Seminar 10

Organizational Storytelling Seminar 10 took place at the University of Bath, School of Management, 18 December 2006. The programme, introduced byAndrew Brown, included nine papers: A year in the life of an entrepreneur: Narratives of identity and transformation (Christian De Cock , Natahsa Slutskaya & Emma Surman); Once upon a time: A tale of isolation and maturation (Christine Coupland); Storytelling for Pain Study (STOPS) (William House); Researching and Supervising by Storying Around: An autoethnographic trio (Thomas Thornborrow , Michael Humphreys & Andrew Brown); Change across boundaries: Emotion entrepreneurs tell their stories (Helen Kara); The paradoxical role of narrative in organizational change  (Benjamin Golant & John Sillince); Understanding processes of organizational change: Longitudinal studies and the construction of theory from narratives (Anna Soulsby & Ed Clark); Organizational identity narrative and legitimacy under major environmental changes: The case of UK building societies  (Hongwei He & Yehuda Baruch); Story & anti-story: Patterns of narrative in organizational change situations (Stefanie Reissner). The seminar ended with a discussion led by David Sims.

Overview

This seminar is intended for researchers and practitioners interested in storytelling and change in individuals, groups and organizations. It will take the form of a number of relatively brief presentations from a mixture of experienced and youthful researchers. Each presentation will be followed by a Q & A session. Further opportunities for informal discussions and for networking with other participants will be available during scheduled breaks for morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea.

Research on stories in organizations, together with cognate terms such as narratives, anecdotes, accounts, tales, myths, fantasies, and sagas has burgeoned in recent years as the linguistic turn has played out in organization studies. Concomitantly, theoretical and empirical investigations of issues centred on stability/change at levels ranging from the individual to the group, institution, industry and society have continued to be significant preoccupations. This seminar focuses on the confluence of these two streams of research.
In particular, we are hoping to explore in a reflexive manner the ways in which storytelling

  1. assists in the analysis of organizational change;
  2. helps construct change phenomena;
  3. sustains or inhibits change through different constructions; and
  4. deepens our understanding of aspects of change.

Core issues and themes of the seminar

While storytelling is a topic of interest in disciplines as distinct as sociology, history, various branches of psychology and anthropology it has had a particular impact within organization studies (e.g., Czarniawska, 1997; Gabriel, 2000; Boje, 2001; Rhodes & Brown, 2005). Building on a shared interest in research assumptions that favour pluralism, relativism and subjectivity interest in storytelling has evolved from a focussed concern with stories as in vivo artefacts to an understanding that stories are implicated in all aspects of organizational life. Today, stories or narratives are recognized to be not only a form of data, but a theoretical lens, a methodological approach, and various combinations of these. The huge range of work available from those who collect stories from organizations, analyze organizations as storytelling systems, and conceptualize organization studies as a set of storytelling practices, is symptomatic and constitutive of narrative’s impact.

Change, in its many guises, is one major domain of organizational inquiry to which the attention of the storytelling community has occasionally been turned. There are reasonably substantial literatures that explain how stories facilitate processes of both individual and organizational change. For example, stories have been said to help people to envision future realities, provide scripts that permit people to understand and enact change, foster learning, and be key to various forms of individual and organizational development. Storytelling approaches have also been used to analyze how participants in change situations make sense of events and variously conform, question, distance themselves from, and thwart change efforts. This literature is far from monolithic. There is, for instance, a distinction to be made between those who see stories as means for accomplishing change, and those who understand ‘change’ to be constituted by alterations in the storylines that dominate an organization. There are considerable variations in the extent to which such studies are reflexively told, the degree of agency ascribed to actors, and the level of sophistication with which these tales of change are sensitive to issues of hegemony, surveillance, control, and resistance.

References

  • Boje , D.M. (2001) Narrative Methods for Organizational and Communication Research, London: Sage.
  • Czarniawska , B. (1997) Narrating the organization , dramas of institutional identity. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Gabriel , Y. (2000) Storytelling in organizations , facts , fictions , and fantasies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Rhodes , C. & Brown , A.D. (2005). Narrative , organizations and research.International Journal of Management Reviews, 7 (3) 167-188.