Narrative, Dialectic, and Relationships
Richard L. Conville
In 1971, Paul Ricoeur published an essay entitled "The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as a Text." He argued that human action, because of its textlike qualities, may be interpreted by the human sciences using the same henmeneutical tools as those employed to interpret literature. A straightforward application of this program would be to investigate interpersonal communication (and its primary by-product, relationships) by employing those same interpretive tools. However, it is not that simple.
Because Ricoeur's notion of discourse is central to his essay, I believe that the essay's subtitle is more accurately rendered as "Meaningful Action Considered as Discourse." The purpose of this chapter is not to turn Ricoeur's subtitle exactly on its head but to tilt it rather obliquely so that it reads something like "Discourse Considered as Meaningful Action." My hypothesis is that discourse of a particular kind, the sort that depicts human relationships, provides a window onto interpersonal communication and insight into the meaning of "relationship." I am proposing that discourse itself be a site both for the observation of interpersonal communication and for the application of those interpretive methods Ricoeur had in mind. Thus, rather than treating the human action of interpersonal communication as if it had certain attributes of discourse ( Ricoeur's position), investigators would take a rather more direct