Narrative interaction

Narrative interaction. Ed. by Uta M. Quasthoff and Tabea Becker. (Studies in narrative 5.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2005. Pp. vi, 306. ISBN 9781588115539. $158 (Hb).

Reviewed by Yves Laberge, Université Laval, Canada

Narratives are everywhere, from testimonies and therapeutic discourses to fantasy stories and fairy tales for children. Even consultations with the family doctor usually begin with a narrative by the patient. This impressive volume investigates how these narratives are created, negotiated, and understood. Its contributors follow the theoretical trend that originated in Michael Bamberg and Molly Andrews’s excellent volume, Considering counter-narratives: Narrating, resisting, making sense (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2004), in which elements from conversation analysis are used to understand everyday narratives and interactions.

In Ch. 1, the editors state that ‘narration is a specific kind of function-bound verbal interaction, governed by contextualizing devices’ (1). In other words, narration is always a matter of context: it emerges from a context and produces its own context while being shaped and retold. After acknowledging that the term narrative has various meanings in the many disciplines in which it is used, the editors remind us that as a dynamic process, narratives often change—that is, ‘retelling a narrative also means reshaping it’ (9).

The contributors often take an interdisciplinary approach to narratives. In ‘The “two-puppies” story: The role of narrative in teaching and learning science’, Richard Sohmer and Sarah Michaels focus on students’ participation in after-school activities related to physics, and Rebecca Branner, in ‘Humorous disaster and success stories among female adolescents in Germany’, takes a sociolinguistic approach to narratives produced by a group of teenage girls. ‘The role of metaphor in the narrative co-construction of collaborative experience’, by Vera John-Steiner, Christopher Shank, and Teresa Meehan, ranks among the most insightful papers. The authors draw from Lev Vygotsky’s (Thought and language, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986) theory of the social grounding of language to define narrative as ‘the culturally given way of organizing and presenting discourse’ (173). Several of the contributors concentrate on the various ways of retelling a narrative. In ‘Interaction in the telling and retelling of interlaced stories: The co-construction of humorous narratives’, Neal R. Norrick explores how some people can create simplified or shorter versions of their personal stories. Additionally, several papers study conversation analysis in foreign languages, including German, Greek, Hungarian, and Italian.

This volume will benefit scholars in various fields, even those outside linguistics: researchers from communication studies to social psychology and education studies will profit from the knowledge in these papers. However, the title of the volume seems a bit vague and a little short. The first words on the back cover would have made an excellent subtitle: ‘Telling stories in conversations’.