Seminar 13


To be held at Royal Holloway, University of London, Friday 14 March 2008,
10 – 5:30, Kingswood Campus

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.


  • Yiannis Gabriel, Royal Holloway, University of London


  • Dr Majella OLeary, University of Exeter
  • Dr Dorota J. Bourne, Queen Mary College, University of London
  • Professor Yiannis Gabriel, 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 9th year, the seminar has received 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 how to generate stories as part of a social research agenda. 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

  • Dr Majella OLeary, University of Exeter

“Eliciting compelling stories”

This session will focus on how stories are generated as part of a social research strategy. Eliciting compelling stories is not a simple task as peoples storytelling ability differs substantially, stories may be too painful to tell, or people may simply feel that their experiences lack satisfactory interest to warrant a story. The questions, which researchers can use to encourage narrators to say more about their experiences, will be discussed along with techniques, which emphasise receiving and listening rather than interrogation. Particular attention will be given to the Biographical-Interpretative Method (Schutze 1992, Rosenthal 1993).

Majella is a Lecturer in Management at the University of Exeter. Her current research interests include organizational storytelling, organizational cynicism, moral scandals, and philanthropy. She has published on these topics in journals such as Human Relations, Journal of Management Inquiry, Journal of Business Ethics, Business Ethics: A European Review, and Legal Ethics.

Session 2

  • Dr Dorota J. Bourne, Queen Mary, University of London

“Storytelling and critical incident technique”

In this presentation we explore storytelling as an element leading to the critical incident technique (Flanagan, 1954) and further to the Repertory Grid interview (Jankowicz, 2004). The combination of these methods can be used in order to conduct a deep exploration of organisational cultures and values embedded in them. Critical incidents identified through storytelling can be used as elements, which have the advantage of being meaningful and understood by the interviewee since they were supplied by the interviewee him or herself. Once the incidents have been identified the Repertory Grid provides a way of teasing out the meaning and providing verbal labels for the constructs and values of individuals as well as groups.

Dorota lectures Organisational Behaviour and Theories of Management modules in the School of Business and Management. In her past research projects she explored the process of knowledge management in General Motors and Total Quality Management (TQM) at international level in car manufacture. She is keen to combine various research methods in her work. She often uses ethnographic methodology in conjunction with tools derived from Personal Construct Psychology (PCP) e.g. the Repertory Grid. In her current research she is exploring a methodology based on PCP tools combined with Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). Her current research is on leadership and power relations, career choice and gender.

  • Flanagan, J. C. (1954) The Critical Incident Technique. Psychological Bulletin, 51, 237-258.
  • Jankowicz, D. (2004) The Easy Guide to Repertory Grids. Wiley

Session 3

  • Professor Yiannis Gabriel, Royal Holloway University of London

“Using metaphors to generate stories in social research”

Metaphors have become one of the most widely discussed topics in relation to social and organizational life. Their cognitive, emotional and analytic qualities have been extensively discussed. What is less widely explored is the relation between metaphor and story. Story is usually linked to narrative while metaphor is linked to rhetoric. Both, however, require a certain flight of imagination above the literal and the factual. This is what makes metaphor a fruitful aid for the researcher collecting stories and narrative. This theme will be further explored in the seminar.

Yiannis 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. He has been editor of Management Learning and associate editor of Human Relations. His enduring fascination as a researcher lies in what he describes as the unmanageable qualities of life in and out of organizations.

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.