Losing and Regaing Self: A Narrative Inquiry of an African-Ameircan Woman in the United States in the South
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This self-study uses narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 1994, 2000) to explore my autobiographical experiences and journey in education “through the telling of stories” (Bloomberg & Volpe, 2008, p. 11; Clandinin & Connelly, 1998). Utilizing narrative forms of personal reflection and self-study helped me “to record [my] up-close experiences, to gain a better understanding of [my] own stories, and to shift from presumed knower to learner” (Pinnegar, Dulude, Bigham & Dulude, 2005, p. 57; Paley, 1999). In particular this self-study utilized Clandinin and Connelly’s (1994) notion of narrative cycles to reflect and bring forward the natural rhythm of my life experiences. This meant exploring past narrative cycles of my education, from my segregated primary education years, through the era of racial integration and into my pursuit of a doctoral degree. The critical events illuminated in the narratives represent multiple and varied contexts, at times revealing deep family connections, the processes of learning and/or the social political tensions at the time. The culminating context was at a Tier One University in the southwestern United States where I pursued my doctoral studies and confronted university program changes and system obstacles, as well as personal challenges and tensions. More specifically, this narrative self-study centered on the following questions: • What obstacles/challenges did I encounter in education from elementary school to obtaining my doctoral degree? • How did family culture and changing familial situations impact/influence my education? • In what ways have my experiences as a student been impacted by corresponding and/or competing trends in education and social/political change? • How has my attitude affected my sustainability and perseverance through this journey in education? Through stories lived and told, and re-lived and re-told, this dissertation sheds light on the various aspects of my life, as an African American woman, that put me at-risk of not completing school. Furthermore, the exemplars I presented serve to illuminate the complex challenges confronting minority female doctoral students as they navigate the system of higher education. My stories of experience for this dissertation were chosen from a variety of field texts, including reflective journals, family stories, a curriculum of life (annals and chronicles) (Clandinin & Connelly, 1994) and historical documents. The selected stories represent critical moments in my life history as they relate to education. These personal narratives highlighted the experiential ways in which I framed my world as a student and as an educator (Mertova, 2009). Key to this process was the concept of expressing my own narrative authority (Olson, 1995; Olson & Craig, 2001) as I retold my stories of experience in education, which also revealed how I choose to author my life as I interact with others (Lyons & LaBoskey, 2002). My work is grounded in Dewey’s (1939/1997) writing on education as experience that is situational, interactive (personal and social), and temporal (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). According to Clandinin and Connelly (2000), “this set of terms creates a metaphorical three-dimensional narrative inquiry space (italics in original), with temporality along one dimension, the personal and the social along a second dimension, and place along a third” (p. 50). In this narrative inquiry I attended to this three dimensional space by examining the context in which my experiences occurred, the social/relational elements of those experiences, and how they were lived out over time.