Live Blogging: Stories, Texts and Technoscience (2)

The Construction of Social Reality (1995) by John Searle talks about the ontologically subjective (ie. baseball strikes), that which only makes sense as socially constructed; strikes count as strikes. Once you have the socially constructed “matrix,” then you have some objectivity.This brings us to the famous Thomas theorem, which says that if a person defines something as real, then it can be defined as real in its consequences. This makes sense if we think of panic behavior, such as the claim of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The US government defined this as a threat to world security, which resulted in a war that is very real in its consequences. This is the truth of the theorem.

Reality requires definitions, the it is whatever people consider it to be. The it is not the definition, it is what is being defined. Whoever gets the high ground, gets to claim reality. This isn’t the reality, just the reality that won out.

Goffman says that while it is true that people define situations, we need to keep in mind that they don’t make these definitions up by themselves. People do not have infinite choice in how to define things; definitions are strictly delimited. There is minimal construction at the individual level.


People tell stories in order to show themselves as authentic. If you ask someone on what basis their authenticity rests, they have to tell a story, and the authenticity is found both in the content and the telling of the story. Stories are crucial – there is, for each of us, a “my way.” Charles Taylor takes this to the late 18th century German romantics, and argues that this was the beginning of all this, and it became possible then to miss the point of your life.

Stories represent a borrowed authenticity. People tell stories, and in these stories, they make claims for their personal authenticity, but this authenticity is borrowed. Individuals tell their own stories, but they didn’t make these up by themselves. People are dealing with  a finite number of tools: plots, characters, devices – they have a limited repertoire. People draw on these, even when they are dressing their stories in their own experience and placing them in local settings. That may be why we have the finding that the same plots pop up in different cultures.

For Carl Jung, this meant that that there were certain structures of the mind, archetypes – those same features are hard wired. Levi-Strauss says that when we know enough about the brain, and that is how we tell our myths. That is the core of structuralism. The brain is projecting its own structure on the world. Structuralism is the neuro-projective structuralism. They then go out and structure the world in ways that reproduce. It is not that there an external structure “out there” – just our brains creating worlds. Its not as if we go at the world differently; they could have gone at it differently. Though, we don’t believe this any more: too linear, though there is a certain truth here: only so many stories.


After returning to Troy, Agamenon was killed violently with an axe by Clitemnestra. Her reasons for such a brutal murder were complex, but it seems that it was not so much due to her passion for Egisto and the desire of revenge his brother, she killed him because she hated him. Agamenon had brutally murdered Clitemnestra’s first husband and their children in front of her eyes; he had also sacrificed her daughter Ifigenia to Aulis. She wanted revenge.


Why are stories good equipment? Why do we use stories, and not other equipment for representing our lives? How are stories different from other narrative acts?



Two basic epistemologies of narrative:

1. Naturalism – such as in grounded theory. Take stories, dump them into software to develop themes, codes. Narratives as open window. High validity. Fixed point; ontological singularity, with epistemological access. It is what it is; we know it inadequately, but there is only one thing there to be known.

People report their lives in stories about those lives; the narrative analysis examines this from a meta-position. A recognition that people are “poor historians” – memory faults, false consciousness, presentation of self.

Analysis: correct the flaws, to see through them. Help through post hock analysis. Hear it once or twice then it might be faulty: from 20, then there is something here. Need adjustment about what it is “to be” – expect a skewness of experience for __________ reasons that would be pervasive for the entire sample. Only through a theoretical correction can you see this for what it is.

Hermeneutics of suspicion: Marx, Darwin and Freud are all suspicious – the world is a text that requires interpretation. The interpretation is suspicious, the availability of reality is not the true reality. What is really running the show (Marx: wage, labour and capital): everything is illusionary. This means that the analysis needs to do work – make knowable by cutting through all the things that we are to be suspicious. People are incapable of knowing their own lives. What we need to get serious about is “the social” (Durkheim). Sociology is supplanting the old religion. Get on with the serious business of sociology. The core narrative. Fits in with the Hermeneutics of suspicion.

Paul Krugman:

“My chance of surviving prostate cancer — and thank God I was cured of it — in the United States? Eighty-two percent,” says Rudy Giuliani in a new radio ad attacking Democratic plans for universal health care. “My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England? Only 44 percent, under socialized medicine.”

It would be a stunning comparison if it were true. But it isn’t. And thereby hangs a tale — one of scare tactics, of the character of a man who would be president and, I’m sorry to say, about what’s wrong with political news coverage.

Let’s start with the facts: Mr. Giuliani’s claim is wrong on multiple levels — bogus numbers wrapped in an invalid comparison embedded in a smear.

But here’s what I don’t understand: Why isn’t Mr. Giuliani’s behavior here considered not just a case of bad policy analysis but a character issue?


Other sociologies that don’t claim epistemic privelege (Dorothy Smith). Avoiding hermeneutics of suspicion, while holding on to something for sociology.

2. Dialogism – What does work make visible? What at that moment is visable? Duality – representations teach us to see what we see, and what we want to see changes what we represent. Dual process. Continually morphing.

Narrative analysis needs to be the analysis of narratives; not using narratives to study lives, but to study narratives as a fundamental processes of life. Narrative acts are as worthwhile as economic acts, government forming, other stuff that people do. Most sociologists use stories as convenient way to get at something else.

Art’s new book: “Letting Stories Breathe” – grounded theory approach – carve up the stories to get the “themes” coming out. Letting them breathe lets them have free range. Narrative analysis becomes the observation of stories leading their lives.

People create their lives by exchanging stories. Pickering: if people told different stories, could live equally successful lives.


The Human Condition: Rene Magritte,

Looks like you are looking in the window but half of it is a painting of the outside. But the painting is on an easel and you can hardly see it. It just looks like you are looking at a window.


Though stories do work representing the world, they do their hardest work when they pre-present. In the NA – stories are selection/evaluation devices. Goes to the pluralistic universe of William James. The “blooming, buzzing confusion.” Without being ontologically multiple, the point is that we can attend to a number of different realities with a number of different consequences.

Selection: somethings are part of the scenery, taking place off our radar. Stories that enable this result. Most stories are about noticing/failing to notice certain parts of the world. Stories tell us how to pay attention. Teach us what is selectable, and what counts.

Evaluation: Stories represent hierarchies of value. How do I avoid? How do I evaluate? Stories often hinge on things that appear to be not valuable, but in the course of the story, become so. A Higher wisdom. Through the stories we know, we have learned what to pay attention to, what plots to expect.

Anxious stutterer. A child without stories can still talk, but it will be anxious because it won’t know what parts of the world to pay attention, and stutter in linking together narratives. Emplotment allows us to speak coherently. Children learn this through stories. Anxiety is not being sure of the right stories.

Habitus: Habit and habitation. What you feel comfortable with (matters of clothing, food, shelter, speech). Embodied: carry as habits that work their way into the tissues. For Bourdieu, it travels in classes. Signs you give off that you have difficulty moderating. Body type is one example (rich = thin). Changing habitus is difficulty, and involves a certain amount of betrayal.

Narrative habitus:

1. The stock of stories that people know. Stories that are assumed (Cinderella story).

2. Not just “knowing them” – also knowing how to understand a story like that.

3. If you tell someone of the same habitus the start of the story, they will know where the story is going. Can’t be predictable, but need to see where it is going.

Stories are strong fabrication mechanisms. Very good at assembling groups. Inherently morally neutral: The story creates its own moral ground.Works along with out other forms of habitus and sensibilities: the moral part of stories live with moral ideation that is simply not narrative.A continuum of habits that is not determinative: but it is enduring.

Christopher Lasch: Haven in a heartless world.

Much sociology is historical constructionist. Elias.

When we go to the scene of an interview, the important thing is that listeners hear stories only in their own narrative habitus. Our narrative habitus: the terms we have to think with: not getting people to tell their stories (easy): did you learn what you needed to know in order to understand the stories that they are telling you? Ask following questions about who would get the story, and who wouldn’t. a) how do you understand it b) who does it connect to? c) who does it disconnect from?

A dead story becomes a text to be taxonimized. To be laid out in a transcription and broken down. Impose a master grid on the unbreathing body. Letting stories breathe watches the story create connections and disconnections. The story needs to be up and moving and not pinned down.

Narrative isn’t getting at the singular world: instead it studies the world as narrative resources made possible to represent. WE can hypothesize other possibilities, but we don’t know what those are.

Dialogical: stories need to be there for the response of others. As much our response, and what was expected, and how we do respond. NOT auto biography. Asking the people how they want their stories to be carried forward.

This is definitely constructionist all the way down. But that begs “what is being constructed?” and leads us to attribute too much agency to the work of construction. Narrative analysis is the study of STORIES! Not the idea that stories get at people who tell the story: stories have a mutually dependent autonomy. Not just epiphenomena.

The work of stories.


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