The purpose of this paper is to describe, situate and justify the use of creative nonfiction as an overlooked but legitimate source of text for use in social inquiry, specifically within the ambit of narrative inquiry. What potential lies in using creative writing, creative nonfiction specifically, as a source of text in social research? How may it be subjected to modes of analysis such that it deepens understandings of substantive issues? Links are explored between creative nonfiction and the social context of such accounts in an attempt to trace how writers embed general social processes in their narrative.
Three exemplars from literary magazines are described in which whiteness is the substantive theme. The first author is a woman who writes about her relationship with her landscaper, the second story is written by a man who is overwhelmed by guilt after uttering a racial slur, and the third text is by a man who describes his attempts to help a homeless couple. The authors’ interpersonal experiences with people unlike themselves tell something significant about the relationship between selfhood and power relations.
No singular pattern emerges when analyzing these three narratives through the critical lens of whiteness. This is because whiteness is not a subject position or static identity but a practice, something that it is done in relation to others. It is a collective capacity whose value is realized only in dynamic relationship with others. As a rich source of narratives, creative nonfiction may generate insights about whiteness and middle classness and how their intersections give rise to complex and contradictory sets of social relations.
There is very little precedence for using creative nonfiction as text for analysis in any discipline in the social sciences despite its accessibility, its richness and its absence of risk. Inviting the sociological imagination in its project to link the personal to the political, it opens possibilities for the analysis of both in relationship to each other. As a common form of narrating everyday understandings, creative nonfiction offers something unique and under-valued to the social researcher. For these reasons, the paper is highly original.
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