Supplementary and Alternative Methods : Dervin's sense-making methodology

Christine URQUHART, Louisa LAM

Research output: Book Chapters | Papers in Conference ProceedingsBook ChapterResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Dervin’s sense-making methodology (SMM) “assumes that theorizing about human conditions and behaviors involved intertwined and tangled interconnections between philosophic assumptions and research implementations of theorizing, research designing, data collecting, and conclusion drawing” (Urquhart, Lam, Cheuk & Dervin 2020). Sense-making has been noted in reports on autoethnography, albeit sometimes with a different interpretation which will be considered (Boyle & Parry 2007; Ellis 2009; Haugh 2016; Vickers 2007). Pitard (2016, 2017) is one of few authors citing the work of Dervin. This chapter explores how Dervin’s sense-making methodology may, or may not, contribute to questioning and reflecting within autoethnographic research. Autoethnography is characterised by the use of qualitative personal narratives which are usually structured to allow the merging of the researcher’s personal understanding, together with other texts that allow connection with other readers, so that learning is possible for both researchers and readers. Autoethnography celebrates the personal journey but is also deeply reflective and reflexive. Sense-making developed from the dissatisfaction with assumptions that communication was primarily about transmission (viewing the receiver as an empty bucket). But understanding of messages may change depending on how different “receivers” are perceiving and reacting to their particular situations at that time. The focus of SMM is on communication as a process, positioning SMM as a “methodology between the cracks,” handling differences in the way people make sense, in a disciplined and dialogic way. The sense-making interview is designed to allow the respondent to name their world, circle and engage with the phenomenon of interest, and analyze seeks patterns in terms of processes or verbs, rather than things or nouns (Foreman-Wernet 2003). Whether or not SMM respondents are encouraged to perform “informal autoethnography” – and whether that is a useful question to ask – will be considered later.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAutoethnography for Librarians and Information Scientists
EditorsIan FOURIE
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781000400304
ISBN (Print)9781000400304, 9780367439996, 9780367439798
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2021


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