Travelling along ‘rivers of experience’: personal construct psychology and visual metaphors in research
Seeking embodied knowledge and swimming along a river of questions Thirteen years ago I officially became a researcher and an academic. I had just received a studentship to undertake a PhD at the University of Reading, focusing on issues related to social justice in education, and I was faced with a vast sea of dilemmas. I knew that I wanted to research the experiences of disabled women students in Higher Education, but I also knew I had to face two major challenges: what to focus on exactly and how to carry out this study. The latter was the beginning of a continuing journey into, and fascination with, the landscape of research methodologies. Once I decided that my focus would be on the identities, both collective and individual, of women experiencing a wide range of disabilities (physical, sensory, intellectual), then I knew that verbal methods alone would not be sufficient to explore this topic within the theoretical framework that was emerging for my work. Indeed I felt strongly that many of those experiences might not be readily available through language to the participants since their stories had, at that time, mostly remained invisible and untouched (BlackwellStratton et al., 1988; Matthews, 1994; Cornwall, 1995; Potts and Price, 1995). During the piloting phase, this was confirmed by the type of written narrative that I received by participants. All the narratives focused on the medical stories (e.g. listing limitations and physical accommodations needed to access classes) that affected their lives as students and which were rattled off with practised ease. Other issues, such as what those experiences meant to them and how they might be shaping their sense of self, remained largely unarticulated and yet just present enough, beneath the surface, such as follow-up conversations, to spur me on.