Critiques and Controversies Surrounding First-person Narrative in Geography


First-person narrative has become increasingly popular in the field of geography, providing a more personal and subjective perspective on the study and understanding of place. However, this type of narrative has also been met with critiques and controversies, with some arguing that it undermines the objective nature of geographic research. In this article, we will explore the various debates surrounding first-person narrative in geography.

Firstly, it is important to understand the concept of first-person narrative in geography. Unlike conventional forms of research, which typically adopt a third-person perspective, first-person narrative involves the researcher immersing themselves in the study area as a participant, rather than simply observing from a distance. This approach allows for a more intimate and subjective understanding of place, as the researcher’s own experiences, emotions, and perceptions are incorporated into their research.

One of the main critiques of first-person narrative in geography is the issue of subjectivity. Critics argue that by incorporating the researcher’s personal experiences, the research becomes biased and lacks objectivity. They argue that personal views and biases can influence the interpretation of data and the presentation of findings, leading to unreliable results.

However, proponents of first-person narrative argue that the emphasis on objectivity in research is often overemphasized and overlooks the role of subjectivity in shaping our understanding of place. By acknowledging their own subjectivities and biases, researchers using first-person narrative can provide a more honest and nuanced perspective on the complexities of place.

Another criticism of first-person narrative in geography is its potential to exploit and misrepresent the experiences and perspectives of marginalized communities. In some instances, researchers may use their own experiences to dominate and overpower the voices of those they are studying, ultimately silencing their perspectives. This raises questions about the ethics of using first-person narrative and the responsibility researchers have towards the identities and narratives of those they study.

In response to these critiques, researchers have been exploring ways to mitigate the potential for exploitation and to ensure that the voices of marginalized communities are heard and respected. This includes being transparent about the researcher’s positionality, collaborating with community members, and allowing for multiple voices and perspectives to be represented in the research.

Controversies surrounding first-person narrative in geography also extend to its validity as a research method. Some argue that it is not a rigorous enough approach, lacking the systematic and structured methods of traditional research. They question the reliability and generalizability of findings produced through first-person narrative, as the researcher’s personal experiences are limited to their own unique context.

On the other hand, first-person narrative can be seen as a complementary approach to traditional methods, providing a more holistic and nuanced understanding of place. By combining both objective and subjective perspectives, researchers are able to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the complexities of place. Additionally, this approach can also help to challenge and disrupt dominant narratives and perspectives, allowing for more diverse and inclusive forms of knowledge production.

In conclusion, first-person narrative in geography has been met with both critiques and controversies. Its emphasis on subjectivity and personal experiences has raised questions about the objectivity and validity of research conducted through this approach. However, proponents argue that it offers a valuable perspective in an often overly-quantitative field, allowing for a more nuanced and diverse understanding of place. As with any method, it is important for researchers to critically reflect on the potential implications and to approach first-person narrative with sensitivity and ethical consideration towards those whose perspectives are being represented.