COM 270
Introduction to Theories of Human Communication

Lecture 19: Narrative Theory


A. "Narrative Theory" is a collection of different theories that explain how stories, and the telling of stories, structure and shape our perceptions of the world around us.

B. According to Narrative Theory:

1. Human beings are, by nature, story-telling animals and thus stories are present in all cultures (Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study of Moral Theory, 1981).

2. Stories are one of the primary ways we construct reality -- we understand and make our world meaningful through stories (Walter Fisher, Narration As a Human Communication Paradigm, 1984).

3. Stories are the primary means by which cultures inform members about important aspects of the culture -- e.g., attitudes, values, beliefs, practices, rites and rituals (Pacanowsky, Creating and Narrating Organizational Realities, 1989).

4. Stories take different forms. Some types of stories include:


1. Anecdote: an account of some happening, usually personal or biographical.

2. Parable: a fictitious story meant to teach a moral lesson (e.g., Bird In Cow Pie)

3. Myth: a story of unknown authorship, believed to have a historical basis, which explains some phenomenon of nature (e.g., Origin of "Coconut Island").


B. Stories cover every aspect of our everyday life, and are the windows to understanding and explaining human behaviors and actions.


A. We make decisions on the basis of "good reasons."

B. "Good reasons" have more to do with telling a compelling story than it does with providing evidence or constructing a logical argument.

C. The compelling nature of a story is determined by the coherence and fidelity of the story.

1. Coherence -- does the sequence of events in the story make sense? That is, is the story free from inconsistencies and contradictions?

2. Fidelity -- how truthful does the story appear to be? That is, how probable is it that the sequence of events in the story occurred as they did?

D. The more coherence and fidelity a story possesses, the more likely it is to provide a "good reason" for doing (or not doing) something.

E. When people are faced with an equivocal situation -- that is, one that can be explained or made meaningul in different ways -- they rely on stories with coherence and fidelity to help them decide how best to make sense of the confusing situation.

Boxed Example:

Many observers of the Casey Anthony murder trial believe that the reason Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her 3 year old daughter, Cayless, is because jurors could not present the jurors with an evidence-based story that explained how and why Casey Anthony killed her daughter. Go to the link provided and identify the story that the prosecution attempted to create using the computer searches for "chloroform." How did the defense use that same evidence to provide an alternative story that supported Casey's innocence?








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