Live Blogging Narrative Analysis: #3

We have to quit class early… which unfortunately means I have to quit live blogging early.

Spending time going over the readings that have been assigned this semester:

Davis, Joseph E. (2002). “Narrative and Social Movements: The Power of Stories.” Stories and Change: Narrative and Social Movements. Joseph E. Davis (ed). Albany NY: SUNY Press. Pp. 3-29.

“Narratives create experiences.” Study stories as… stories. What I have is the story I am being told, not using the interviewee as a junior ethnographer doing the work for me. “Stories are the basis of social relationships” – Latour wants to rephrase: relationship that enacts the social -studying how relationships become social, through being organized around stories.

p. 17: people step into the story and make them their own. They step into the story. Understanding, in this way, the story as being an actor. Stories configures an actionable world to be experienced. Stories connect people into groups that have shared understandings.

Mattingly, Cheryl. (1998). “The Mimetic Question.” In Healing Dramas and Clinical Plots : the Narrative Structure of Experience. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Pp 25-47

Stories are never simple mimesis. Stories have a power to transforming and distorting life as lived. Experience comes to be only with stories.

A stories are not only a clear mirror of a persons experience (the subjectivity approach). Experience is there because we have stories. Experiences is at best derivative of pre-given stories. First you have a story, then you enact it, and then call that your experience.

“Stories speak through me. I do not speak through my stories.”

Wetherell, Margaret. (1998). “Positioning and Interpretative Repertoires: Conversation Analysis and Post Structuralism in Dialogue.” Discourse and Society, 9(3). Pp. 387-412.

Sorting out the difference between conversation analysis and discourse analysis. Telling of a story that is referenced, but never actually told. Never a beginning, middle and an end. Conversation about the story without telling it. What makes the conversation sensible is a story they all already know. Conversation analysis then will always be inadequate in this sense.
Conversation and discourse acting in this. p. 388 – Conversation analysis alone does not offer an adequate explanation for “why this utterance here”? The best CA start in a puzzle – how is this conversation complete (if it isn’t to us). Critique of this is that it alone cannot answer this question. Makes sense because they know things going in. If you keep asking, you never get to the bottom. Set of prior understandings that go all the way back. Always find another story before it. Stories always mean “in relation” to other stories. If we didn’t know any stories, we wouldn’t be able to understand any other story.

Brings in Shapiro, conversation dependent on proto-conversation. The history that makes “this” conversation possible. There is always a proto-story.

White, Hayden. (1978). “The Fictions of Factual Representation.” In Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Pp. 121-134

Deconstructs the dichotomy of history and fiction. White realizes that there are imaginary occurrences. History is no less fiction than a novel is historical representations. This split is modern – 19th century when history becomes

“Any discipline is constituted by what it forbids its practitioners.” If you want to play, stay within the forbidden range. If you want to go for the high stakes, go for the forbidden.

Not “what are the facts” but “how should the facts be described” – describing in order (tactically) to sanction one mode of explanation over another. Those who insist on facts fail to recognize that language has its own form of terminological determinism. No way out. Always have figures of speech.

Tilley, Charles. (2002). “The Trouble With Stories.” In Stories, Identities, and Political Change. Lamham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Pp. 25-42.

Stories patch social life together. What makes life social is nothing but the patches. What makes life social is nothing but the patching (patchwork quilt). There is no latent pattern maintenance – nothing but the patches.

Describes the standard story: Standard stories stand out among all the accounts we sometimes call stories by their combination of unified time and place, limited sets of self-motivated actors, and cause-effect relations centered on those actors’ deliberated actions (p. 29).

Forms of connections: stories connect by common projects, common terms of judging, stories are emotional. Stories spur action because stories touch us in their emotional zones. Stories elicit fear.

Need contextualizing stories: identify social situations in which stories arise. How are these settings defined by the stories that are typically told? What are the stories that bankers tell after a hard days work, and then tracing the consequences of telling these stories and not those others. Crucial.

Generalizing stories: what are the ways in which people create, adopt, negotiate and alter their stories. Cannot get this over a few interviews. Most stories spin out over much longer periods of time. Maybe another forms of auto-ethnography (not approved of).


Somers, Margaret R. (1994). “The Narrative Constitution of Identity: A Relational and Network Approach.” Theory and Society, 23(5). pp. 605-649.

Narratives are an ontological condition of social life. Stories aren’t optional, any more than breathing and reproduction. Stories are not mere representations. Four narrative types: ontological – stories, then tailoring reality. Public narratives, conceptual narratives, metanarratives.

Dumping concepts like “interest” – in favour of narrative identity. To talk about interest is to cheat. To invent another actor. How explanations happen. Need explanation, bring in another actor. Stories that get people to do things. Close to narrative habitus, parameters and possibilities.

Need to talk about relational setting instead of society. Society is merely a bunch of relational settings.

Limited repertoire: what kinds of stories predominate. What is the implication of orientating to these stories. Presuppositional story is that behind any conceptual apparatus is a story that makes that conceptual apparatus make sense.

How do you get across a sociological concept: film and tv. We make sense of an idea by reference to a presuppositional story. Brings us to this week.


(there is some talk right now about Somers, I am uninterested and reading Bloglines again: check out this amazing blog post: a collection of excuses for not blogging.



1) Thematic narrative analysis: Coding stories for common themes. Never get full story, but soundbytes and fractured stories. Pressupposition: no question of person in that social type. The story gives surrogate observation in the life of that person’s life. Even if we are never told any stories: topology mixes metaphors (“prison of the body”) and categories that represent oppositions (“fighting against the body”), and evaluations (“… but still coping”). Mixed bag of tropes.

Question never asked (but crucial): what is the topology designed (work) to do? the topology just “is” – why that one? Work never tells the back story, and completely others other possible stories.

2) Sequential analysis: Conversation analysis of a course of story telling as a strip of talk. Harvey Sacks analysis of teenage girls telling of a dirty jokes. How do participants know, right now, that I am talking and you are not. What makes the joke funny? How will the story affect the group developing.

3) Contextual analysis: narratives are retold in the course of an ethnography. Stories of the local inhabitants. Example: Paul Draus Consumed in the City. Told from the people whose life the stories represent. What are the effects of living in the life that is thus represented.

Ethnographer needs stories to see how the person telling the story lives their life. If you tell these stories, you have a hard time getting out of this way of living. Parameters and possibilities.

4)Topology building: immersed attention. Listening to the stories over and over again. Immersing, and pushing towards general categories.

Three questions:

1) How are the stories providing reasons for tellers?

2) How do stories display and demand recognition?

3) How do stories create and sustain relationships?

4)What teleos do the stories generate for those who share them?

Explain? Who wants or needs that explanation? Danger of trying to explain to much:

Danger of narrative contstuctionism: world is seen as nothing but stories, stories are chosen. People are simply “chosing” out of a small prop-basket that people are given. Consciousness is too central – makes people the source, instead of seeing the narrative tradition…

Ignore the unique work stories are able to do. The unique work: different stories without seeing the sme way (interpretive openess).

How do we let stories breathe? People don’t perform, nor do they construct: people enact. Enactment depends on practice, and practice involves manipulation.

When people enact stories, they are making the world actionable. Form in which it can be acted upon.

Need to overcome two divides: overcome the divide between subjects and humans on one side, and objects and nature on the other. The humans are the ones capable of knowing, and the objects are the ones that do this on the other side. Makes it a one way of knowing and acting.

If an obect is “Real” it is because it is part of a practice.

Telling a story in response to an audience. Dialogue.

To be is to be related: the story teller and listener each allow each other to be. This is what it means to be a relation. They don’t exist until they run into each-other, and there is no independent existence before.

The social is no longer adjective. the social is something we need to show coming into being. The social is to be demonstrated, not explained. What is the practice that makes the interation social. Say, what has to be done to render the world social.

Need to ask how people are captured by the pervasive stories? If there are moments of escape (moments where a story that you were living within becomes clear and you have a narrative choice).

Remember: principle of symmetry. Are we being symmetrical between the story and the actor? Like hardware and software.


1) What kind of person tells a story like that? What is the narrative habitus?

2) What are the commonly told stories? Who hears which story as a call for what story? Advantage of group interviewing: what is the follow up?

3) What is the formatting of the pervasive stories in this setting? (i.e. handbook for telling the story at a CODA meeting?) How do people use this format to tell their particular stories

4) What is most admirable about those who tell those stories? How are they holding their own?

5) What is the worst thing about lives that are caught up in those stories?

6) Whose stories are rendered “other” in the story? Too many people are caught up in stories that render “others”

7) Why, after all this, do stories still seem unavoidable

8) How does interpretive openness lead to differing understandings? Who understands the same story differently?

9) Who would want those stories told differently or telling different stories.

10) How this story could be told differently? How might a different story be told on this ocassion?

Singly or together, these questions will not a set of steps to go through to get “a number” – you have to decide what you want to put on trial.

What difference do you want your work to make? / Truth is important / political relevance. Work can matter. Issues of justice / aesthetics (beautiful typology) / analysis can have theoretical relevance / problems of the 20th century have come to an end (at Bourdieu) / sociology needs to generate new sets of problems / curiosity / legitimate call of witness – one of the priveledges of academia is to give stories an audibility.

Stories are here to make life social, and to make selves knowable to the selves. Stories desire to be told. If you write about stories (instead of telling them), don’t expect the story to help very much.






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