Uploaded by Farrin Moreno

Narrative Theory Study Notes

Narrative Theory
Paradigmatic Assumptions
Narrative theory (NT) is in the interpretive paradigm. (Littlejohn, Foss, & Oetzel, 2017,
p. 28).
It’s focused on understanding the fundamental nature of the social world as it manifests at
the level of subjective experience. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 29).
Ontology (Nature of reality)
It has a nominalist ontology because it believes humans help create the world from
within. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 26)
According to NT, reality is created through identification, not deliberation. (Littlejohn,
Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 9).
Epistemology (Nature of Knowledge)
NT has an anti-positivism epistemology because it rejects the possibility of universal
laws and instead suggests that the world can only be known through the standpoints of
participants. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 26).
In NT, knowledge is a process attained through interpersonal communication and an
individual's internal interpretation of such interactions. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p.
Axiology (Nature of value)
Research on NT occurs through ideographic inquiry as it focuses on the subjective
viewpoint of its subjects. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 27).
To truly comprehend an area of study, researchers must become immersed in the
experience being investigated. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 11).
What is it?
NT addresses how society is created and maintained through repeated interactions among
individuals. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 348).
Narratives are a key facet of life. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 348).
Walter Fisher described people as homo narrans or inherent storytellers. (Littlejohn, Foss,
Oetzel 2017, p. 348).
Humans tell stories about a wide range of topics and situations. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel
2017, p. 348).
Narratives include elements about heroes, villains, and victims along with a plot that
unfolds. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 348).
Health narratives paint pictures of what it means to be healthy or ill and the consequences
of illness and health. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 348).
Narrative Rationality Narrative rationality is different from traditional rationality and is
determined by narrative probability and narrative fidelity. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p.
Narrative Probability Narrative probability has to do with whether the narration offered is a
coherent story, characters behave in consistent ways, plots unfold in understandable sequences,
and the narrative makes sense as one way to understand and explain the world. (Littlejohn, Foss,
Oetzel 2017, p. 348).
Narrative Fidelity
Narrative fidelity the story told rings true with the stories already accepted as true.
(Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 348).
Walter Fisher suggests identification, not deliberation, is the hallmark of
meaning-creation in the narrative paradigm; the communicator and the audience are
equally active in co-constructing a shared story that makes sense to them by identifying
together the “good reasons” for that interpretation. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 348).
NT is descriptive rather than normative since one does not need to use argumentative
processes or assess an argument by particular standards of logic; instead, in the narrative
paradigm, understanding is the goal. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 348).
Does a story make sense as an interpretation of a particular event or experience?
(Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 348).
Within the narrative paradigm, then, rhetoric consists of a vast array of stories—some
competing, some affirming; all of which offer various “truths” about the human
condition. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 348).
Narrative Functions (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 349).
Narratives are used as a sense-making process.
o Narratives help participants create meaning and help explain uncertain
o Usually, this sense-making process is done retrospectively as people
retell the story
Narrative is a means of asserting control.
o Narratives can help people reassert control in their lives.
Narrative transforms identities
o Narratives can repair and recreate their identities
o Some health conditions result in changes in self-perception and
changes in roles (caregiver to care receiver).
o Stories allow the storyteller to understand the altered situation and
come to know one’s new role
Narratives warrant decisions by indicating certain choices and
o Narratives display the values and beliefs of the storytellers, which help
the storyteller figure out the right course of action
o Listening to others’ stories also reveals the consequences of certain
Narrative builds community
o People who have experienced the same health challenges often feel a
sense of kinship.
o They know that there are others who understand what they have gone
through and how it has affected their lives.
o The stories they tell each other help to reinforce this common
perspective and help them learn from each other.
o The commonality that develops from storytelling is one reason why
support groups are so important for people.
Narrative helps to humanize health care
Key Points
Narratives function in diverse and important ways to provide insights into ourselves, our
decisions about health and illness, and our health care. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p.
Stories are what enable us to make sense of, frame, and share our experiences of health
with others. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 349).
Historical Context & Development of the Theory
NT has deep seated rhetorical roots in Kenneth Burke’s theory of Dramatism.
In the 1980’s Walter Fisher introduced the narrative paradigm to the communication
discipline, an overarching theory that characterizes most of human communication as
narrative. (Sharf, 2014).
In 1990, Barbara Sharf employed the first fully developed narrative approach to health
communication with a theoretical framework. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 349).
Lynn Harter and sharf described how narrative operates and functions in health and
illness. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 349).
NT provides an understanding for how people make sense of the world, their actions and
those of others in the form of stories. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 348).
It complimented other theories of rhetoric in communication to provide a broader
understanding of the phenomenon including the various truths about the human
condition. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 348).
NT doesn’t perceive any social reality beyond the one that humans create with their
interpretations and for that reason it denies explaining society on a more general level.
(Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 348)
NT pictures meaning as something emerging by itself during interaction under a certain
condition. It doesn’t take into account the basic social context in which the interaction is
positioned. (Littlejohn, Foss, Oetzel 2017, p. 349).