Analysis tools: Positioning Theory and Pronoun Grammars

An important part of any thesis is the methodology…how you are going to gather and analyse the data of interest in your study. For me this is an easy decision, I will be using a small range of narrative analysis tools, building on those that I used to analyse interview data from my Masters’ thesis. There are a few facets to this, that I will present in my blog over the next few weeks. One of the key theories though is that of our ‘guru’ Rom Harre, ( and Van Langerhove, 1999): Positioning theory and Pronoun grammars.

I love a good story. Peoples’ stories fascinate me. It is no surprise then that my data will be what is known in research as ‘narrative data’. I will be recording interviews (using Evernote audio) and analysing the conversation that I have had with the interviewee. At the moment I am exploring the difference between ‘conversations’  and ‘interviews’….basically I think that conversations are more relaxed and will lead to more of the honest data I would like, as opposed to a highly structured interview where my subject is in a spotlight.

Put simply, the conversation data gathered is analysed using a very fine grained process, looking at who has said what, how they fit into the conversation (and the professional landscape) and the sorts of pronouns they use to ‘position’ themselves within the interview. So, if someone uses ‘I’ a lot, perhaps they fell very much in control of the conversation and the action being spoken about. If they use ‘we’ there is a sense of team work and shared responsibility. These are very basic examples, and examples of this analysis can be found in my previous thesis, Teachers’ Umwelten in a Middle School. You can also search or generally on the web for other examples from many other researchers. I have even found some research recently looking at how positioning theory and pronoun grammars can be used to analyse written narratives, like blogs and social media conversations.

In terms of the ‘professional landscape’ ( I will be researching within education), I also need to disclose the participants (and my) position. I am a teacher and teacher educator, in some cases I will be interviewing people I have worked with before, and have personal and professional relationships with. In other cases I will be working with people I haven’t really met before. The way these conversations will flow will be different, as everyone brings with them varied ideas and experiences. This methodology considers all of these as important dynamics within the analysis.

In my previous work, the idea of Harre’s (1993,1997) ‘umwelten’ was also pivotal. This German word means ‘environment’ and allows an extra dimension of the conversation to be included and considered in the analysis. umwelten is presented by Harre as a combination of the physical and social space where the interview takes place. So, for example, you need to present and consider the general goings on of the day that lead to the interview (was it a full teaching day? or an excursion day? or a day where they felt a bit ill?) , it is also worth considering the location, an interview with a teacher in their office will yield a different conversation to an interiew in the back of a working classroom, or in the principal’s office.  Time and place is a big consideration, and always we are trying to get a quiet, relaxed interview.The social space also links to Positioning Theory, especially in a group interview, do these people know each other well, do they work together, do they even like each other? All of these things will influence the conversation.

A further aspect of my methodology includes narrative story types, and I will present this in next weeks blog.

It is worth thinking about your everyday personal and professional conversations, and the ‘umwelten’ they take place in over the next week. Consider whether in your own life you can see the difference mood, location, time and physical space make a difference to the conversations you have with others.

Until next week, may your conversations be interesting 🙂



Harrè, R (1993) The Social Being (2nd ed). Blackwell Publishers. Oxford.

Harrè, R (1997) Forward to Aristotle: A Case for a Hybrid Ontology. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 27 (2/3), 172-191.

Harre, R & van Langenhove, L (1999) Positioning Theory: moral contexts of intentional action. Blackwell Publishers. Oxford. (Chapters 1 & 2)


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Stories and Narratives in Education « mypaperlessphd
  2. jessica
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 09:05:18




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Past Posts

August 2011
« Jul   Sep »
%d bloggers like this: