Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

Free Stories!

Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

Free Stories!

Article excerpt


Stories as sensemaking opportunities both support and are supported by interpersonal relationships. Deconstructing the traditional views of stories as necessarily constrained to a linear form with transparent and fixed beginning, middle, and end, we extend the metaphor of free stories to include the emergent and improvisational freedom to both express ourselves and to respect one another.


Is the art of storytelling dying?

Is it time to free stories from narrative prisons, that obsession with the coherence of beginning, middle, and end (BME).

Walter Benjamin's (1936: 83) classic reflections on the works of Nikolai Leskov, "teaches us that the art of storytelling is coming to an end. Less and less frequently do we encounter people with the ability to tell a tale properly."

Storytelling was once "the securest among our possessions" this "ability to exchange experiences' (Benjamin, 1936: 83) has been taken from us. Like Gertrude Stein (1935), Benjamin does not see newspapers demonstrating the traditional practices of storytelling. Both find nothing remarkable in the narrative style of newspaper writing or with novels. It is clear that Benjamin, like Walter Ong (1984) and Ivan lllich (1993) is lamenting the passage of mouth to mouth storytelling, and sees few instances of it replicated in written narrative versions: "Experience which is passed on from mouth to mouth is the source from which all storytellers have drawn" (Benjamin, 1936: 84). This supports Gabriel's (2000) claim that proper storytelling is not prevalent in organizations. It supports our friend Terrence Gargiulo's premise that we need to get serious about story competencies. The point we make is that stories are not just texts, something we read to children, stories are part of our social fabric, and stories are quite socially performed. One of the skills that Stein (1935) and Benjamin (1936) agree that has been lost is the ability to practice stories in community, and the ability to understand the layers of stories we hear. And this is where narrative comes in, providing all that explication, so people don't have to think about how to interpret a story, how to read between the lines and understand the nothingness, and what that means. As one stories, the listener, is also storying, filling in the blanks with their own symbols, experiences, and reflexivity. At least that is the premise of some of the definitions of story and narrative (see Appendix), those that look at something beyond just the ability to retrospect, to retell an experience of the senses.

If we forget how to story, then what will happen to identity?

We are partial to seeing identities as closed and prestructured systems. Maybe it's because we need to turn our back on pure process in order to create meaning (Schutz, 1967) or maybe because it's part of our "human nature" Lacan (2002):

the succession of phantasies that extends from a fragmented body-image to a form of its totality that I shall call orthopaedic - and, lastly, to the assumption of the armour of an alienating identity, which will mark with its rigid structure the subject's entire mental development" ( p. 4).

Identity in Western Contemporary Modernist thought relies on structured dualities. Leach (1976), a structuralist anthropologist, explained that meanings depend upon contrasts, upon the boundary between itself and what it is not. That is, to have meaning in a structural sense is to be either one thing, or another (either/or relation). Further, one of those things is declared to be superior, and the other inferior. Any attempt at differentiation, then, is accompanied by a ranking. In this way, in order to have meaning, dualism "closes off" the "thing" under consideration from others, and evaluation simultaneously judges one or the other of the pair to be of lesser value.

To Buber (1970), identity is always in relation. seeing another's identity as closed reflects the word pair, l-lt;, and so whoever says "It" is in the world of "goal-directed verbs," having something, perceiving something, imagining something, thinking something, etc. …

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