In defence of realist tales

Authored by: Samantha King

Routledge Handbook of Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise

Print publication date:  September  2016
Online publication date:  September  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138792487
eBook ISBN: 9781315762012
Adobe ISBN: 9781317646914


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When the editors of this book first approached me about writing this chapter, I balked. I saw myself neither as an expert in realist tales, nor an advocate for this approach to research. Moreover, the prospect of figuring out how to synthesize the massive and diffuse literature on realism – a concept and practice with multiple meanings dispersed across a range of scholarly disciplines and aesthetic genres – seemed frankly overwhelming. With some reflection and a gentle reminder that I had actually written briefly about realist tales in the past, however, I decided to accept the invitation. A methodological pluralist at heart (see also Chapter 28), in that earlier piece I had argued that such tales – conventionally defined by the almost complete absence of the researcher from the finished text and the presentation of an extensive set of closely edited data contextualized within a tight theoretical account – were as useful as any other approach to communicating research, as long as they were engaging, provocative, and written with due political and ethical care (King, 2009). The realist tale is also the most frequently used mode for communicating qualitative research and thus demands to be both taken seriously and subject to critical attention. In this spirit, this chapter offers less a dogmatic defence of realist tales writ large and more a deliberation on the changing character of the realist genre in the context of the enhanced attention to reflexivity exercised by contemporary authors and readers. The chapter is comprised of three parts. It begins with a discussion of the definition of a realist tale, moves back in time to reflect on why such tales came to be subject to widespread critique, and, finally, seeks to ‘work the ruins’ (Lather, 2001) of realism by exploring where, how, and with what outcomes this approach appears in current research in sport, exercise, and health.

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