Narrative research refers to the plural ways humans experience the world since they are inherently storytelling organisms (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990). These stories are diverse according to the cultural settings and experiences of people around the world. There are, however, voices of historically excluded communities in the Global South that have not had the opportunity to be heard in official channels. Narrative research has a deep interest in people’s lived experiences, a desire to empower them, and a focus on the gradual process of change overtime (Elliot, 2005).

As part of my doctoral research in-progress, I decided to listen to rural teachers in Peru, a historically excluded community of educators in the country due to issues of racism, exclusion, and poverty. Precisely, discrimination against indigenous knowledge (such as language or cultural traditions) is one of the main important colonial heritages in the country (Cuenca, 2013). How can researchers consider these issues to reappraise indigenous knowledge?

My research looks at the understandings of social justice through the practices of critical pedagogies of a group of rural teachers in Cusco and Ayacucho in the southern highlands of Peru. To gain an in-depth understanding of their practices I spent three months in the field between June and August 2022. Unlike classic interviews, a narrative approach seeks a deep understanding of people’s stories through long conversations. While for in-depth interviews the main themes associated with the research questions are already defined, I let the teachers express themselves as freely as possible.

My introduction to these teachers was made possible through working with local NGOs I had met during my pre-PhD professional life as researcher in Peru. These NGOs introduced me to a group of rural teachers who were particularl committed to social justice and critical pedagogies. In this blog, I will share my reflections from the field as I developed a narrative research approach with a teacher from rural Cusco.

I met with this teacher at a rural school in Cusco while he was explaining an activity in the schoolyard surrounded by the headteacher, teacher colleagues and representatives from a local NGO. This first impression caught my attention as he was wearing traditional clothes from the Andes. He appeared very committed to the revalorisation of local culture through the implementation of a “chacra” (small farm) inside the school. After his oral presentation, I approached him to kindly request a space for a follow-up conversation. In this, I did not mention the word “interview” as a narrative approach seeks a different way of collecting human stories. He immediately accepted and we arranged a meeting a week later.

As a sociologist in the field, I wrote down and recorded all my thoughts and self-reflections throughout the day while with the research participants. Many of these reflections are now part of this blog entry. Before I had the scheduled meeting with this teacher, I had spent the previous days developing the possible questions I wanted to ask him. I was not, however, following a classic interview style, as my task included a narrative approach. Although I had reviewed different examples of previous research using this methodology, I was unsure of my choices. However, my willingness to learn more from this rural teacher in a setting like Cusco, made me think that this was an amazing opportunity: to have a conversation without predefined concepts and let the teacher to express himself while I would be learning from him.

A week later, our meeting took place back at the school. We started our conversation in one of the largest schoolyards, a beautiful open space surrounded by the mountains and blue sky of rural Peru. The setting had a meaningful role in shaping this teacher’s story, as his experience was profoundly marked by the mountains, animals, sky, stars, and moon. As a Quechua-speaking man from rural Cusco he was always interested in knowing more about his ancestors: the Incas. As he was speaking, the emotion of a continuation of the great Inca culture was evident.

While he was sharing his personal and professional experiences over the years, I was able to share part of my background: as a daughter of a Quechua-speaking woman from the Andes, his testimony resonated with me. This was powerful for the co-creation of meanings within the narrative. We both realised the importance of a shared heritage and the similarities and differences in our life trajectories. This was relevant to the narrative approach as such dialogue allowed the researcher and participant to talk about cultural values that shaped the teacher’s story. For example, he reflected on his childhood in rural Cusco surrounded by Quechua culture, historic buildings, and art — and how these formative experiences gave him a strong sense of pride in his roots and encouraged him to study fine arts years later.

His educational and personal trajectory was impressive. He believes that social justice in education needs a connection to the colonial past “to heal the colonial syndrome” through critical thinking. We shared these powerful reflections for two hours while I engaged with his story not only as a researcher but also as a Peruvian woman with Quechua roots.

From my field experience, a narrative approach from a social justice perspective is especially shaped by shared cultural meanings and stories that emerge in an open conversation. Narrative research honors voices that historically have
not been heard through official channels. My research is an attempt to listen to these voices from a critical perspective in education.

Connelly, F. M., & Clandinin, D. J. (1990). Stories of Experience and Narrative Inquiry. Educational Researcher, 19(5), 2–14

Cuenca, R. (2013) Cambio, continuidad y búsqueda de consenso 1980-2011 En: Cuenca, Ricardo (ed.) Colección Pensamiento Educativo Peruano. Cambio,
continuidad y búsqueda de consenso1980-2011. Volumen 15. Lima: Derrama Magisterial

Elliot, J. (2005). Using Narrative in Social Research. Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. London: Sage publications.


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