CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT: Discovering Narratives: “We Are the Storytellers, and We Are the Stories We Tell”
In the winter of 2002, when I realized that I would be moving from the United States, my home, to Japan, I purchased a number of books to help prepare me for the transition that lay ahead. One of the books, a collection of auto-ethnographic narratives examining sexual diversity in modern Japan entitled Queer Japan, never called out to me as a reader, initially. Instead, I opted for books that addressed the practical, day-to-day tasks of living, or novels that romanticized Japan’s history. Though I skimmed the chapters, the significance of the narratives in Queer Japan would not become clear until mid-2006 when, back in the States, I began to consider a dissertation topic. It was then that the significance of Queer Japan became clear; as a collection of writing about sexuality, this method of qualitative research responded to my decision to explore the possible relationships between sexualities, linguistic systems, and linguistic cultures.
At the same time, I was deeply intrigued by the prospect of storytelling as a legitimate form of phenomenological inquiry thanks to a course I was taking on narrative research. In fact, my first academic explorations into my own experience in Japan were documented in a paper written for a Second Language Teaching course, and that instructor’s response to my narrative, written as an auto-ethnographic attempt to explore the representation of queer sexuality in TESOL texts, methods, and materials, reflected an awareness of how deep an impact the narrative approach had made on me as a developing writer-researcher.
With this strong affinity for narrative, the book entitled Queer Japan and the research method known as auto-ethnography, “a particular form of writing that seeks to unite ethnographic (looking outward at a world beyond one’s own) and autobiographical (gazing inward for a story of one’s self) intentions” (Schwandt, 2001, p. 13) suddenly seemed to be useful methodological models for a project examining the possible significance of English language and culture in the lives of queer Japanese. As noted earlier, this research design expands on the work of earlier inquiries about language and sexuality in the Japanese context. In addition, I realized that my own stories of multilingualism and socialization in Japan would help foreground and frame the various questions raised throughout this project. Pagnucci, a narrative researcher, suggests, “Stories are how we think, how we talk. They form our governments, our religions, our cultures. They’re how we fall in love. And how we fall out of it. Stories are what make us human” (2004, p. 7). What follows then in this dissertation is a good amount of storytelling, partly in order to re-construct the realities, perceptions, paths, and most importantly, the voices of the participant-researchers and partly in order to emphasize the written, narrative data collection approaches presented in Chapters Three and Four.
But what is meant by voices in the above paragraph? Chase, a compositionist, writes, “The word voice draws our attention to what the narrator communicates and how he or she communicates it as well as to the subject positions or social locations from which he or she speaks” (2002, p. 65). To this end, where useful, I will also consider my own voice as a bi-lingual, queer man via narratives that I have created, stories based on my own interactions with friends and acquaintances in Japan that a) offer insight into the universality of interactions between sexualities and linguistic systems/cultures, b) examine how identity is constructed and performed through the lens of narrative, and c) serve as introductions to key issues to be explored in each chapter. Richardson, a narrative researcher, justifies this inclusion of researcher voice in qualitative inquiry by explaining that, “[W]ith the advent of poststructuralism, critical and storied writing about the researcher as “data collector” has been legitimated, if not mandated…savvy readers want to know about the researcher’s investments in the project, their political/personal agendas” (1995, p. 191). It is my intent that the inclusion of my own stories supports the readers’ appraisal of my credibility as a cross-cultural researcher and that many of the themes explored therein overlap the themes in the participant-researchers’ own narratives (Bell, 2002; Chase, 2008; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Moss, 2004).
In addition to my narratives, excerpts from the participant-researchers’ narrative auto-ethnographies will serve as epigraphs to each section. As the participant-researchers’ narratives themselves are not showcased within this text in their entirety, this form of integration of data throughout the text will strengthen readers’ understanding and awareness of the relationships between language and sexuality and increase their familiarity with the participant-researchers’ narratively reconstructed lived experiences.
I began this chapter with my own narrative auto-ethnography about Takashi and Japan in order to both foreshadow the significance of narrative composition within this work and to hint at my own journey navigating sexuality in second language settings. As noted, the main method of data collection with participant-researchers in this project will be narrative auto-ethnographies. These narratives will also serve the secondary role of data for participant-researchers’ own analyses of self-authored and co-participant-researchers’ narratives, emphasizing the process of telling one’s story and representing one’s experiences through composition rather than questionnaires, oral interviews, observation, or question and answer (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). Schaafsma, an accomplished narrative researcher, explains:
Stories are representations of a negotiable reality. Told as they always are, from particular perspectives, they are interpretations of reality, or what Foucault would call “fictions,” particular ways of shaping experience in terms of particular values and concerns…Stories, as an important potentially empowering form of speaking and writing, are more than just tools for individual imagination and self-discovery. (1993, p. 48)
In keeping with this philosophy, the present research will illuminate the significance of English language and culture in the lives of self-identified, bi-lingual, queer Japanese through written narratives (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Pavlenko, 2002). More importantly, such stories – narratives of linguistic literacies examining both second language acquisition and use, as well as sexual and cultural literacies – will showcase the intersection between linguistic repertoire (ability to communicate, to write, to read, etc) and those critical moments when individuals conceptualize, reveal, and perform sexualities (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2000). As such, this project offers additional implications for the fields of literacy and composition, specifically narrative psychology and research, and second language writing.
 From McAdams, D., Josselson, R., & Lieblich, A., 2006, p. 3.
 See Chapter 3 for a discussion of the methodological, theoretical and ethical approaches taken within this project.
CHAPTER THREE EXCERPT: Narrative Auto-ethnographic Research as Phenomenological Inquiry
In this project, the form of narrative research employed for data collection is guided story telling: Participant-researchers were provided with both a specific research question and a variety of writing prompts to aid the formulation of response (Appendix A). This approach may be considered a form of auto-ethnography, an examination of one’s own lived experience and life-world or habitus in order to answer a question, invite the reader into the author’s experience, and make connections between the personal and cultural.
After surveying recent writing about auto-ethnography (Anderson, 2006; Bennett, 2004; Bocher & Ellis, 2000; Coffey, 1999; Denzin, 1989; Denzin & Lincoln, 2000; Denzin, 2006; Ellis, 1997; Ellis, 2004; Ellis & Bochner, 2000; Hayano, 1979; Holt, 2003; Pratt, 1999; Reed-Danahay, 1997; Richardson, 2000; Russell, 1999; Smith, 2005) and in an attempt to find guiding principles from which to proceed with the current research, it is clear that prescriptions for performing auto-ethnographic research vary wildly and are largely dependent upon a given discipline and specific writer. Smith writes that “the exact definition of the term is elusive, and there are many other genres, too numerous to list, that fall under its umbrella” (2005, Section: What is auto-ethnography?). While some of the definitions seem to focus on explorations of culture and cultural identity, such as those by Hayano, Reed-Danahay, and Pratt, others focus on narrative inquiry such as those by Coffey, Ellis, and Ellis & Bochner, and still others synthesize both, such as those by Denzin and Bennett.
Because auto-ethnography as a genre is still considered by some to be a controversial approach to qualitative research (Duncan, 2004; Holt, 2003), Duncan concludes:
If the value of auto-ethnography is to be understood more clearly by the wider research community, those engaged in this emerging art need to assist their readers in judging its worth. To include in the research report adequate justification for the choice of this method and demonstration of how appropriate evaluation criteria might be applied are two ways in which researchers can help reviewers appreciate what auto-ethnography has to offer. (2004)
In the next section I will further respond to Duncan’s call for justifying auto-ethnography as a method for data collection by elaborating on the type of auto-ethnography used in this project.
The Literacy Narrative
Following the work of Daniell (1999), Park (2006), Oda (2008), and Soliday (1994) I asked participant-researchers to provide a language learning history as a starting point for data collection. Provided with a collection of writing prompts (Appendix A), an explanation of the overall goals of the project, and a copy of Queer Japan to use for writing models, participant-researchers first traced the significance of English language learning in their lives and juxtaposed this with significant moments that address their own understanding, revelation, or performance of sexuality (Somers & Gibson, 1994). In this way, participant-researchers created heartful auto-ethnographies (Ellis, 2000) that trace the significance of English use while at the same time discussing sexuality, life experiences, development, etc. Ellis explains the “heartful” distinction as
… an ethnography that includes researchers’ vulnerable selves, emotions, bodies, and spirits; produces evocative stories that create the effect of reality; celebrates concrete experience and intimate detail; examines how human experience is endowed with meaning; is concerned with moral, ethical, and political consequences; encourages compassion and empathy; helps us know how to live and cope; features multiple voices and repositions readers and “subjects” as coparticipants in dialogue; seeks a fusion between social science and literature in which, as Gregory Bateson says, “you are partly blown by the winds of reality and partly an artist creating a composite out of the inner and outer events”; and connects the practices of social science with the living of life. In short, [the] goal is to extend ethnography to include the heart, the autobiographical, and the artistic text. (1999, “Abstract”)
As a researcher, I join the participant-researchers and form a research community by sharing my own stories throughout this manuscript, stories that are auto-ethnographic examinations of my own experiences with language and sexuality. But why should such a narrative, an auto-ethnography, be sufficient to explain Takashi’s comment; why is such narrative research phenomenological?
Phenomenological Theories of Language
Language learning commonly requires learners to engage in both self-reflection and communicative tasks: Introspection, analysis, and expression all become practices of language learners as they attempt to explore language through repetition, imagination, conversation, composition, and revelation. In the pursuit of linguistic proficiency such communication is sometimes surface, little more than repetitive drills, observations or re-statements, while at other times the communication is deeply personal and self-revelatory. It is therefore worthwhile noting both the potentials and varieties of expression inherent in second language communications; learners call on their own experience in reference to their life-worlds, and actively choose (mediated by level of proficiency) how they are to be represented in both words and symbolic action, as Burke writes, “the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (1968, p. 43).
Using my own teaching experiences as a foundation, I have come to believe that second language writing as described above calls on the learner to engage in phenomenological inquiry:
…in the practice of phenomenology, we classify, describe, interpret, and analyze structures of experiences in ways that answer to our own experience….In such interpretive-descriptive analyses of experience, we immediately observe that we are analyzing familiar forms of consciousness, conscious experience of or about this or that. (Smith, 2003)
Because phenomenology is not a single theory put forth by a single theorist, but rather, a school of thought that has witnessed its major developments over the last 200 years by numerous thinkers from a variety of disciplines, the concepts and applications are many. Smith, a philosopher and social scientist elaborates on what phenomenological approaches may offer:
The basic intentional structure of consciousness, we find in reflection or analysis, involves further forms of experience. Thus, phenomenology develops a complex account of temporal awareness (within the stream of consciousness), spatial awareness (notably in perception), attention (distinguishing focal and marginal or “horizontal” awareness), awareness of one’s own experience (self-consciousness, in one sense), self-awareness (awareness-of-oneself), the self in different roles (as thinking, acting, etc), embodied action (including kinesthetic awareness of one’s movement), purpose or intention in action (more or less explicit), awareness of other persons (in empathy, intersubjectivity, collectivity), linguistic activity (involving meaning, communication, understanding others, social interaction (including collective action), and everyday activity in our surrounding life-world (in a particular culture). (2003, para. 2)
Based on this definition, we might expect to find that the literacy narratives written by the participant-researchers address many of the above phenomena. But where does language come in? What is the significance of language to the phenomenological mind? Ratner, an applied linguist, explains:
Language, of course, is central to the social construction of mind because, as Lwia said, language is thought’s most vital cultural tool. Language links culture and cognition because it is an element of both. It is engendered by social communication, and reflects and transmits the interests of particular social relations. Language is also an aspect of individual consciousness because it is the symbolic instrument used for thinking and verbal expression. (1991)
This idea also seems to be in keeping with rhetorician Kenneth Burke’s discussion of the nature of terms: “Much that we take as observations about reality may be but the spinning out of possibilities implicit in our particular choice of terms” (1968, p.46). It might then be said that in phenomenology, using Burkean rhetoric, the word is first, and the action flows from the meaning; language itself becomes a terministic screen that shapes how the user both understands and experiences his world, echoing my discussion of symbolic interaction from Chapter Two.
This approach to examining language may also be seen in the Whorf Hypothesis (discussed as linguistic relativity in Whorf’s 1956 Language, Thought and Reality): “This states that language is not simply a way of voicing ideas, but is the very thing which shapes those ideas. One cannot think outside the confines of their language. The result of this process is many different world views by speakers of different languages”
(Romanine, 1994, p. 74), as well as in the work of phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty, “[He] argues that because different cultures experience the world differently, the differences of language correspond to their different emotional experiences of the world” (Flynn, 2004).
In examining the influences of early phenomenologists on other schools of thought, Ross posits the influence of Kant on Wittgenstein’s ideas about logic and language: “Wittgenstein sees all reality as created by particular languages…” (2002, para. 16). But it is McDevitt’s 1995 essay that most succinctly synthesizes much of phenomenological thought and its ideas about language in general and writing in particular:
Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes language as a gesture an act of the body that bears upon language’s origin in the carnal world. It cannot be known why a specific word is chosen but once it is, no other can take its place without referring to other contexts. There is a givenness, a quality exclusive to itself, in language, even in students’ speech and writing. (Abstract)
The question then follows, where does the ability to understand, integrate, and adopt words as nomenclature that can describe experience originate; from where does this interpretive process arise? Haight writes: “The vehicle which thought has to make itself public is speech. For Merleau-Ponty…the question easily becomes, what is the source of inter-subjective meaning” (1976, p. 239).
Life-world and Phenomenography
The life-world, or Lebenswelt is a pivotal concept to phenomenologists such as Husserl, Schutz, and specifically, Merleau-Ponty. Elveton explains that life-world is:
…best understood as a way of emphasizing the centrality of perception for human experience. This experience is mutli-dimensional, and includes the experience of individual things and their contextual/perceptual fields, the embodied nature of perceiving consciousness, and the intersubjective nature of the world as it is perceived, especially our knowledge of other subjects, their actions and shared cultural structures. (2005, para. 1)
Put another way, life-world is a source, a cognitive collection of all of one’s knowledge acquired through learning, culture, and experience as it stands prior to analysis or reflection (Van Manen, 1990). It is that place that a writer draws from when crafting his or her ideas and constructing linguistic meaning and is similar in its attempts to describe the phenomenological gestalt to Bordieu’s habitus.
Jacobs’ (1978) essay on phenomenographic writing seeks to discuss the role of phenomenological inquiry (or research) in student writing as it involves self, world, other, and phenomena, tapping into the author’s life-world and emphasizing the author’s point of view. By providing evidence of phenomenographic writing (poetry), Jacobs illustrates the process involved in such an approach, including collaborative brainstorming, identifying authorial perspective, and most importantly, examination of a particular phenomenon: “Phenomenology is based on that state-of-being-conscious-in-the-world where one becomes ‘attentive’ to the things themselves” (p. 68). Phenomenographic writing seeks to describe phenomenon in the world as others see them and to uncover variation in perception and experience. With this pairing of phenomenology and writing – phenomenography – we are brought back, once again to auto-ethnography.
Auto-ethnography itself has its roots in critical, phenomenological inquiry: “Auto-ethnography is a genre of writing and research that connects the personal to the cultural, placing the self within a social context” (Holt, 2003). I suggest that auto-ethnography is an approach to examining one’s own life-world in order to reach a fuller understanding of a specific phenomenon. In this project, auto-ethnography leads the writers to conduct a phenomenological inquiry into the nature of their experiences, making use of their written explorations (revealing terministic screens) to further develop both their linguistic awareness and writing skills, and their understanding of language as symbolic action.
If the heart of phenomenology is “how we observe and reason about and seek to explain phenomena we encounter in the world” (Smith, 2003), then ethnographic, phenomenological writing activities call on the writers to become authors, scientists, linguists, and rhetoricians. Through such approaches to examinations of life-world and language, the writer engages in a focusing of attention, of intentionality, and as users of language as symbolic action.
I earlier stated that this project employs critical phenomenological research. Lather writes: “Critical methodology may be defined as scholarship done for explicit political, utopian purposes, a discourse of critique and criticism, a politics of liberation, a reflexive discourse constantly in search of an open-ended, subversive, multi-voiced, participatory epistemology” (2007, pp. x-xi). Therefore, the narrative auto-ethnographies presented here, including my own, may be considered post-modern social critiques (Richardson, 1991) in that they present the marginalized voice as response to contemporary social conflicts. In Chapter 5, I’ll further explore the ramifications of such a narrative voice when reviewing the activist stance that some of the participant-researchers narratively adopt.
As noted above, there are numerous approaches to performing phenomenological auto-ethnography as narrative research. Below, by discussing both feminist communitarian moral approaches to research and queer theory, I will suggest that Ellis’s heartful (with a focus on the subject) and Anderson’s (2006) analytic (with a focus on the researcher) approaches may be synthesized to create a critical researching/learning community whose practice is to recreate, explore, and uncover experiences and ideologies.