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Seminar by Dr Shelia Trahar (University of Bristol) ‘The Path is made by Walking On It’: Ethical Complexities in Supervising International Doctoral Researchers Using Narrative Approaches?

‘The Path is made by Walking On It’: Ethical Complexities in Supervising International Doctoral Researchers Using Narrative Approaches?

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Much of my research in the field of internationalisation of higher education has, unusually, used narrative methodological approaches to explore how learning, teaching and assessment practices can be reconceptualised and reframed to ensure a learning environment that is vibrant, reciprocal, celebratory of diversity and thus inclusive (e.g. Trahar, 2011, Trahar 2015).   In my research, teaching and writing I have problematised, consistently, epistemological ethnocentricity (influenced by, for example, Stanfield, 1993, Scheurich, 1997), and methodological approaches, so that those selected are not only appropriate to the research topic and congruent with my worldviews, but also sensitive to the backgrounds of the participants.  Such interrogation of my own epistemological and ontological beliefs has, inevitably, influenced my teaching, including research methodology teaching and my supervisory relationships.   So, when a doctoral researcher indicates that they want to use narrative inquiry, or any other approach that falls under the narrative umbrella, I will challenge but also support them not only to develop a version of narrative that is congruent with their world views, but also to be aware of how their approach may be received in their local context.  In contexts where, for example, quantitative methodologies continue to be privileged over qualitative ones, narrative research approaches are viewed sceptically (Trahar & Yu, 2015). I consider it important, therefore, that the researcher is mindful of the risks that s/he may be taking in using such approaches.   For me this is an ethical consideration.

In this seminar I will share how I position myself as a doctoral supervisor and invite discussion on what I regard as ethical complexities that arise when supervising doctoral researchers, in particular ‘international’ researchers who are using narrative inquiry and other contemporary methodological approaches such as autoethnography.  The issues raised in the seminar will, I hope, be of interest to doctoral researchers and to supervisors.


Scheurich, J. J. (1997) Research method in the postmodern.  London: Routledge
Stanfield, J.H. (1993) Epistemological considerations.  In J.H.Stanfield II and D.M. Rutledge (Eds.) Race and ethnicity in research methods (pp16 -36) Newbury Park, Ca: Sage
Trahar, S. (2011) Developing cultural capability in international higher education: A narrative inquiry. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge
Trahar, S. (2015) Learning and teaching on transnational higher education programmes.  Learning and Teaching: The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences, 8 (1), 95 – 112)
Trahar, S.  And Yu, W.M. (eds.) (2015) Using narrative inquiry for educational research in the Asia Pacific.  Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge


A recording of this presentation is available via the student intranet HERE.

Sheila Trahar is Reader in International Higher Education, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. She has published widely in the area of international higher education and her research is innovative in the field for its use of   narrative inquiry and autoethnography as methodological approaches.   Her book Developing Cultural Capability in International Higher Education: A Narrative Inquiry was published by Routledge in 2011, her edited collections Learning and Teaching Narrative Inquiry: Travelling in the Borderlands and Contextualising Narrative Inquiry: Methodological Approaches for Local Contexts were published in 2011 and 2013, respectively, and her book Using Narrative Inquiry for Educational Research in the Asia Pacific, co-edited with Wai Ming Yu, was published in April 2015.   Her edited book Narrative Research on Learning: Comparative and International Perspectives, published in 2006, is one of the only texts to focus on the value of narrative in international and comparative education.  She is currently involved as Work Package Leader of Internationalisation of the Curriculum on an EU Tempus project with Israel; is Co-Investigator on a ESRC project investigating social practices and disabilitles – she is leading the strand focusing on disabled students in higher education  - and is part of a World Universities Network (WUN) project investigating access and equity issues in the doctoral curriculum.
Sheila teaches on the Doctor of Education in Bristol and Hong Kong, the Master of Science in Educational Research in Bristol and has taught on the Master of Science programme in Hong Kong for several years, leading the programme there from 2008 - 2015.

Sheila_Trahar.pptSheila Trahar Presentation slides (1060K)


Baring Court 114