Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

On Becoming Irrelevant: An Analysis of Charity Workers' Untold Epic Stories

Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

On Becoming Irrelevant: An Analysis of Charity Workers' Untold Epic Stories

Article excerpt

Introduction

"We all love stories: Five for silver, six for gold, seven for a story that has never been told." Gabriel (1991a) starts his article with this traditional nursery rhyme, reflecting on the value and power of stories. The quote reflects an underlying assumption behind existing literature on organizational storytelling, that is, stories have an inherent value which make them interesting and sought after by others. This literature often adopts a narrow definition of 'story' referring to specific types of discourse that draw on particular poetic and literary genres, follow certain theatrical styles and are often delivered with entertainment and spectacle in mind (Gabriel 2000, p. 9-10). It is argued that such stories comprise a primary medium through which members make sense of, account for, enact and affect the organizations they work for (Whittle, Mueller, & Mangan, 2009). Having attributed such value to stories, organization scholars have embarked on the task of explaining why stories appear as they do (Driver, 2009; Freud, 1955; Yiannis Gabriel, 1991b, , 1991c; Y. Gabriel, Hirschhorn, & Allcom, 1999; Kostera, 2008)- and why such stories are circulated in an organization (Brown & Humphreys, 2003; Humphreys & Brown, 2002; Strangleman, 1999; Wilkins, 1983; Ybema, 2010). This assumption about the undisputable value of stories has contributed to the development of most of our knowledge today about organizational stories. Yet it obscures the fact that many of these stories elicited in an interview setting may have lost their original significance in the organizational narrative domain. Indeed, the stories told to researchers may not be recounted outside the interview setting (Whittle, Mueller, & Mangan, 2009), for various reasons, ranging from fear (Morrison & Milliken, 2000) to lack of storytelling skills (Yiannis Gabriel, 2000).

One reason for a lack of attention to the transformation and career of elicited stories within its organizational context could be the tremendous difficulty of collecting stories in the specific sense of the word, i.e. stories with a plot and particular beginning and ending (D.M. Boje, 2008; Czamiawska-Joerges, 1998; Yiannis Gabriel, 2000). Even an experienced story researcher, such as Gabriel (2000), reports that many of his participants failed to narrate a single story that would be highly rated by folklorists. This could mean that researchers may have over-emphasized the pervasiveness of the few stories that they managed to collect. An alternative explanation is that as this literature mostly relied on a single source of data (usually interviews), researchers were not able to investigate the usage of those stories in everyday work conversation (Ciuk & Kostera, 2010; With a few notable exceptions of Yiannis Gabriel, 1991c; Humphreys & Brown, 2002). Whatever the reasons may be, only a few researchers tried to explore what happens to elicited stories outside the interview setting, whether they are recounted in the organization or whether these stories are, or have been accepted and believed at all by others (Whittle, Mueller, & Mangan, 2009).

An alternative approach advocated by Boje (2008), focused on capturing 'living stories' or emergent stories in dialogues around a certain organizational issue (e.g. David M. Boje, 1995; David M. Boje & Rosile, 2003; e.g. David M. Boje, Rosile, Durant, & Luhman, 2004; Whittle, Mueller, & Mangan, 2009). This approach mostly elicited how organizational participants use terse narrative, or fragmented antenarratives in daily conversation to make sense of various situations, and to reconstruct their identity and character (e.g. David M. Boje, 1995; David M. Boje & Rosile, 2003; e.g. David M. Boje, Rosile, Durant, & Luhman, 2004; Whittle, Mueller, & Mangan, 2009). This literature shed light on storytelling as a multi authored, polyphonic and polysemous process, yet it rarely succeed in capturing stories with an underlying plot and some sort of distinguishable beginning and end. …

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