Re: SV: [xmca] Narrative

From: Jay Lemke (
Date: Tue Jan 09 2007 - 10:22:48 PST

Narrative is truly a protean and mysterious phenomenon!

I know several of the authors Monica recommends
and admire their work. There is also a deeper
layer of scholarship on narrative, from the
classic Propp work on folktales, to Labov's
discussion of narrative stages, to Greimas'
theory of actant semiotics. And of course a vast
literature in literary theory, too. I have
mostly steered clear of the slippery slopes of
narrativity, but they can't be avoided. Bruner
did interesting work on narrative and identity in
family settings, somewhat like Ochs, but more with a developmental perspective.

There are many claims that narrative is a
cultural universal, and somehow fundamental to
how humans think. I doubt it has a biological
basis, so I suspect its universality masks the
indefiniteness of our definitions of what it is.
There are definite narrative genres that can be
well defined (like folktales of various sorts, or
simple recounts of events), but narrative as such
is hard to pin down. Maybe there is nothing
nontrivial that all texts we call narratives have
in common, just as there probably is no unified
phenomenon for what we call 'literature' or 'poetry' or 'exposition'.

I once wrote a short piece about the narrative
underpinnings of scientific discourse, and while
that was stretching it a bit, it was a useful
exercise. What may be of greater interest than
the unities among all narratives are the
differences in form and function of different
kinds of narratives (intra- and
cross-culturally), and the contrasts we create
between narrative and non-narrative text types.

One suggestion from this line of thinking, and my
inveterate perversity, is that we keep narrative
and other textual forms too much segregated in
education, promoting narrative in the humanities,
and denigrating it in the natural and social
sciences. More narrative emphasis in science and
sociology, less in history and literary analysis
might be healthier. More hybrid forms in art and
science. Narrative pulls people in, in just the
opposite way that de-narrativized scientific and
academic discourse alienate and push them away.
But an exclusive emphasis on narrative in
teaching, say, writing, leaves students
disempowered with respect to the kinds of writing
that wield more overt power for their future purposes.

Tell me a story!


At 08:47 PM 1/7/2007, you wrote:
>Narrative is a broad phenomenon, defined
>differently in the humanities and the social
>sciences. It could be anything from narrative
>structure and dramaturgy to the role of
>narrative in identity formation, learning and
>sense making. I teach a (net- and distance
>based) course called Digital Storytelling and I
>try to cover some aspects of it. These are: (1)
>generally on narrative and digital storytelling,
>(2) on pedagogy, learning and storytelling, (3)
>narrating and (cultural) identity (4)
>multimodality in storytelling. Here are some
>(English in contrast to Swedish!) texts and volumes I use:
> Narrative in Teaching, Learning and
>Research edited by McEwan and K Egan (1995).
> Egan, K (1995) Teaching as Storytelling!
> Engel, Susan (2003) My harmless inside
>heart turned green: children’s narratives and
>their inner lives. In Narratives of Childhood (Ed. Bert van Oers) 2003.
> Egan, K (2003) The cognitive tools of
>children’s imagination. In Narratives of Childhood (Ed. Bert van Oers) 2003.
> Davis, Alan: Co-authoring identity:
>Digital storytelling in an urban middle school
> Mc Cabe (1997) Cultural Background and
>Storytelling: A Review and Implications for Schooling.
> Lyle, Sue (2000) Narrative
>understanding: developing a theoretical context
>for understanding how children make meaning in
>classroom settings. Journal of Curriculum Studies, Vol. 32, No 1.
> Ochs, E. & Capps, L. (1996) Narrating
>the self. American Review of Anthropology, 25, pp. 19-43.
> Ochs, E. & Capps, L. (2001) Living
>Narrative: Creating Lives in Everyday
>Storytelling. MA: Harvard University Press.
> Kress (2006) Reading Images:
>Multimodality, Representation and New Media.
>There is a lot out there, as I said, depending on the purpose
>-----Ursprungligt meddelande-----
>[] För Mike Cole
>Skickat: den 4 januari 2007 23:27
>Till: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>Ämne: Re: [xmca] Narrative
>Sounds like an interesting book,. Michael, if that is your goal. Teaching
>Communication students my treatement of narrative is in contrast with
>montage as an organizing
>principle and my objects of analysis are two films, each organized along
>contrasting leading principles. For my purposes, the Abbot book looks really
>useful, and for people
>who are interested in autobiographical memory as well.
>On 1/4/07, Michael Glassman <> wrote:
> >
> > Mike and others that might be interested,
> >
> > I have been thinking about a good book to teach undergraduate students
> > narrative (and even autobiographical memory
> and the relationship between the
> > two). I think a really good book is Stephen King's "On Writing". His
> > writing style is very accessible and many undergraduates already know his
> > work so there are linkages. He writes the
> book in two parts, the first part
> > autobiography and the second part the mechanics of narrative, and though
> > most people who use the book don't focus on this, it is one of the best
> > examples of how our autobiographical experiences get turned in to
> > narrative. (I think a very interesting
> series of classes would be to read a
> > book like IT in conjunction and really see the relationship between
> > autobiography and how it is transformed in to stories that affect us all -
> > from the public - to the private - to the public). And this might get
> > students interested in more complex psychological issues such as those
> > raised by Bruner.
> >
> > Michael
> >
> >
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > xmca mailing list
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
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Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
Website. <>
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