Seminar 17

Researching personal and life stories:
Some Do’s and Don’ts for researchers


Rescheduled for 16 May 2011


A seminar aimed for researchers (including PhD students) interested in using stories and storytelling as part of a rich and rigorous research agenda in any field of the social sciences.

Organizer: Yiannis Gabriel, University of Bath

Professor Alexandra Georgakopoulou, King’s College, London
Professor David Sims, Cass Business School
Professor Yiannis Gabriel, University of Bath


To be held at the University of Bath,
Carpenter House,
Broad Quay,
Bath, Avon, BA1 1UD

The Storytelling Seminar brings together scholars, research students and practitioners who are interested in the nature of stories and storytelling in organizations and the use of stories in research on different aspects of organizational life, including politics, gender, culture, leadership and emotion. Now in its 10th year, the seminar has taken place in a variety of academic institutions including Imperial College, University of Exeter, University College Cork, The Free University of Amsterdam, the Humanistics University of Utrecht, Royal Holloway University of London, City University, Queen Mary’s College and the University of East Anglia.

The ethos of the seminar is to stimulate discussion and argument among people who share a fascination and love for stories and storytelling and believe that stories open valuable windows into the world of organizations and their members. To this end, the number of participants is limited to no more than 45 and the cost of participation is kept low.

Some Storytelling Seminars are aimed predominantly at PhD students who are interested in using stories as part of their research methodology. This upcoming seminar is aimed equally at seasoned researchers and PhD students using storytelling as part of their research. It is not intended for practitioners using storytelling in consulting.

Following earlier discussions, this seminar will look more closely at research into personal and life stories. The seminar will encourage all participants, irrespective of their experience and expertise, to discuss and develop scholarship in these areas that are crucial in organizational research.

Seminar Sessions

Session 1

David Sims, Cass Business School

Taking a life for a walk

Paul Klee described art as ‘taking a life for a walk’. I have been fascinated for a long time by the way in which people take a life for a walk. My academic interest has been more in storying than stories. How do I develop the next chapters of the novel which is my life? How do I manage the interaction between my own pre-casting of the story and the events which impinge on it, but which are outside my control? I have also been interested in the relationship between the research which all people carry out in order to develop meaning and understanding in their worlds (in the tradition of Kelly) and research by those of us who are professional researchers. People are engaged in investigating how they can develop their stories both by expanding their imagination about where they could go next (is that one of the motivations for reading novels?) and by trying to research the costs, likelihood, and returns of different kinds of development. This is part of what we do when we take our lives for walks. I want to write about this without restricting myself to an academic audience, and my discussion will be about how I am going about this and how it relates to my experience of research. In the process I am, of course, also wanting to tell you about how I am taking my life for a walk.

David Sims is Professor of Organizational Behaviour, Head of the Faculty of Management and Director of the Centre for Leadership, Learning and Change at Cass Business School. His interests are in how people learn and develop, in the way in which people contribute very different qualities and skills to the activity of leadership, and in the relationship between leading and professional work. He has applied these interests to topics such as why people get angry in organizations, the motivation of middle managers, how people love their organizations into effectiveness, agenda shaping, problem construction, consulting skills and mergers.

Session 2

Alexandra Georgakopoulou, King’s College London

Small stories research as a slice of life-stories approach

In this talk, I will introduce small stories research, a framework for narrative analysis that I have recently developed. Small stories research heavily draws on social interactional approaches to language and discourse and it grew out of work on conversational storytelling. However, its aim all along has been to speak to life stories/ biographical studies especially around concerns of:
how we go about identifying certain activities in research interviews as stories;
what modes of analysis we can employ to study narrative (and) identities;
how not to lose sight of issues of context and researcher-researched co-construction.
To show small stories research in action, I will refer to narrative data from students and teachers that were collected in London as part of the ESRC Identities & Social Action Project ‘Urban Classroom Culture and Interaction

Alexandra Georgakopoulou  is Professor of Discourse Analysis & Sociolinguistics at King’s College London. She studies stories as both talk-in-interaction and social practices in a variety of settings, face-to-face and online, with a view to shedding light on how narrative tellings shape and are shaped by social identities and cultural processes.  She has recently developed small stories research as a paradigm for narrative analysis that can help build bridges between sociolinguistic and biographical approaches to narrative.

Session 3

Yiannis Gabriel, University of Bath

Life stories of managers coping with unemployment at 50: Temporary derailment or the end of the line?

Based on fieldwork conducted at the outset of the 2008 economic downturn, my presentation will examine the experiences of a group of unemployed managers and professionals in their fifties, seeking to incorporate the experience of job loss into their self-images and identities. The research, conducted jointly by David Gray, Harshita Goregaokar and myself, identified certain core similarities in the experiences of unemployed professionals and then discerned three narrative strategies through which these unemployed professionals tried to make sense of their dismissal and sustain their sense of selfhood. The term ‘narrative coping’ is used as a way of describing each unemployed professional’s struggle to construct a story that offers both meaning and consolation. Our study indicated that individuals expressing the most profound despair (those for whom job loss was the ‘end of the line’) were those whose stories had achieved ‘closure’. By contrast, most of those who maintained more open-ended narratives, were better able to contain their emotions, either by holding on to the belief that unemployment was a temporary career aberration or by abandoning the idea that life is the same as career and by moving on to a new stage of experimentation and bricolage akin to an identity moratorium.

Yiannis Gabriel is Professor of Organizational Theory and Deputy Dean of the School of Management at Bath University. Yiannis is known for his work into organizational storytelling and narratives, leadership, management learning, psychoanalytic studies of work, and the culture and politics of contemporary consumption. He has used stories as a way of studying numerous social and organizational phenomena including leader-follower relations, group dynamics and fantasies, nostalgia, insults and apologies. Yiannis is co-founder and co-ordinator of the Organizational Storytelling Seminar series.


If you are unable to attend this meeting but would like to be kept informed of future events, please email Yiannis Gabriel.

In line with the practice of previous seminars, registered participants to this seminar will be contacted prior to the seminar with further information regarding the event and some preparatory questions and themes for pre-seminar reflection. These questions and themes will then be discussed at the seminar.

Conference Fee

£30 (PhD students) or £ 50 (other researchers)