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Narrative inquiry or narrative analysis emerged as a discipline from within the broader field of qualitative research in the early 20th century, as evidence exists that this method was used in psychology and sociology. Narrative inquiry uses field texts, such as stories, autobiography, journals, field notes, letters, conversations, interviews, family stories, photos (and other artifacts), and life experience, as the units of analysis to research and understand the way people create meaning in their lives as narratives.
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Narrative inquiry has been employed as a tool for analysis in the fields of cognitive science, organizational studies, knowledge theory, applied linguistics, sociology, occupational science and education studies, among others. Other approaches include the development of quantitative methods and tools based on the large volume captured by fragmented anecdotal material, and that which is self signified or indexed at the point of capture. Narrative Inquiry challenges the philosophy behind quantitative/grounded data-gathering and questions the idea of “objective” data; however, it has been criticized for not being “theoretical enough." In disciplines like applied linguistics, scholarly work has pointed out that enough critical mass of studies exists in the discipline that uses this theory, and that a framework can be developed to guide its application.