Documenting Stories of Disaffiliation From Christian Fundamentalism: The Challenge of Reflexivity and Coconstruction

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Abstract

This article explores the dialogical principle and practice of the coconstruction of stories with the researcher. The stories form part of a bigger qualitative research study into the identity formation and reformation of 20 participants who have disaffiliated from Christian fundamentalism. The researcher was once a church-insider, hence her participation in the changing identity stories includes a consideration of the insider–outsider continuum as it relates to changing church membership. This is not a neutral inquiry, as power is understood in a Foucauldian sense as dispersed and net-like, rather than authoritarian. Both researcher and participants have been subject to, and participated in, disciplinary control mechanisms that create panoptic normalizing forces, which maintain compliance and containment within fundamentalism. The effects of the researcher’s changing positioning on the continuum through the research journey are analyzed. The power differential that exists in research relationships is then reflexively analyzed, considering the ‘confessional’ structure that emerges. The question asked is whether the researcher is inside or outside the story, or both, and how her role status affects identity change of the participants. The analysis therefore moves away from the collection of ‘objective’ data toward an ethical, reflexive, and transparent coconstruction. It is suggested that a virtual community may even be invited into the room when analyzing identity transformation. The methodology used in the study is poststructural narrative analysis, including a Foucauldian genealogy. The findings of this study suggest the need for future research into the legacy of disciplinary control mechanisms of other high-demand microcultures upon identity.

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