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The situated production of stories.

Greatbatch, D. and Clark, T. (2010) 'The situated production of stories.', in Organisation, Interaction and Practice: Studies of Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 96-118.


At a general level storytelling is a pervasive feature of everyday discourse both within and outside organisations. Existing research on organisational stories indicates that they are not simply frivolous diversions that seek to amaze and entertain the recipients. Rather they may serve a number of important functions for organisations, which include socialising new organisational members by articulating the culture of an organisation; assisting with the development and verbalisation of visions and strategies; helping develop points of similarity within disparate and dispersed organisational groups; sustaining and legitimating existing power relationships as well as providing opportunities for resistance against them; and acting as collective organisational memory systems (Boje 1991, 1995, 2001; Boyce 1995; B. Clark 1972; Gabriel 1991, 1995; Moeran 2007; Mumby 1987; Wilkins 1983). Whilst previous studies have produced important insights into various aspects of storytelling within organisations, a common failing has been their focus on the analysis of textual recordings of stories rather than an examination of their in situ production. It has generally been assumed that a story’s original meaning and purpose, as conveyed when it was initially told, is apparent from an analysis of a textual record of this event. With notable exceptions (e.g. Boje 1991, 1995, 2001), storytelling has not been viewed as a situated communicative act. This is surprising given that, as David Boje (2001) demonstrates, studying storytelling episodes as situated communicative acts, which are shaped not only by storytellers but also by story recipients, is critical to understanding their form, function and reception. In this chapter we show how conversation analysis can be used to study storytelling as a situated communicative act and to shed light on how the performative impact of stories may vary significantly when they are told on different occasions. This involves a comparative analysis of two storytelling episodes in which a speaker tells the same story to two different audiences. The speaker, Daniel Goleman, is a highly successful presenter on the international management lecture circuit and one of an elite group of management speakers referred to as management gurus. Management gurus are purveyors of influential management ideas such as ‘excellence’, ‘culture change’, ‘learning organisation’, ‘business process re-engineering’ and, in the case of Daniel Goleman, ‘emotional intelligence’. In addition to writing best-selling management books they disseminate their ideas in live presentations to audiences of managers around the world (Huczynski 1993; Jackson 2001; T. Clark and Salaman 1996, 1998). As perhaps the highestprofile group of management speakers in the world, they use their lectures to build their personal reputations with audiences of managers. Many gain reputations as powerful orators and subsequently market recordings of their talks as parts of audio- and DVD/web-based management training packages. A key element of their success is seen as the stories they tell (T. Clark and Salaman 1998; Huczynski 1993). Stories therefore help build and sustain their reputations with audiences well beyond the initial popularity of a book. The storytelling episodes analysed in the present chapter are drawn from two commercially available video recordings of lectures given by Goleman. The chapter begins with a brief review of the literature on storytelling in organisations. It then shows, through a comparative analysis of two occasions on which Goleman tells the same story, how stories are shaped with respect to and by the interaction between the speakers and audience members and how their meaning and performative impact may vary significantly when they are told on different occasions. The analysis builds on our previous conversation analytic research on speaker–audience interaction in the context of both management and political oratory (Greatbatch and Clark 2002, 2003, 2005; Heritage and Greatbatch 1986). The chapter concludes by drawing out some of the theoretical, methodological and substantive implications of this approach for research on stories in management and organisation studies.

Item Type:Book chapter
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Publisher statement:© Cambridge University Press 2010
Record Created:23 May 2011 14:35
Last Modified:09 Dec 2014 12:02

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