Seminar 11

Organizational Storytelling Seminar 11 took place at Royal Holloway College, University of London, 16th March 2007.

The Ethics And Politics Of Doing Research Using Stories



Yiannis Gabriel
 and Steve Brown, Royal Holloway, University of London


  • Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Health Care, University College London
  • Dr Helen Kara, “We Research It Ltd”
  • Yiannis Gabriel, Professor of Organizational Theory, Royal Holloway, University of London

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 7th year, the seminar receives funding from the ESRC. Earlier seminars have taken place in a variety of academic institutions including Imperial College, University of Exeter, University College Cork, City University 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 40 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. One highly successful such event was held in May 2006 at the University of Southampton in which several experienced researchers encouraged and assisted PhD students in their research activities. This upcoming seminar is likewise aimed predominantly at PhD students, but we will be happy to accommodate also experienced researchers who use stories as part of the research methodology and practitioners interested in these issues.

Responding to numerous queries and questions, the organizers have decided to focus it on ethical and political issues raised by the use of stories in organizational research. Some of the issues that will be debated will include:

  • What moral issues are raised by appropriating and ‘using’ stories of potentially vulnerable or oppressed people?
  • How can the researcher simultaneously honour and question the story that he/she has heard?
  • How can the researcher deal with the anxieties and potentially distressing emotions that storytelling can unleash?
  • How can the researcher receive support for his/her own anxieties in handling the stories of different respondents?
  • How does the researcher respect the confidentiality of the respondent and how can stories be reported without compromising the position of the storytellers?
  • How is the researcher to handle the stories of vulnerable people (like those who are sick, destitute or exploited) and how to counter-pose them to those of the powerful and wealthy?

The seminar will encourage all participants, irrespective of their experience and expertise, to discuss and develop scholarship in these areas that are crucial to organizational research.

One of the ways in which the issues surrounding ethics and storytelling were discussed was to borrow from Japanese poetry the concept of the ‘Renga’ form, in which a poem is co-created by each poet adding a stanza to an ongoing poem. The participants at the seminar agreed to exploit this concept through the co-creation of a story about ethical dimensions to storytelling research, to which they would each contribute a section.