Back by popular demand: Live blogging Narrative Analysis (#2)

Discussion day. . . hold on a minute, not enough copies.

Robert Park. Most influential American Sociologist? Had been newspaper person, with a rich uncle who financed his Phd. with Simmel. The statement was that there wasn’t that much difference between a journalist and a sociologist. Some sociologists saw this as a problem. One of the ways to tell “the story” was theory. What differentates the worst of sociologists from the best of journalists was theory (Harvard group). The Columbia answer was method.

Noah Richler article from Globe and Mail (October 9, 2006, A11). What counts between morality and truth counts is stories. Instead of a clash of civilizations, what you have is a clash of narratives. “A contest that has less to do with faithm than it does the kind of story each society uses. Story provides the very basis of a community – and its defence.”

It isn’t the content of the stories, it is the kind of story. Not what is represented, but how it is represented. Kinds of stories rather than interrigating the particularity of the content of the story.

Richler examines the epic and the novel. the big difference being moral subtlety and taking multiple points of view. Epic stories tell good vs evil, and readers just know. A novel is morally ambiguous world. In the culture of the novel, good and evil cannot be absolute. This raises another problem with reading stories.

Going back to epics in light of a novelistic sensibility. Asking questions on multiple points of view and moral ambiguity. Richler is looking it in terms of a tribal reading. We now read epics cross-nationally, with indifference to their production. When they, at one time, had political salience, quasi state of war. Maybe Richler is being overly harsh on the epics?

Reminds us that what we are about here is not divorced from macro problems of society (politics, inequality, the big themes). Now in recovery from the dichotomies of the 80’s (Structure and action?). Narrative analysis is most important in light of political issues – Jihad and “War on Terror” are both stories. We have become retrograde in the world in terms of decomplexifying our stories.

Resonance: stories that resonate through, even withouth understanding the original source. If we take this at one end of the continuum, we see kitchen table stories. Stories we all tell with spouses, roomates. Sociology spent too much time on anomie and not enough time on nomos and nomos building: reaffirming to each other what kind of world we live in and share. Marriage: stories told to spouse to having world reaffirmed.

Start off with the epics that teach society how to tell a story, and end up at the other side of the spectrum with discussions in less structured way to get response to see if one other person is understanding it the same way. Nomos.

Thus, if anomie is that we make sense of the world alone, nomos is this reconnection.

Somers: public narratives. Fully formed narratives and applied narratives. Advertising is implied because the before and after is not included, but the single shot makes sense: people “fill in” in predictable ways (despite that this can be incorrect – the fallibility). We spend our whole days selecting which stories to get caught up in, and al the stories we pass by (mail unopened). Life is walking this corrodor with everything grabbing at you, but you only pay attention to a few of them. At the end of the day, “funny thing happened at the way to the office.”

Take a day or two, and make note of and notice all the story potentials. Note the amount that you grab ahold of, and the infinite others that are passed by. Our narrative identity is the choices of stories. A story we blew off originally will sometimes come stampeding back into our lives. A shifting gestalt. We are all recievers, whether or not we acknolwledge things or not.

Summary statement of what we have gotten out of narrative analysis, and wrap around data that one already has. How many pages do we go on for without tellings the stories?

Sociological theories rest on narratives. Following Somers, teasing out presuppositions, seeing and understanding the problems. At the end of this, prospectus mode, laying out how to use the multiple modes of narrative analysis. Any good narrative analysis will push the parrameters. All of this is open.

Somers (1992) does an nice stylistic job of explaining right from the start of telling what she is going to talk about in the body of her paper (similar to finding the body – pointing out the problem). A good article should be like a detective story: the body is the “too be explained” – we all know the body (what it is), and what has to happen to provide revelation (ending). Opening of the essay is like a contract. Needs to be clear from the start what is for sale.

Sommers: problem with class formation theory, and she states she is going to set it straight, laying out how to re-do it, and set out to provide new way to clean up a whole mess of other theories.

The useful thing we get from Marx is writing as a way to work out ideas. Bring understanding into articulation, experiment and play.


Emphasis in Somers: Limited repertoire in telling stories. Goffman: telling own stories, but they are not making up stories by themselves. Everything has already been said.

So how does progress occur? Post modern sense that all that can happen is rearrangement, boardering self-parody. Architecture is a good example of this. Limmert

How do stories overtake those who tell them. The story becomes the experience which acheives its possibilities through the story. No temporal orgin between event and story. Not that the story represents something through the telling. In acts of narrative selection, we are making the foreground of the world available to ourselves, and rendering everything else non-available. Perpetual acts of othering.

How is the story itself an actor? Retain a consciousness centred, human centred view, and understand those as resources that are picked up and used according to preexisting products.

Take up instead the symettry – producing traces and treating them as the actionable reality. That which what we take action in respect to.

Medicine: Physicians cluster around computer screen and look at selective representations that are processed through machines and then arriving in black box form. What is on the screen is the actionable reality is the patient. Stories work in this way: take messyness, turn into narratives (beginnings, middles, ends, figures of speach etc) and then we act on the story. Whatever requires doing – take the job, move, etc. based on stories that have black boxed the descision. Or, we disconnect because we cannot agree because the story doesn’t work for us.

Peoples thoughts are completely deliniated by these black boxed stories, without any appreciation of the nuances of the moment.

How do we avoid treating the stories as objects of group consciousness (or interests – categories of actor (working class), and attributes interests to that category of actors, and explains action based on this)? How do we avoid this? Symmetry – the story and the storyteller are both actors. The problem with Marx is that he has them living in one master narrative: they don’t!

Stories as unchosen stories: people are telling their stories, but what is going on is reflections of habitus. Ways in which they are embedded in a rich history of with which we have so much to learn and so much to tell. People either enter into certain feild and others are kept out. Some should be kept out of, this isn’t always bad. Social class transpires because stories to advanced careers. Feel for the game: stories to be retold. Key is that we need multiple narrative resources.

End of part 1)

Not everything is a story, and we do need to have some rules. People do speak in other forms: narrative forms that aren’t stories. Somers using narrative and stories in the same way.

Marx sets out writing about the working class almost like a character, gradually becoming self aware. Standards: things they will do and things they won’t do.

Q: what about ambushing?

A: ambushing is unpredictble, stories one wan’t expecting to be caught up in. Ambush (John Law) is part of the mess because it is contingents. You never know how these stories work to reempot your lives.

Q: Genres – don’t really need the idea of a character, but to look at genres…

A: Genres set expectations and allow an appropriate response. Queues us early how to respond to certain stories. Genres are enabling and constraining at the same time (Giddens). For literary scholar: novel, epics, tragedy, comedy, romance and irony etc – close to forms of emplotment. Three types of stories are not genres but a typology.

About the prevailing themes and plots. Not the only three themes and plots, but at least three biggies. As people tell their stories (within limited repertoire), they are frameworks within which people can bring out their own lives. Get back to being overtaken – as people tell stories in these forms, they are overtaken by forms of the genre, have to withought experiencing disconnect.

The tricky part is creating this type of typology – who is it for, and what is it supposed to do for them? Generating themes is easy: any monkey can do it.

People need more stories vs. validating available stories.


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