Story writing and Research: A mythopoetic methodology
Shann claims, like Tolkien, that stories can provide a “valid way of discovering aspects of the real world inaccessible to more rational methodologies” by employing “intuition, imagination, and metaphor” (p. 129, this issue). This is not a purely imaginative exercise for the research participants: Shann argues that the myths of the practicum generated by the PSTs draw directly on their sensate experiences and that the stories they write therefore represent “real” experience. Shann explores with this ontological claim through debates about the psyche and how its invisible (and therefore mysterious) nature can be made manifest. His article is not a defence of psychoanalysis, however, but an argument for the value of mythopoesis in our search for meaning as humans, specifically meaning-making in initial teacher education.
Editorial in journal: Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, Volume 43, Issue 2
Thanks for sending me your paper. I've just finished reading it. It was such a pleasurable read – for a number of reasons… Foremost because you're such a fantastic writer. It's beautifully crafted. I love the way you build webs of connection - how you pull seemingly incommensurable things together in ways that make them seem like a perfect fit. This is a particularly unusual skill – most people struggle to explain their associations and yours are so clear. You're juggling so many balls and yet you still manage to skilfully navigate your way through the complexly storied terrain with great clarity. A rare skill and a blessing for the reader!
I enjoyed the cumulative sense too – the way you draw in the earlier article and re-spin it with the new bits and pieces you've assembled. In fact the whole piece is a great example of the process of assemblage (or perhaps re-assemblage in this case) – of the mythopoetic type. It has a wistful old-worldy feeling too – of a time when pondering complexity and making connections was a perfectly valid thing to do.
About the content. I thought the argument that mythopoetics is a perfect method for exploring complexity was very convincing – especially as you perform it so competently. It's a very congruent paper. It also has very strong affect – I can see why it would work equally well as a teaching method - particularly in building community amongst pre-service teachers – it taps into and makes space for the all-so-human stuff in ways that 'classroom management strategies 101' will never do.
Assoc Professor Affrica Taylor
Classrooms are complex places. Teachers find ways of managing the complexity, and academics find ways of researching it, but I’ve always felt that there’s been something missing. We collect and analyse data, we talk to teachers and students about their experiences, we subject the various discourses to our critical gaze, and useful knowledge comes out of these different scholarly enterprises. But still there’s something missing.
I was a secondary English teacher, and the missing piece was actually sitting right under my nose. Literature. Stories. Poems. When they're informed by deep insight about the human condition, works of the imagination help us to understand the world we live in. Yes, we need data-driven and discourse analysis to unearth aspects of a complex educational world. But we also need fiction: what the scholar James Macdonald called a mythopoetic methodology.
When I write a story about a classroom, I draw on many strands. I draw on my experience, which includes the insights gained through my relationships with literally thousands of students and hundreds of teachers in scores of classrooms. I draw on my knowledge of teachers' fears and hopes, conscious and unconscious. I draw on my observations as a teacher educator, and on my conversations with my many university students. And I draw on my imagination and intuition, both of which have been shaped by the years I’ve spent working and sharing ideas with teachers and students.
When I write a story, I’m using a mythopoetic methodology to help me (and, with any luck, my readers) to understand more about the complex world of the classroom.
A mythopoetic methodology has, in my view, four particular affordances of particular relevance to all teachers and teacher educators.
The mythopoetic agitates. Listeners are opened up. Something unknown has been introduced, or something felt but not yet named is articulated. A gap appears, something very like a vacuum. It is uncomfortable. There is an impulse for closure, for some kind of resolution. Stories enter bodies, and molecules are agitated.
The mythopoetic complicates. Subtlety is added to an understanding of a phenomenon. A hidden factor is revealed. A cause vaguely visible in the shadows is illumined. The existence of a complex web is articulated. Simplistic solutions are shown to be inadequate.
The mythopoetic inducts. Stories create community. Initiates tell stories in order to press their claims for membership, to attempt to mate with a desired world; those standing at the gates, the leaders and elders, tell stories to initiate novices into the ways of the group. Stories create connections, they foster relationship, they induct. Stories have always had that function.
The mythopoetic animates. Energies are released when a good story is told and heard. The early agitations lead to energetic attempts to restore equilibrium, to imagine or find a way through complexities, or a way to eliminate conceptual gaps and vacuums. The affect functions as an impulse to act.
If we want to understand better the complex world of the classroom, and if we want our scholarship to have an impact on the work of teachers, it's important we find a more central place for story.
Some relevant posts from my blog Degrees of Fiction
- Mythopoetic knowing
- Mythopoetics: useful word or distraction?
- Mythopoetics and narrative inquiry: what's the difference?
- On writing fiction as an attempted act of scholarship
- What is a story? What does a story do?
- Truth and fiction
- Bleak House with footnotes