• David Stephens Education Research Centre University of Brighton



There has been a major ‘turn’ towards narrative, biographical and life history approaches in the academy over the last 30 years. But whereas some significant narrative research has been carried out in the West, such approaches are in their infancy on the African continent. This article explores narrative at three levels from the influence of Western meta narratives to the national and more personal narratives of teachers and students. Drawing on two periods of narrative field work in Ghana and South Africa, the article concludes with a discussion of three important lessons to be learnt from the field: that the relationship between ‘grand’ hegemonic narratives and individual life histories needs to be re-thought; that context and culture provide the hermeneutic ‘glue’ that provides meaning to the field narratives; and that narrative research can provide alternative sources of evidence for policymakers.


Metrics Loading ...


Andrews, M., Squire, C. & Tamboukou, M. (eds.). 2011. Doing narrative research. London: Sage.

Barrett, A. 2006. African teacher narratives in comparative research. In Trahar, S. (ed.), Narrative

research on learning: Comparative and international perspectives. Oxford: Symposium Books.

Baxen, J. 2008. Using narratives to develop a hermeneutic understanding of HIV/AIDS in South

Africa. Compare 28(3): 307–321.

Bloch, G. 2009. The toxic mix. Cape Town: Tafelberg.

Breidlid, A. 2012. Education, indigenous knowledges, and development in the global South: Contesting knowledges for a sustainable future. London: Routledge.

Bruner, J. 1996. The culture of education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cross, B. 1996. Sounding out the silences: Narratives and absences in African higher education. Occasional Paper No. 59. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Centre for African Studies.

Dilley, R. 1998. The problem of context. New York; Berghahn Books.

Fox, C. 2008. Postcolonial dilemmas in narrative research. Compare 38(3) June: 335–349.

Goodson, I. 2013. Developing narrative theory: Life histories and personal representation. London: Routledge Falmer.

Graven, M. 2012. Changing the story: Teacher education through re-authoring their narratives. In The Routledge international handbook of teacher and school development. Abingdon: Routledge.

Harber, C. 2009. Toxic schooling: How schools became worse. Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.

Herman, D. et al. 2008. Routledge encyclopaedia of narrative theory. London: Routledge Press.

Josselson, R. 2006. Narrative research and the challenge of accumulating knowledge. Narrative Inquiry 16(1): 3–10.

Kapuscinski, R. 2001. The shadow of the sun. London: Penguin.

McLeod, J. 1997. Narrative and psychotherapy. London: Sage.

Mischler, E.G. 1999. Storylines: Craft artists’ narratives of identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Odora Hoppers, C. 2002. Indigenous knowledge and the integration of knowledge systems. Cape Town: New Africa Book.

Rostow, W. 1960. The stages of economic growth: A non-communist manifesto. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ostler, A. 1997. Teachers’ biographies and educational development: a Kenyan case study. International Journal of Educational Development 17: 361–371.

Rist, G. 1990. ‘Development’ as part of the modern myth: The Western socio-economic dimension of ‘development’. European Journal of Development Alternatives 2(1): 10–21.

Ryszard Kapusciniski. 2001. The shadow of the sun: My African life. Penguin: London.

Said, E. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.

Said, E. 1993. Culture and imperialism. Knopf Random House: New York.

Serpell, R. 1993. The significance of schooling: Life journeys in an African society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smit, B. & Fritz, E. 2008. Understanding teacher identity from a symbolic interactionist perspective: Two ethnographic narratives. South African Journal of Education 28: 91–101.

Stephens, D. & Trahar, S. 2012. ‘Just because I’m from Africa, they think I’ll want to do narrative’. Explorations in narrative research. Rotterdam: Sense.

Stephens, D. 1998. Girls and basic education: A cultural enquiry. Serial No. 23. London: Department for International Development.

Stephens, D. 2007 Culture in Education and Development: Principles, Practice and Policy Oxford: Symposium Books.

Stephens, D. 2009 Qualitative research in international settings: a practical guide London: Routledge Falmer.

Stephens, D. 2014. International education and development: A narrative approach. London: Routledge Falmer.

Tucker, V. 1999. The myth of development: A critique of a Eurocentric discourse. In Munck, R. and O’Hearn, D. (eds.), Critical development theory: Contributions to a new paradigm. London: Zed Press.




How to Cite

Stephens, David. 2014. “RECONCEPTUALISING THE ROLE OF NARRATIVE IN EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA: LESSONS FROM THE FIELD”. International Journal of Educational Development in Africa 1 (1):19-30.



Received 2014-10-14
Accepted 2014-10-14
Published 2014-10-14