Using yarning as a research methodology

Researcher Dawn Bessarab is an Indigenous woman of Bardi (West Kimberley) and Indjarbandi (Pilbara) descent. She used yarning to collect data in an interpretive study conducted in Perth and Broome, Western Australia.

Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were used to gather information from research participants about their gendered experiences as women and men growing up in their families. Dawn and Bridget Ng’andu, an Indigenous colleague who used yarning in her research in Botswana, both demonstrated that yarning could be applied as a rigorous research method. They described the different types of yarning that took place in research interviews.

  • ·    Social yarning (before the topic yarn, when a connection is established and trust is usually developed).
  • ·    Research topic yarning (relaxed but purposeful, to gather information related to the research topic).
  • ·    Collaborative yarning (sharing information, exploring ideas in explaining new topics, leading to new understandings).
  • ·    Therapeutic yarning (when the participant discloses information that is traumatic, or intensely personal and emotional. The researcher leaves the research topic to become a listener) (Bessarab & Ng’andu 2010:40–1).

There are challenges to using yarning as a research tool, especially for emerging researchers. Having the right environment, good timing, establishing a personal connection to start up the topic yarn, keeping the informant on track, knowing when and how to draw the yarn politely to a close, transcribing and analysing the huge amounts of data collected – these are all high-level skills. Cultural protocols, such as not interrupting an Elder, can make managing an interview more complex. However, yarning facilitates in-depth discussions in a relaxed way, and provides rich data. It matches an Indigenous way of doing things.

Its strength is in the cultural security that it creates for Indigenous people participating in research. Yarning is a process that cuts across the formality of identity as a researcher… both are learners in the process (Bessarab & Ng’andu 2010:47).

From Researching Indigenous Health: A Practical Guide for Researchers, Alison Laycock with Diane Walker, Nea Harrison & Jenny Brands 2011, The Lowitja Institute, Melbourne, chapter 3, pp. 52–3.

Created: 02 August 2012 - Updated: 23 August 2012