To belong or not to belong: methodological tensions in collecting research data

This paper offers an exploration of an ongoing doctoral research study into the lived experiences of contemporary students within an Institute of Education in one post-1992 University. A narrative inquiry methodological approach is employed in order to privilege the voices of students, as narrators, with the intention of revealing the interface of student-University engagement, with a particular focus on the concept of belonging. At a time when the Higher Education landscape within post-1992 universities is undergoing changes in regard to its student demographic, together with the emphasis upon retention, progression and achievement, the issue of student belonging is finding its way into academic parlance. This study encompasses a participatory framework which is complemented by the use of creative methods for data collection; photo- and metaphor-elicitation methods offer ways to reveal notions of belonging to add depth and detail to the storied narratives of a small selection of second year students. As a way of foregrounding the voices of a changing demographic, research participants have been selected from those representing First Generation Students; that is, those who are first in their family to attend University. Methodological issues are examined within this paper to reveal the complexities of ethical considerations, power relationships, and working within a person-centred approach. Some tentative suggestions are offered from preliminary findings of this study, which is currently at the data collection stage of enquiry.