Tales from down under: An exploration of the way women living in poverty construct their understanding of that experience

Deborah L. Piper (1993)

This dissertation draws on feminist epistemology, collaborative learning, social constructionism and narrative modes of inquiry to examine the experiences of a small group of women living in poverty. The relationship of poverty, gender and mental health is examined. The potential for oppression and the role of power and authority in the helping professions is challenged. Feminist, constructionist and narrative theories are integrated to present an egalitarian approach to working with the participants of a ten week group of women living in subsidized housing. The group format employs shared stories, and examination of the social constructions that have contributed to their current perspectives and living situations. Individual interviews are used at the end of the group for a more personal and indepth exploration of the narratives. Field notes from the shared group process and emerging narratives were coded, categorized and analyzed; exit interviews were similarly examined. The field notes and interviews were analyzed individually and for the group as a whole to consider ways in which low income women might be supported to develop constructions that will permit growth rather than further oppressing them. The therapist's central task is to find the question to which the immediate recounting of experience and narrative presents the answer. Such questions cannot be pre-planned or pre-known. What has just been told, what has just been recounted, is the answer to which the therapist must find the question. It is in this local and continuing process of question and answer that a particular understanding or a particular narrative becomes a starting point for the new and 'not-yet-said.' (p. 37) ... change in therapy is the dialogical creation of new narrative, and therefore the opening of opportunity for new agency. (p. 28) Harlene Anderson & Harold Goolishian (1992)