Mandelbaum (2017)

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The Language and Social Interaction Working Group (LANSI)

How to Do Things with Stories: Storytelling as Action

Dr. Jenny Mandelbaum

Department of Communication, Rutgers University


*Due to technical issues, a section of the recording at 34:41 is missing. We apologize for this inconvenience.

Stories told in conversation are both designed by tellers to implement some kind of action and understood by recipients to be “doing” something.  Interactants use stories to deploy a variety of actions - some comparatively clear and straightforward, such as complaining, blaming, etc., and others more subtle and complicated, such as “indicating what we should have done in that situation”, or “showing how much you used to love your mother compared with how you treat her now.”   Prior research has examined various steps in the telling of a story.  These include the pre-beginning, the launch of the storytelling, various points in its course (e.g., the introduction of a new character or location or some element of background), and its possible completion and post-completion.  This presentation uses the methods of conversation analysis to examine (1) how tellers may use each of these steps to develop a course of action, and (2) how story recipients may co-participate in the development of this action, or resist or derail it.  Following a brief, data-based introduction to detecting basic practices of both talk and the body for implementing actions in storytellings and responding to them, we examine a collection of storytellings in video-recordings of naturally occurring interaction among families and friends. We will explore practices that storytellers use to design a storytelling so as to enact a particular action or actions at various points of a storytelling (when the story is brought to the floor, in its course, and in the return to turn-by-turn talk), and practices recipients use to co-construct, resist or obstruct that action at each of these points.   We will examine some techniques that are designed to implement clear focal actions, and others that may be designed to implement somewhat more “covert” actions.  We consider implications of these findings for how we think about both storytelling and the interactive construction of action.
Jenny Mandelbaum is Professor of Communication at the School of Communication and Information, Rutgers University. She uses Conversation Analysis to examine how a variety of aspects of the organization of interaction pertain to social relationships and identities. Her work focuses on the everyday lives of families. Her published work includes studies of storytelling, repair organization, the management of social knowledge (epistemics), and the implementation and consequences of such actions as recruiting assistance from others, requesting, offering, assessing, and complaining.



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