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research methods

Week 6

This session will take place in Room H539, on Thursday (10-12) and will be led by Dr. Cathia Jenainati.

The content and structure of this session rely to a great extent on Gabriele Griffin’s textbook, Research Methods for English Studies (Edinburgh P, 2005) which students are encouraged to consult.

In addition, students are strongly encouraged to obtain a copy of The Broadview Guide to Writing 3e, for guidance on referencing and citations.


  1.     Introduction
  2.     Archival research
  3.     Auto / biography as a research method
  • “The journey towards who a famous dead person wasn’t is a tricky kind of exploration, and much welcomed at this desk. But what happens as time goes and new lies appear? Can you always be sure that a person isn’t who you think she isn’t? Some people just happen to have been very good at appearing not as they are, which may be one of the reasons Marilyn Monroe became such a saint of modern culture in the first place. But maybe—just to run with the hare and the hounds for a second—we are asked to be more interested in the story of the story rather than in the story itself for simple reasons. Maybe it’s just what Damon Runyon would call a new angle. Because once everything’s been said about a subject what is left for new writers but the pleasure of unsaying it all?” (Andrew O’Hagan reviewing Sarah Curchwell’s The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe in LRB July 8, 2004)
  • “The many problems with auto/biography as a research tool are most acute when we fail to recognise our fantasies, both about the subject of auto/biography and those of the author” (Mary Evans).
  • “The part which auto/biography has to fulfil in this culture is that of offering insight less into a particular individual than into the extent to which a particular individual can be understood, and evaluated, in terms of achievement” (Mary Evans).
  • “…all autobiography demonstrates the way in which individuals are perceived and judged both within a culture and by those with more distance from it. To read different accounts of the same life reveals the essential instability of cultural judgements, as well as bringing into sharp relief those certainties of the nineteenth century which modernism made a determined effort to disturb” (Mary Evans).
  • “When individuals write autobiographies, they locate themselves as people who have had a battle against a particular culture” (Mary Evans).
  • “If we are to use auto/biography as a research method,…, we should perhaps consider the problems of using a method that, for all its strengths, can pathologise the subject beyond general relevance” (Mary Evans).

    4.     Oral history as a research method

    1. oral history as recover-history
    2. oral history interview: memory / validity and representativeness
    3. popular-memory approach
    4. ethics and protocols of oral history interviewing

    5.     Visual Methodologies

“modern life takes place onscreen” (Mirzoeff 1999)

    6.     Discourse analysis

  • “discourse assigns subject positions both to the speaker / narrator and to the listener / reader” (Gabrielle Griffin)
  • “Discourse can be the object of change through being used in different ways from what is ‘normally’ the case" (Griffin)
  • Discourse analysis is a useful research method for investigating ideological dispositions evident in the text.

    7.     Ethnographic methods in English Studies

  • Ethnography fundamentally is a mode of research conducted in a natural, as opposed to an artificial setting. The ethnographer finds out about other cultures, or features of a culture by undertaking prolonged periods in the ‘field’ participating and observing in all or certain relevant aspects of social life (Rachel Alsop)
  • Ethnographic methodology can be useful in creative writing when the subject matter concerns travel writing
  • “a writer’s raw material is derived principally from a study of other human beings, their complex relationships, their strengths and weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, as well as their history” (Ann Hoffmann)
  • “If your story or drama is set on a  fishing boat research on the spot will prove far more useful than reading a book” (Dymphna Callery)
  • “the description of peoples, their nature, customs, religion, forms of government, and language is so embedded in travel writing … that one assumes ethnography to be essential to the genre” (Rubiés) 

    8.    Interviewing

    9.    Creative writing as a research method