- The Beast Had to Marry Balinda:Using Story Examples to Explore Socializing Concepts in Ugandan Caregivers’ Oral Stories
The current essay is based on interview data gathered during the summer of 2009 in the rural Ugandan village of Kitengesa as part of a larger constellation of studies (Dent 2006a, 2006b, 2007, 2008; Dent and Yannotta 2005; Parry 2004) that have investigated the impact of rural village libraries in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa on the users they serve.1 One of these studies focused on the learning readiness of young children (ages 5–7) as influenced by the reading habits and library use of their primary caregivers—most often their mothers and grandmothers (although there were two fathers in the study who were the primary caregivers). The project included more than 50 hours spent interviewing 51 caregivers about their reading, storytelling, and literary practices, as well as their home lives, health, and socioeconomic status. As part of the interview process, we asked caregivers to talk about the stories told to their children who were participating in the study. These stories were actually examples of told stories; the caregivers were not observed telling the stories to their children in a natural setting. The caregivers were thus engaged in telling us about their telling of these stories by answering other related questions while also providing examples of the stories themselves.
Our study employs a grounded theory approach in order to analyze the data extracted from these interviews. Such an approach provides a way to explore qualitative data systematically for patterns, themes, and theoretical constructs (Glaser and Strauss 1967); the raw data involved may consist of interviews, focus groups, oral narratives, and so on. The method can of course be used to generate research questions for further study, but it also allows researchers to begin their inquiry with guiding ideas that frame the domain being explored (Backman and Kyngas 1999:149). One such research question guided this study: what socializing concepts are present in the stories that Ugandan primary caregivers tell their young children?2
The goals of this essay are therefore twofold. First, guided by our research question, we aim to explore particular story examples and describe these stories in relation to the sociocultural ecology of life in Kitengesa. Through this process we hope to provide what Charmaz (2008:10) refers to as “an interpretive portrayal of this world, not an exact picture of it.” Second, we will then use the theoretical constructs resulting from our content analysis in order to characterize the socializing concepts inherent in these story examples.
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It is important to point out that the perspectives presented herein are those of Western researchers who readily acknowledge the impact of their own cultural and social biases during the course of this study. Any discovered themes and constructs are certainly colored by this bias. On the other hand, as researchers we have also spent long periods of time over the course of eight years in this village and do indeed have an experiential framework from which to conduct our study. Accordingly, this study is able to make use of a broad constellation of ethnographic experiences to aid in the discovery of patterns, categories, and connections within the story examples. These examples were not told in a vacuum; they were in fact “triangulated with ethnographic background knowledge” of the researchers (Olshansky 1987:56). Our own interactions with the caregivers, with their children, and with other people in the village, as well as our involvement in local practices and cultural activities, provided a rich palette from which to explore and better understand the socializing aspects of these story examples. This level of interaction was key to understanding the oral traditions and storytelling practices of the culture being studied, much in the way that Schott (1994) has described.
It is also necessary to understand that the story fragments used in this...