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AMAR, Victor Profesor Investigador Contact

Lies in narrative research. For a possible decalogue

22 de junio de 2021
3 de julio de 2021


This is an article of theoretical reflection on the importance of truth in narrative research. Far from establishing the statement in negative, the look is focused on the need to be aware of the research model we have chosen. In this sense, this article is built on three perspectives: a) the analytical (focusing the discourse on the focus of the lie), b) the interpretative (with the explanatory intention), and c) the critical (judging the value). The reader is before a study with the purpose of presenting an expository work where the presence or possible rejection of the narrative research is analysed in the light of the apparent absence of truth. Now, what we would emphasise is the value of how it is told, reliving the narrated experience, by the informant.

1. Introduction: For a possible decalogue

Far from any inheritance from the religious or spiritual past, our understanding of the Decalogue is linked to a set of points (ten) that we consider basic to initiate a possible debate on the lie, or truth, in narrative research.

In this sense, the Decalogue is our particular way of organising a thought, of sharing it with others. In ten points we will present a sequence of nuances on the statement of this article. In doing so, our proposal focuses on a theoretical reflection, and the intention of this Decalogue is to make it understandable. It is an exercise that has been concerned with identifying some of the keys to truth and lies, a truth that can be presented as opposed to a lie, or vice versa. Truth does not have only one path and lies are not the consequence of a lack of truthfulness.

Our proposal for a decalogue avoids immobility and is close to the idea of presenting flexible points that are under continuous construction. They are not watertight and obey criteria for improvement. It is an option to present and invite reflection and should not be seen as a programmatic or defining statement. Far from the intention of sharing it with the reader as an “exact definition of what is being pursued” (Mondría, 2006, 167), it is an exercise in reflection that aims to continue the debate.

A decalogue is inspired by the ethical support derived from the relationships between the parties and the points to be developed, what we interpret as essential and, at the same time, resembles the emerging ethical dilemmas that emanate from a socio-qualitative research (Abad, 2016), an ethical behaviour that must accompany all members, headings and moments of the research process (Roth, 2005), in addition to the pertinent return to the informant of the interview and the previous report, for possible improvement and consideration.

The purpose of writing an article in the form of a decalogue is a means of organisation and coherence of exposition together with a clarifying intention that is urgent and that, hopefully, can be understood. To this end, we have structured it on the basis of statements of ideas, which are open to others and which function as a pretext to promote debate and reflection.

In short, the Decalogue will be presented as a set of written points that we consider basic for the understanding of this article, as well as to promote discusión including truth or lies, memory or remembrance, subjectivity or exaggeration, among other elements that make up part of our discourse.

1.1. The lie, or is there such a thing as a lie?

The question may be a good spur to start this epigraph. Doubt takes over and lucidity treasures the trigger. In this sense, for many people, lies are understood as the opposite of truth. Or to put it another way, is it the truth that eclipses the lie? (Gómez, 2003).

It may be difficult to define a definitive definition of lying. However, we propose the exercise of providing the reader with elements of judgement to decide on it. If we start from a lie as falsehood, there is a selective truth that coincides with exaggeration or with its own omission. Perhaps we are talking about subjectivity, since “its meaning has been associated with the definition of processes and internal dynamics of the person” (González, 2012, 11). Be that as it may, one could consider lying as falsehood; that is, the absence of authenticity, as an alteration of the truth.

In narrative research, it is probably not necessary to look for the exact truth or the interference of lies. Both manifestations of feeling and human expressiveness are integrated into a parameter that we make coincide with how the experience is narrated and how it is remembered or how it is intented to be told. Now the subject is the narrator. The protagonism is centred on his or her story; moreover, in the way it is told and, with this, narrative is promoted as a tool for knowledge (Sverdlick, 2007). The content of truth, as opposed to the appearance of lies, is reinforced by search and subjectivity.

The question to be investigated is to consider and value what is relevant to the subject, to his inner world, which is linked to his legitimate way of thinking and feeling, of telling and omitting. In this way, we subscribe to the value of the influential subjectivity in narrative research. And, therefore, the idea of a lie, as such, as opposed to the truth, is diluted.

In the context of lies, there is room for fiction or fabulation. Both have invention in common. An invention within the framework of the fantastic, unreal or even linked to the imaginary, which can be credible or cause curiosity. A game of contents where the imagination is present, full of symbolic elements. An imagination that enables the representation of the fictitious, with a result that is close to apprehension or distrust of the unreal, but which can be founded. Fantasy can take hold of the discourse, just as it can become strong in the support that cements what is transmitted by the narrator. For, perhaps, he is sure or unsure of what is transmitted but, at that moment, it is what belongs to him, matters or affects him. And that is why he narrates it.

1.2. Truth or falsehood

To begin to clarify the subject, it would be useful to begin by approaching the definition of lying. First of all, we should establish a difference between falsehood and invention, two different concepts that incur in the deformation of the truth. In the former, the lack of authenticity is manifest; while in the latter, it can be linked to deception as a lack of truth. Both have their own twists and turns, such as cunning, interpreted as malice, at the time of acting, with the result of implying the opposite of what is manifested.

Next, what we echo is the variant of the unintentional lie, we do not mean, transcendence, which may coincide with the omission of what happened. Presenting the lie as the illusion of the real and exact truth can occur, perhaps promoted by simple forget- fulness or the failure to set priorities. The truth conveyed by the narrator, or the author, can be presented in an embellished form, embellished by the patina of manipulation. Likewise, the truth is transformed once it approaches the reader, for depending on his or her interpretative (and cultural) baggage, he or she may be able to read between the lines, extracting greater or lesser meaning and sense from what is narrated.

The core of narrative research (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000; Bolívar, 2002; Trahar, 2006) focuses on the transmission of what the interviewee has experienced, felt or suffered; that is, what is narrated. Carried away by the meaning of his or her words, the journey may lead to omission or, at the same time, to exaggeration in his or her own account. Now, narrating we make it coincide with the transmission of what has been lived and now shared. But the passage of time can play tricks. The intention to focus on the priority of something over other elements can lead to centralising too much on what is being narrated, obviating other opinions. Or, given the responsibility of narrating, inappropriate aspects may be overlooked.

Basically, our perception of narrative is based on the words of McMillan and Schumacher (2005, 400), who state that narrative is centred on knowledge of “collective and individual social behaviours, opinions, thoughts and perceptions”. Meaning could be interpreted as an equally questionable exaggeration since, in a way, it is realism taken to the extreme. Therefore, we approach the truthfulness of the intention of the person who narrates, making it coincide with the intention to convey the truth (Gómez, 2014); in other words, to tell the truth. And, at this point, the adjective verisimilar becomes strong, in its double meaning: a) it has the appearance of truth, and b) it is credible. In both cases, it comes up against sincerity and must contain the truth. In this way, it distances itself from falsehood, offering itself as truth, its truth. And let us match truth as adherence to what is said, felt or thought.

Falsehood is left behind, as a lack of conformity between what is said and what is thought or felt. Falsehood dilutes the lucid effect of truth, being an inauthentic discourse and, ultimately, altering the rigour of authenticity.

1.3. The real and reality

In front of the spectacular painting by Titian, entitled Sisyphus, the alarm goes off. This painting stirs up the consequences of the truth. According to classical mythological tradition, this Greek character was condemned for revealing that Zeus was the one who actually kidnapped Aegina, daughter of the river god Asopo (Carrasquilla, 2016, 241). The truth, or at least telling it, has its consequences. Sisyphus passed through the underworld (the world of the dead) and, after several vicissitudes, his final sentence consisted of pushing a heavy stone perpetually uphill, but the huge rock fell before he reached the end of his journey, forcing him to start his work all over again. This was a way of making public the price of truth, which the gods interpreted as a lie. Its continuous repetition exemplified what should not be forgotten. We are faced with the slogan of the example as a symbol.

Sisyphus, from living in the real, went on to the constant task of paying his debt to the gods through unreality. The real, an expression that becomes a word without idealising it, is tinged with a special value when others interpret it, perhaps the same thing that could have happened to the gods with respect to this myth. But in the face of this is reality, as that which we as a subject understand. And, therefore, the real is akin to truth, while reality may be subject to the certain or uncertain, with a dichotomous result between the real and reality. That is to say, the real is effective, of true existence. Howe- ver, reality either is or is not, and may even become reality.


1.4. Lies and memory

Lacan determines that the real is that which possesses an existence, as opposed to reality which is that which can be represented. He explicitly speaks of “the effects of the mirror stage” (2009, 528). This Lacanian reflection leads us to continue reflecting on the relationship between living in and with lies, with being distanced from reality or the real. Between reality and the real we find the shifting space of memory that emerges, at times, acquiring a prominence that can eclipse what has been given as reality or real.

Memory becomes the transmitted word and memory becomes the maker of the story (Kandel, 2007), to which we must add the narrator’s capacity for retention and interpretation. And between memory or forgetfulness, close to a lie, stands fantasy, as a desire for what he would have wanted to happen. While between reality and the real, we find memory. What is narrated is then organised according to the transmission from the informant to the researcher; and the latter creates a text, based on nuclei of content (Misischia, 2020, 68). However, the key lies in knowing how to select the nuclei of meaning, with the intention of weaving an insinuating narrative that, without abandoning Misischia (2020, 72): “moves away from conceptual categories, from the pretension of describing and approaches the shaping of meanings. They do not seek to systematise experiences, but to recover the meanings that emerge from them”.

Finally, a possible interpretation by the reader takes place. We are faced with a cross- roads of realities, and it is here that the real becomes the interpretative principle par excellence, while reality is even contaminated by imagination or memory.

1.5. The qualitative paradigm

In any kind of investigation, truth and ethics must be at the forefront and pervade the entire process. There is no point in disguising or postponing them. An investigation devoid of truth is tinged with deception; and without ethics, harmony and restraint are undone.

Without falling into the presumption or easy assertion that the solution would be to em- brace the qualitative paradigm inspired by the most resounding complicity between truth and ethics (Roth and von Unger, 2018), we must let go of the possible burdens of the past and admit its maturity, which establishes it as a methodology capable of knowing and understanding, something that we sustain from the fact that Flick (2014, 19) stated that this research model “has come of age”.

This is a fact endorsed by prestigious research firms that do not hesitate to justify, and even argue, the possible use and suitability of this methodology (Pérez, 1994; Dezin and Lincoln, 2012; Sancho et al., 2020). It is not valid for all cases, but it is valid in all cases. This makes a tool for knowing, as an exercise in understanding, and for understanding, with the intention of reaching certain research questions. But at this point, equally, to give to understand as an exercise of complicity that makes the receiver of the research a co-participant.


Qualitative research is a proposal for approaching everyday life from the scientist perspective (Ibáñez, 1985). Following Atkinson and Coffey (2003), a purpose is established in this research model: that of finding meaning in qualitative content. It does not consist of presenting this reality in focus, as if it were a still photograph; the aim is to reconstruct with these data the parts of these narrated images provided by the interviewee and to achieve a representation of reality, as if it were a moving photograph, interpreted (Ángel and Herrera, 2011). And the resulting discourse between what is said by the interviewee and what is interpreted by the researcher is nourished by the arguments of other authoritative voices that evaluate the contents in context.

All in all, we are faced with a methodological proposal, by way of a path, along which to channel the research. However, it is worth recalling the words of Muylaert et al. (2014, 195) who state that narratives, as representations of the world, “cannot be judged as true or false, as they express the truth of a point of view in a given time, space and socio-historical context”. In short, the narrative is a way of knowing and understanding a reality that is part of the people involved in the process we are investigating.

1.6. The construction of the discourse

Certainly, we are dealing with a mode of investigation that includes four components. The first of these is centred on the narrator, the person to whom we give the responsibility of narrating, while the past merges in his imagination with what may have happened to him. Secondly, we are faced with the work of the reader. His anonymity is mixed with his heterogeneity, but his interest in knowing will lead him to make his own the reading of the most relevant contents written in the form of a research report; a task that corres- ponds to the author. Between the two parties, narrator and reader, they form and shape what Bruner (1987) called “life as narrative”. At a given moment, the memory, as what happened, becomes the transmitted word and rests on the most important aspect of this research: the generosity of the narrator. It should also be added that the author di- lutes behind the intention of being faithful to the narrator’s voice and takes seriously the responsibility of structuring what is told by a person (also in the plural). But it does not stop asking questions about truth (Heikkinen et al., 2000) and power (Foucault, 1979). Finally, the presence of other authors brings lucidity to the final result.

This is a creative exercise in making sense of what someone else tells. However, knowing that the work of organising and integrating what is narrated will be done and maintained by the author. We start from the assumption that the narrator relates a battery of experiences that have made sense in his or her life, while the author writes. This is an extremely complicated task that requires balance. It becomes a complex four-way relationship (narrator, author, reader and authors), and we are not only thinking of the members involved in narrative research, but also of the value of the perspectives: a) analytical (focusing the discourse on the focus of the research), b) interpretative (with the intention of explaining) and c) critical (judging the value).

This is the line initiated by Cortazzi (1993) on narrative as social and cultural storytelling, which was later developed by Murray (1999, 53), emphasising that “narratives are not, although they may seem to be, springs that emanate from the individual minds of people, but are social creations”. This is a way of enquiry that penetrates not only into the territory of the social or the cultural but also into the individual and the collective, that can be interpreted as an incursion into the public and the private-intimate and that, perhaps, prowls the real and imaginary universes of the narrator.

But the author maintains another obligation: that of organising the interview as an instrument that contributes to a correlation of shared experiences (Kvale, 2011). Perhaps this is one of the ways to begin to rebalance the possible exaggerations of the narrator. For this reason, we propose a semi-structured interview that redirects the duality of own or added manifestations of a story that is socialised. The good structure of the interview can be a good way to organise, but without it being a mere action of questions and answers (Vallés, 2007). In this sense, the semi-structured interview stands as a validator of the possible redirection of the situation that the narrator can take hold of. Sometimes, the narrator wishes to promote the intention of hiding a certain piece of information, to avoid that event or to deliberately lie.

The narrator can eliminate what is of no interest to him or her. The interviewer, on the other hand, must be balanced and not be obsessed with demarcating the line between truth and falsehood. For contradiction is also a way in which the narrator manifests him- self in the narrative. The axiom centres on Eakin’s (1999, 125) assertion that “it is a mistake to make narrative identity equivalent to the entire experience of the self”. Indeed, the obsession with truth should not be of concern to the extent that it overshadows the intention of the narrative and the meaning given by the narrator.

From this point on, we must refer to the intention and meaning of the narrated as the investigated fact. In correlation with Ricoeur’s (2006, 20) statement that “Life is only understood through the stories we tell about it, then, we can say that a life examined is a life narrated”.

1.7. The lie in focus

Likewise, lying is more than a denial of the truth. It could be interpreted as an abusive use of a personal account that, for ill-intentioned purposes, alters the facts, causing falsehood and discord. At this point, the bad faith of the narrator becomes evident, meaning the truth or trying to impose his or her criteria, transmitting a contrived discourse or promoting a situation of control inspired by the power of the one-way word. This is when self-deception comes to the fore, without losing sight of Morey’s (1988, 83) consideration that “not all lies are worth the same”.

A lie, which we translate as falsehood or fruit of invention, is like an apparent disguise of truth that infringes on the intention of honesty. It is a fraud upon the offender, with a result of falsification of truthfulness. However, in the case of the one who narrates it, let’s say that he lives it as an experience, because at this moment he tells it in that way, as a truth.

It may be the case that the frankness of the narration deviates from the honesty of the narrator, being interpreted as exaggeration, showing disloyalty to the process of authenticity of what is described in his narrative. We are faced with the inaccuracy that comes from dishonesty. Clearly, the lie is a fault that is replete with contradictions, letting itself be glimpsed through intention. But the lie is there, disturbing the discourse.

And we refer to all of this, truth or lie, inaccuracy or denial, since the informant may be, we do not say that he is, under the auspices of a situation that leads him to exaggeration. The lie must remain in focus. Blurring it would be the easiest thing to do. But it should not become an extreme concern in qualitative research (Gurdián-Fernández, 2007). Lies exist because liars exist (Livingstone, 2012). Certainly, it would be possible to establish the balance between truth and lies, if it were possible and feasible to do so.

However, the worst thing about the lie that takes over the discourse is that it can generate uncertainty and, with it, a lack of certainty. From this moment on, insecurity, lack of knowledge and, in the worst case, error can creep in. In other words, it can open up a space for fear of error and even mistrust between the parties.

1.8. Fiction in the lens

Fiction, in our case, is a reality that is sculpted in words (written or narrated) and results in an invention. However, the degree of truth or lie is diluted and it is when the certainty is tempered and doubt emerges. The fact of doubting is an action that favours the difficulty presented by the choice between the truth and the lie. It is then that doubt reappears in full force, producing mistrust. In this sense, doubt helps in this fictional exercise because, as Rivas (2009, 29) points out, it seeks to “better understand the society in which we live based on the actions of each and every one of those who are part of it”.

Fiction comes into play and becomes the spur that drives the need to know. In this sense, as Josselson (Josselson 2006, 3) writes, the act of narrating, of making fiction, facilitates the possibility of “locating one’s personal observations and phenomena in society, history and time”.

The narrative method is an exercise in reinterpreting the data from the fiction narrated (Riessman, 2008). But it says a lot about whoever reads it with the intention of learning from it. And this is when co-creation comes into play, based on the principle of interpretation. The option taken by the narrator is to give an understanding of his story through the narrative, while the reader reads it, interpreting it.

The validity of the narrative method should not be measured by the degree of truth or falsehood of the narrator, but rather the narrative form takes on value from the internal coherence of what is narrated. That is to say, how it is narrated. And this is where the interviewer’s ability to ask questions comes into play, as he or she probes for truth or falsehood. It is not a matter of looking at the truth, but of looking at the verisimilitude of what is narrated, making it credible. That is to say, to give the appearance of truth as narrated.

It is not exclusively about attending to the questions and their answers. Following Denzin and Lincoln (2003, 643), it is not an exercise in “asking questions and listening to answers”. In this way, fiction ceases to be the target and becomes the target. Clearly, narrative research is presented “as a triggering method” (García-Huidobro, 2016) of truths and lies, of stories and fictions, but with the narrator and the narrated as the protagonist, and we insist on this, the narrator and the narrated.

1.9. The narrative fact

We start from the key offered by Eisner (1998) when he speaks of the possibility of im- proving educational practice through qualitative enquiry. The two slogans that are sustained in this work are: to know and to understand. The first is linked to understanding a situation, and the second is close to finding out why the protagonist acts and narrates in the way he or she does. Between the two, there are margins for lies. But what interests us is not to balance the degree of truth or falsehood that may occur in the narrative but to respect the way in which the story has been told and shared (Goodman, 2010).

Discourse is subject to fiction. And fiction is a fact of invention, not necessarily pretence. However, there is no such thing as truth or lies, just as there is no such thing as truth or lies. Everything depends on who narrates it, with their responsibility or esteem. And this, we insist, is what is known as subjectivity (Deleuze, 2013). Just as we have invented money, borders or gods (Harari, 2014), we have had the capacity to lie, reinvent or alter the truth, denaturalising it.

In the search for truth, there may be a percentage of lies, or vice versa. The search for lies should not be the main action in the narrative research. What is important, in itself, is the narrative fact.

The researcher must not only know how to investigate, but must also have the ability to discern and reflect. We subscribe to the verb enquiring, in other words, to find out something by asking and asking questions. The lie will be left behind, because it may not exist as an exposition of discourse. It can manifest itself as a figuration of the desire of what one wants to tell or remember.

In the narrative fact, the lie does not end where the truth begins. We question the truth just as we question the lie, because both are part of the conformity of a feeling or an opinion. Therefore, let’s stick to the way they are narrated. In narrative research there is no lie; rather, there is an exercise of internal coherence in which priority is given to referring to what the informant has told us. We are faced with a research exercise committed to making known and understanding, where everything is and is put in relation and in value.

1.10. Post scriptum

This Latin locution, which appears abbreviated as P.S. and which could be interpreted as after what has been written, should not be considered as an addition or a clarification, or even as a correction. Our intention is to present it as something with its own identity in relation to what is written.

The invitation to continue reflecting on lies in narrative research does not end with the exposition of these points, as there remains something that cannot be overlooked because of its relevance: the intention of the narrator and, with it, the possible exaggerations or omissions. In the event remembered and recounted, the fantasy of memory appears, which is tinged with exaggerations typical of those who want to clarify or recreate what is narrated, with the intention of making it understandable. Sometimes, in the informant’s narrative, elements are excluded, by way of omissions, because they would be considered improper or inappropriate. This is where the expertise of the re- searcher comes in, who has to know how to probe through the interview questions. Moreover, he or she must be able to look at the face, be moved by the words, but also know how to interpret the body language of the interviewee.

It is not only what is narrated but what is communicated that interests us. We are dealing with a narrated fact and a communicated fact. The narration takes place within a context and, at that moment, the flow of information is very large, not only in terms of what is said but also in terms of how it is said. And it is when active listening (Amar, 2014) manifests itself as the best lie detector in narrative research, where “the hierarchical direction is broken by a more participatory one inspired by the interview” (Amar, 2018, 162). Do not get carried away by impressions. The researcher has to understand, before “looking for categories” (Amar, 2020, 116). And in this exercise of understanding, he or she must embrace all parts of a discourse, starting from the value of paralinguistics, proxemics, or body language and gestures (Knapp, 1982; Davis, 2010).

The ability to include these parts of speech in narrative research is a fact that facilita- tes the search for meaning. It is a way of approaching the possibility of penetrating the intention or will of the narrator. And it encourages research, as knowledge is expanded.


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