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Storytelling as a discursive activity is central to the construction of identities, relationships, and groups (Fisher 1987). Narration creates a sense of order and meaning by interweaving events, circumstantial elements, and emotions in such a way as to signal temporal coherence, causal links, and value orientations. Narrative research addresses the poetics and politics of high-profile public narratives as well as the dynamics of everyday storytelling – both face-to-face and technologically mediated.
Research into storytelling has involved: (1) Studying the discursive organization of narratives as structural units, including cultural myths, folktales, and personal experience stories (Labov & Waletzky 1967), as well as exploring the interactional structure of storytelling performances that are embedded in conversational exchanges (in terms of the distribution of speaking rights). (2) Exploring the socio-cultural functions of storytelling activities as meaning-making discursive strategies that serve personal, interpersonal, and collective ends (such as self-presentation, status negotiation, or the production of group solidarity, respectively). (3) Tracing the dynamic construction of storytelling as a situated performance that involves negotiation over narrative entitlement, narrative authority, and the modifications introduced by story recipients, who may elaborate upon or challenge the teller’s storyline (Ochs & Capps 2001).
The power of narrative to inscribe particular versions of reality, and to endow protagonists and their actions with a particular valence, makes them effective tools in both interpersonal and collective struggles over meanings, values, privilege, and control. Narratives construct competing collective memories in national conflicts, and new storytelling platforms – such as truth and reconciliation commissions in post-traumatic societies or digital media in global culture – open up new social possibilities.
Studies of storytelling rights – rights to the floor, access to knowledge, or recognition of one’s point of view – have been central to communication scholarship about the social and interactional life of narrative. The patterns of obligation associated with storytelling in such contexts as therapy, informal settings of sociability, children’s socialization into storytelling, legal proceedings, news reporting, or national commemorations deserve more research attention.
- Fisher, W. (1987). Human communication as narration. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.
- Labov, W. & Waletzky, J. (1967). Narrative analysis: Oral versions of personal experience. In J. Helm (ed.), Essays on the verbal and visual arts. Seattle: University of Washington Press, pp. 12–44.
- Ochs, E. & Capps, L. (2001). Living narrative: Creating lives in everyday storytelling. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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