What is a first person narrative example

The narrative interview Prof. Dr. Günter Mey, Rubina Vock & Paul Sebastian Ruppel

The narrative interview is one of the longest established and most widely used interview methods in qualitative research. It is particularly popular for collecting life stories. For this, it not only provides a theoretical framework, but also offers practical research proposals for conducting interviews that are based in particular on narratives. These should make interpretation patterns and everyday theories accessible in the context of biographical events and experiences.

1. Development context

The narrative interview was developed by Fritz Schütze in the mid-1970s in the context of researching local decision-making and power structures[1]. Only later did it become one of the most popular interview procedures within biographically oriented qualitative research, because it is claimed that it can be used to generate data with which conclusions can be drawn about (life) events and experiences in their temporal context[2].

The aim and claim of the narrative interview is, on the basis of (biographical) narratives, to ascertain the interplay of the consequences of events and the accumulation of experiences, including the related subjective efforts of interpretation, and to feed them into analysis[3].

2. (Narrative) theoretical background

The narrative interview is based on the (by no means undisputed) assumption that narrative and experience structures are homologous, i. H. correspond. This also explains the focus on the sequential structure of the life story, because, according to Schütze, the interpretation patterns and everyday theories of the interviewees can only be understood against this background.

In the narrative interview, the trust is given that the interviewees will present their lives comprehensively due to the “pressures” of narration. The "pressure to move" include detailing, design closure, relevance setting and condensation:

  • The interviewees are "required" to name details where there is a lack of plausibility and thus to provide a detailed description so that what is said is comprehensible for the interviewee (Detailing).
  • As a rule, the interviewees will endeavor to develop their life story, once it has begun, to develop narrative and to tell to the end, i.e. to conclude their story (Shape closure).
  • Since there is not unlimited time available for the narration, the interviewees will be "required" to emphasize personally significant aspects or to condense them to the essentials and thus give the story its special shape (Setting of relevance and condensation).

3. Structure and procedure

The narrative interview - in which there is usually no guide - is divided into three parts: the opening phase, the demand part and the accounting.

3.1 Opening phase

At the beginning there is the autobiographically oriented narrative request to the respondents to tell the entire life story or the empirically interesting life phases. For an illustration, reference is made to Harry Hermanns, who cites the following example:

“I would like you to tell me how the story of your life happened. It is best to start with the birth, with the little child you once were, and then tell everything that has happened so little by little to this day. You can take your time, even for details, because everything that is important to you is interesting to me "[4].

The narrative request with the subsequent offhand narration (i.e. a spontaneous, unprepared narration) form the heart of the narrative interview. The invitation to talk extensively and the fact that little or no guidelines are given calls on the interviewees to make themselves understood in detail to a person who was often still unknown until then.

The autobiographical opening narrative, which characterizes the first part of the narrative interview, should not be interrupted by the interviewer (e.g. by questions or other statements), but only accompanied (through verbal and non-verbal reinforcement) in a way that supports communication.

3.2 Demand part

If the initial narration has been concluded with a narrative coda (for example: "That was it"), the second part of the narrative interview begins, in which questions can and should be asked. For this purpose, aspects are dealt with, which in the previous web gripper count z. B. were only vaguely laid out or were only hinted at. They require further elaboration or a plausibility check insofar as there is a need for clarification for the relevant events, experiences or interpretations.

Here, too, it is important that the questions prompt you to tell the story. In doing so, the interviewees should first take up the last narrative passage and give a new narrative impetus by asking the interviewee, according to Schütze's suggestion, to tell the story again from a certain point or, taking up the narrative thread, to continue (e.g. "How was that exactly back then?", "Tell me about it in more detail!", "How exactly did it continue then?").

3.3 Accounting

The third part of the narrative interview offers the opportunity to ask for generalizing descriptions of biographical contexts and to ask why questions. In answering, the interviewees can develop argumentative, explicative and abstracting dimensions and thus theorize their life story or themselves.

4. Challenges of the narrative interview

The narrative interview is a very demanding process, because even if it makes use of everyday storytelling skills, it is certainly discussed in the literature that not all people have the same degree of storytelling skills. For example, storytelling skills develop as they grow up, so that children are often told that they cannot (yet) provide a comprehensive biographical account. But also certain groups of young people - mostly associated with specific milieu affiliations - are sometimes denied a narrative ability.

On the other hand, there are groups of people who can be described as “professional narrators”, which can definitely have an impact on the offhand narration produced. This includes, for example, people who, due to their profession (e.g. in fields of politics and economics) or biographical experience (e.g. with psychotherapeutic settings) are used to presenting their lives in more detail in a narrative.[5]

The narrative interview is also a great challenge for the interviewer. It requires being fully involved in the life story reported and paying close attention to the many details in the narrative.

Regardless of these claims, the narrative interview promises diverse insights into the life context of the respondents. Narrative interviews can also be used for very different fields of research, be it courses of action, decision-making processes or "histories" by institutions and groups that are the focus of the study.


Central publication

Schütze, Fritz (1983). Biography research and narrative interview. Neue Praxis, 13, 283-293, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-53147.

Overview representations

Küsters, Ivonne (2009). Narrative interviews. Basics and Applications (2nd Edition). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.

Mey, Günter & Mruck, Katja (2011). Qualitative interviews. In Gabriele Naderer & Eva Balzer (eds.),Qualitative market research in theory and practice. Basics, methods and applications (2nd, revised edition, pp. 257–288). Wiesbaden: Gabler.

In-depth reading

Lucius-Hoene, Gabriele & Deppermann, Arnulf (2004). Reconstruction of narrative identity. A workbook for analyzing narrative interviews (2nd edition). Wiesbaden: VS.

Mey, Günter (2000). Narratives in qualitative interviews: concepts, problems, social constructions. Social sense. Journal for Hermeneutic Social Research, 1, 135–151, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-4471.


Riemann, Gerhard (Ed.) (2003). Doing Biographical Research. Forum Qualitative Research / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 4th (3), http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/issue/view/17.

Rosenthal, Gabriele (1987). "... when everything falls apart ...". Of the life and meaning of the war generation. Types of biographical changes. Opladen: Leske + Budrich.

[1] Schütze, Fritz (1977). The technique of narrative interviews in interaction field studies. Work reports and research materials No. 1 from Bielefeld University, Faculty of Sociology.

[2] Schütze, Fritz (1983). Biography research and narrative interview. New practice, 13, 283-293, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-53147.

[3] Schütze, Fritz (1984). Cognitive figures of autobiographical on-the-hand telling. In Martin Kohli & Günther Robert (eds.), Biography and Social Reality: New Contributions and Research Perspectives (Pp. 78-117). Stuttgart: Melzer. http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-53097.

[4] Hermanns, Harry (1991). Narrative interview. In Uwe Flick, Ernst von Kardorff, Heiner Keupp, Lutz von Rosenstiel & Stephan Wolff (eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Social Research. Fundamentals, concepts, methods and applications (Pp. 182-185). Munich: Psychologie Verlags Union.

[5] Przyborski, Aglaja & Wohlrab-Sahr, Monika (2014). Qualitative social research. A work book (4th expanded edition). Munich: Oldenburg Verlag