interview findings are transformed into poetry; field notes turned into drama, and the essence of the longitudinal study became an illustrated oral history.