Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills

By John O. Greene; Brant R. Burleson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
HOW TO “DO THINGS” WITH NARRATIVE:
A COMMUNICATION PERSPECTIVE
ON NARRATIVE SKILL
Jenny Mandelbaum
Department of Communication, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey

In the 1960s and 1970s our understanding of communication took a linguistic turn (Rorty, 1967/1992). In response to the work of Wittgenstein, Austin and others, the discipline came to recognize that language use is central to communication, and increased its attention to both features and structures of language. In recent years, our understanding of how communication works has taken a narrative turn (Fisher, 1984, 1985; Hinchman & Hinchman, 1997, p. xiii; Mishler, 1995). We have come to see narrative as central to such communication processes as the transmission of culture, the organization of social knowledge, and the structure of experience. We have also recognized its central role as a form of entertainment in social life. Hinchman & Hinchman (1997, p. xiii) suggested that the human sciences “have assimilated the idiom of literary criticism in which narrative has always played a very big part. ” Mumby (1993) noted that since Fisher (1984, 1985, 1987) invoked the “Narrative Paradigm, ” scholars have been alerted to “possibilities inherent in the development of a more literary, aesthetic approach to human communication” (p. 1). Bruner (1986) compared two ways of knowing: the narrative mode of knowing, and the logo-scientific mode. Along similar lines, Fisher (1986) suggested that whereas the natural and social sciences have emphasized and privileged “rational action” as our principal way of knowing, we more aptly capture the character of human life when we characterize ourselves as proceeding according to the “narrative” paradigm. That is, we understand, come to know, and formulate our lives and actions as stories.

Although the concept of narrative is clearly a powerful metaphor for understanding and explaining human conduct and reasoning, the influence of literary criticism on how we think about narrative in this context may be problematic, because it may lead us to see narratives as static and like literary texts, rather than as dynamic and interactively constructed in communication. Reconceptualizing narrative outside of a literary frame, as an interactive activity through which experiences are shared as a way of undertaking other social activities, complicates the notion of narrative skill. In

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