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����������������������������Dr Chris Griffin

(From Lawler chapter in May: �Qualitative Research in Action�)

Narrative analysis:

 focuses on �the ways in which people make and use stories to interpret the world�

 does NOT treat narratives as stories that transmit a set of facts about the world, and is
not primarily interested in whether stories are �true� or not (so is closer to social
contructionism than positivist approach)

 views narratives as social products that are produced by people in the context of
specific social, historical and cultural locations

 views narratives as interpretive devices through which people represent themselves

and their worlds to themselves and to others

Narrative theory argues that:

 people produce accounts of themselves that are �storied� (ie. that are in the
form of stories/narratives)

 the social world is itself �storied� (ie. �piblic� stories circulate in popular
culture, providing means people can use to construct personal identities and
personal narratives). Ricoeur argues that narrative is a key means through which
people produced an identity.
 Some of most interview accounts are likely to be �storied� (ie. in narrative

 Narratives link the past to the present, but �

 There is no �unbiased account of the past


Narrative can be characterised by:

 Accounts which contain an element of transformation (ie. change over time)

 Accounts containing some kind of action and characters

 That are brought together in a plot line


 narratives have a temporal dimension

 characters and actions can be imaginary/fantasy

 �emplotment� is a process through which narratives are produced: many

disparate elements go together to make up one story (eg. digressions, sub-plots

 Narratives must have a point (a �so what?� factor), which often takes the
form of a moral message

Research Methods and Narrative Analysis

Research that focuses on the role of narrative:

 Usually involves life story research or oral history

 Usually adopts a qualitative approach, using semi-structured interviews rather

than questionnaires

 Usually the researcher says very little, acting primarily as an attentive listener,
but �

 All narratives are always co-constructed, even if the audience is oneself or an

imaginary other, or if the story is told to oneself in the form of a daydream
Structuralist approaches to narrative:

eg. Propp, 1968 / Labov, 1973

(from Silverman� 2nd edition, �Interpreting Qualitative Data�)

Narratives can take different forms, and Propp (1968) argued that:

 The Fairytale involves a narrative form that is central to all story-telling

 The Fairytale is structured not by the nature of the characters but by the
function they play in the plot

 And the number of possible functions is fairly small

Example: �����������������(Using Propp�s approach)

Most fairytales follow a similar plot line�

�A dragon kidnaps the king�s daughter�

Element �������������������Function

Dragon ��������������������Evil force

King ���������������������������Ruler

Daughter ����������������Loved one


Kidnap ���������������������Disappearance

Now � can you do the same using �Star Wars� as an example?

Narrative Theory: Approaches to the study of narrative

(a partial and incomplete list)

a) Structural analysis: eg. Labov, 1973

Focus on story grammar

b) Sociology of stories approach: eg. Plummer, 1996

Focus on cultural, historical and political context in which particular

stories are (or can be) told by whom and to whom (eg. �coming out

c) Functional approach: eg. Bruner, 1990

Focus on what work particular stories do in people�s lives

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Examples of structural analyses of narrative

Labov, 1973
�������������Stein, 1979

1) ��������Setting/ orientation
Abstract/ summary of story

2) ��������Initiating event
������2) ��������Initiating event

3) ��������Complicating action
��������Internal reaction/

response of protagonist

4) ��������Resolution/ result of action

��������������������4) ��������Action by

����������protagonist to deal

����������with situation

5) ��������Evaluation/ point of story

��������Consequence of

6) ��������Coda/ return speaker to
��������Reaction to events/


������moral of tale
Bruner, 1990: �Acts of Meaning�

** ������Functional analysis of story-telling as a means of conveying


** ������Functions of narrative = solving problems

������������= tension reduction

������������= resolution of dilemmas

** ������Narratives allow us to deal with and explain mismatches

between the exceptional and the ordinary.� When events occur that
we perceive as ordinary, then explanations are not required.

** ������Narratives allow us to re-cast chaotic experiences into

causal stories in order to make sense of them, and to render them safe.

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Canonical Narratives

** ������Narratives of �folk psychology� (or �common sense�)

summarise �how things are� and (often implicitly) how they should be.
** ������When we perceive that things are �as they should be�, the
narratives of folk psychology are unnecessary.

** ������Narratives are a unique way of managing departures from

the canonical

Narrative Analysis

Narratives or stories occur when one or more speakers engage in sharing and recounting an
experience or event. Typically, the telling of a story occupies multiple turns in the course of
a conversation and stories or narratives may share common structural features.

Narrative analysis takes the story as the investigative focus.

Narratives or stories may:

 be oral or written

 be elicited, for example during an interview, or naturally-occurring

 be very short or long

 be told as a way to share one's biography (life stories)

 focus on events and the meaning of those events for those experiencing them (e.g. oral
histories; auto-ethnographies)

 focus on the ordinary stories people tell as a way to share everyday experiences (e.g.
Labov and Waletzy's work)

Since the 'narrative turn' in the social sciences, narratives or stories have been the focus of
considerable interest. This is because researchers have come to understand that personal,
social, and cultural experiences are contructed through the sharing of stories.

Labov and Waletzky's work over 30 years ago (1967/1997) drew scholars in the study of
language to the study or storytelling. It is from this work that stories came to be seen as
communication events in their own right.

There are a wide range of ways to view and analyze stories or narratives.
In health care research, scholars have investigated the experience of health care and illness
from patients' perspectives (e.g. Kleinman; Mishler) and the meaning of disease (e.g. Stevens
& Tighe Doerr) using a variety of narrative methods.

There are several extended reviews of the narrative and storytelling literature, including:
Riessman, Chase, Goodwin, Langellier, and Robinson. See below for references.