Seminar 15

“Talking about the weather, where do we go? – a seminar about stories in use”

Oct. 30, 31, Amsterdam, VU University

Organized by the Department of Culture, Organization and Management


  • Thierry Boudès, European School of Management – ESCP – EAP. Paris
  • Lucia Garcia-Lorenzo, London School of Economics
  • Melissa-Sevasti Nolas, UCL & Anna Freud Centre
  • Gerard de Zeeuw, University of Lincoln
  • Suzanne Tesselaar, VU University, Amsterdam)
  • David Sims, City University London
  • Patricia Aelbrecht, Abo Academy, Finland / Free Univ. Of Brussels
  • Hanneke Duijnhoven, VU University, Amsterdam
  • Daniel Doherty, University of Bristol
  • Tom De Schryver, Priscella Schouten, VU University, Amsterdam

Background to the topic:
Story in organizations is seen as a process, as a moment in time which evolves, revolves and is forever in motion. Whether in a flow, in peaks or in a hype, depending on the state of change an organization or its organizational member, is in. This dynamic process of story is taking place in the informal organization. This conference endevours to make this invisible process, visible in the formal organization , thus focusing on using stories for the purpose of research, management and the organization of processes.

Conference Theme
Storytelling in ‘in’. In governmental organisations perpetual changes seems to become the core business of the last couple of years. In these challenging times for health care, education and services for example, storytelling seems to enable people to express and contextualize their frustrations, wishes, dreams and suggestions for improving their work and their work place. In business organizations, stories have almost developed into hype when it comes to communication and marketing of products and management. Consequently, organizational consultants and change consultants have adopted storytelling as a qualitative tool for analysis of work contexts. Stories are used as a representation of the form / shape in which, for instance, the culture of an organization, or an organizational unit, can be made visible. During the past decades, academics, are looking at storytelling as method of analysis of the discursive practices that serve sense making and radiate assumptions, the tacit sense making markers to visualize and rationalize processes in organizational life. These tree levels on which storytelling seems to enjoy a booming interest, inspired us to reflect upon some of the questions that come to mind when using storytelling as both an analytical, as well as a practical ‘tool’ for organizational development.
One way to look at the, always intertwined, interests of these three professional levels of using storytelling, is to look at the phases stories evolve from: being told, being heard, being recorded, transformed and put to use, or becoming published in one way or another (academic, public, popular). This process can be termed as the ‘digestive process of stories’ (Tesselaar e.a. 2008. During the process, choices are being made on both practical as well as ethical dimensions:

  • What steps can be taken (and to what gain and cost) to ‘edit’ a story so that it becomes ‘telling’ to others?
  • How to frame the story/s? What happens in the process of identification of story/s: the whole recording of a conversation, embedded stories in the course of social intercourse, conversations or snatches of conversation that reflect (or contradict) the organizations’ story?
  • What interests do stories serve between the academic and the consultant’s point of view – i.e. in the submerging and making story visible and subsequently used as a management tool?
  • To what extent can we view storytelling as an instrument of change if stories are gathered for analytical purposes?

We think it is high time to explicitly reflect on the ethical, practical and analytical questions that frame, steer, enable and sometimes hinder the ‘use’ of storytelling in the context of organizational life. Does consultancy distort storytelling into some popular-managerial tool? Are academics too precise and conscious, so that some stories will never be told out in the open, and other stories never be recognisable as such? How bad is it when a personnel department publishes the stories that came out of a change project?
In the seminar we created an open discussion about the different perspectives we choose to ‘handle’ stories in organizational contexts and beyond. We found a lot of group contributions to the different levels, or phases, stories pass while being made usable for analysis and consultancy. In other words: when using stories, what directions do we take, for what purposes (if not our own) and what consequences arise from that ‘use’?

VU University, Amsterdam: department of Culture, Organization and Management.
The hosting department (COM, or organizational anthropology) has gained some reputation in the field of organizational analysis through the study of discourse and discursive practices. It hosted the biannual ‘International Conference on Organizational Discourse’ in the years 2004 and 2006. It’s research programme CUCON (Cultural Change in Organizational Networks) explicitly focuses on the inclusion of discourse analysis as an inextricable approach to the study of organizational change and culture in and between organizations.


30 October 2008

09.00-09.30 hours Registration
09.30 hours

Welcome by Ida Sabelis & Suzanne Tesselaar,
Introduction by Yiannis Gabriel

10.15-11.00 hours“Tracing narrative approaches in entrepreneurship research” Chris Steyaert, Universitat St. Gallen
Karen Verduyn, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

11.00-11.15 hours Coffee break
11.15-12.00 hours
“The role of lists in the digestive process of stories – insights from a community of practice”. Thierry Boudès (European School of Management – ESCP – EAP. Paris)

12.00-12.30 hours Discussion
12.30-13.30 hours Lunch
13.30-14.15 hours“Generating storytelling knowledge from (lion) tamers, spin doctors and psychological healers”. Lucia Garcia-Lorenzo (London School of Economics), Melissa-Sevasti Nolas (UCL & Anna Freud Centre), and Gerard de Zeeuw (University of Lincoln).

14.15-15.00 hours“Co-Producing Stories”, Simon Down (KITE – Newscastle University Business School)

15.00-15.15 hours Tea break 15.15-16.00 hours“Ruminating stories”, Suzanne Tesselaar (COM, VU University, Amsterdam)

16.00-16.45 hoursWrap up of first day – new input: David Sims, City University, UK.

17.00 hoursMetro to Nieuwmarkt (restaurant and guided tour)

17.30-19.00 hoursGuided tour with special theme by Fiza Ahmed
20.00-22.00 hours Dinner at “De Waag”

31 October 2008

09.30–10.15 hours
“Le „Grand Voyage‟: dream, breakaway and freedom
The experience, the told experience and the experience economy”, Patricia Aelbrecht (Abo Academy, Finland / Free Univ. Of Brussels, Belgium)

10.15-11.00 hours“The ticket inspector narrates”, Hanneke Duijnhoven (VU University, Amsterdam)

11.00-11.15 hours Coffee break
11.15-12.00 hours“Storytelling in the continuous M & A process with ABN-AMRO”, Tom de Schryver, Priscella Schouten (VU University, Amsterdam)

12.00-13.30 hours Lunch
13.30 -14.30 hoursReflection on the conference theme & creative input by Suzanne Tesselaar and Annet Scheringa:
“Stories of Organization”

14.30-15.00 hoursWrap up of the seminar : Yiannis Gabriel, leading into discussion: methods of storytelling – overlap and differences – options for publication. Introduction to the next Storytelling Seminar “Stories about gender and sexuality”, to be organized by Marianna Fotaki from Manchester University and Nancy Harding from Bradford.

15.00-16.30 hours Tea / drinks and good bye