Seminar 18

‘Researchers as storytellers’

 Severine van Bommel, Noëlle Aarts and Suzanne Tesselaar


Conference organised by the Communication Studies Group and Wageningen School of Social Sciences (WASS), Wageningen University, the Netherlands


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.


Keynote speakers:

  • Prof. Yiannis Gabriel, Professor of Organizational Theory, Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Prof. Noelle Aarts, Professor in Strategic Communication, University of Amsterdam; Associate professor Communication Science, Wageningen University


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. For more information on the series, see


Following earlier discussions, this seminar will look more closely at researchers themselves as storytellers. To a certain extent, the quality of a research account depends on the researchers skills as storyteller (Yanow, 1996, van Bommel, 2008). A rich, grounded and persuasive story can make an important contribution to the credibility of research (Ybema eds. et all, 2010, Rhodes, 2001). Ethnographers (i.e. Bate, 2005) have for a long time been recommending story writing to help readers understand and critically evaluate an account. Scientific accounts written like this become a virtual reality, so to speak. For the reader, willing to enter this reality and explore it inside and out, the payback is a sensitivity to the issues at hand that cannot be obtained from only theory.


The construction of stories, in research, is hard work because stories do not and cannot tell themselves. Stories have to be narrated, albeit in writing or orally. One way or the other, they require a narrative analysis (i.e. Boje, 2001, Yanow, 1996) and or interpretation (Gabriel, 2000, Czarniawska, 1997). This means that choices have to made if only about where to begin and end the story, what to emphasise and so on. Furthermore, researchers are engaged in a narrative contract with their audiences – whereby, they undertake to deliver a story that possesses certain qualities (‘truthfulness’, ‘authenticity’, ‘criticality’, etc.) in return for the audience’s acceptance and, possibly, respect. This contract is quite different from those that characterize the relations of other types of storytellers (non-researchers) with their audiences; yet, its characteristics are not properly understood.


Storytelling is gaining significant scholarly attention, but little is known about what researchers actually do and how they do it. As such scholars are called upon to be more open and reflexive about their practices (i.e. Rhodes, Brown, 2005). What it is they do and how do they do it? One way to do this is to share stories about how we construct stories. Therefore the aim of this seminar is to reflect on our own practice as storytellers. We hope this will contribute to collective reflection (i.e. Gabriel, Connell, 2010) and thereby bring insight to the practice of research as storytelling.


In line with the practice of previous seminars, registered participants to this seminar will be asked to do some pre-seminar reflection, in this case related to their own practice as storytellers. What do you do and how do you do it? These questions will be discussed at the seminar.




Target group


The Storytelling seminar is 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. 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. 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 fee

For PhDs of WASS there is a fee of 30 euros. For all other participants and for staff members (fellows/post docs), there is a fee of 50 euros for the seminar (including drinks, lunches).


Seminar sessions


The seminar will consist out of four sessions:

  • Session 1: Keynote by Prof. Yiannis Gabriel
  • Session 2: Three short papers (speakers to be confirmed)
  • Session 3: Keynote by Prof. Noelle Aarts
  • Session 4: Interactive session on participants own experiences as storytellers


Prof. Yiannis Gabriel is known for his work into organizational storytelling and narratives, leadership, management learning 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. More recently he has explored the education of managers and leaders in institutions of higher education and the ways in which MBAs influence professional practice. Yiannis has made his own contribution to pedagogy as author and co-author of several textbooks on organizations. He is currently researching leadership and storytelling in three UK hospitals using storytelling as a crucial part of his methodology.


Prof. Noelle Aarts is associate professor at Communication Science. She has a background in Cultural Anthropology. Starting from a cultural perspective she studies inter-human processes and communication of collective decision-making in the public domain. In September 2008, Noelle Aarts was appointed endowed professor at the University of Amsterdam, on a newly founded chair Strategic Communication. Her new research programme includes storytelling as a methodology for research on Strategic Communication. In addition to that Noelle Aarts has published on several topics such as negotiating nature policies, dealing with ambivalence concerning farm animal welfare, network-building for regional innovation and multiple land-use and processes of self-organization and communication for change.