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Thinking big with small stories in narrative and identity analysis - page 4 / 9

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Stories in narrative and identity

The point is that narrative analysts are increasingly having their say about the who and the what of narrative, through a reaffirmed belief in the importance of the communicative how for identity analysis (e.g., chapters in De Fina, Schiffrin & Bamberg, 2006): In other words, that it is in the details of talk (including storytelling) that identities can be inflected, reworked, and more or less variably and subtly invoked (see chapters in Antaki & Widdicombe, 1998).

The issues in this much needed synergy between narrative analysis and narrative inquiry regarding narrative and identities have got more to do with what is seen as narrative and as narrative data and less to do with questions of method, theories of self, and differences in analysis. While it is of course on the basis of the latter that the former are decided upon, prioritised, silenced or under-represented, it is also the case that specific narrative data feed back into specific assumptions about the self and specific analytical ways, as I will argue below.  

Small stories in place

In my work, I have begun to tackle each of the above questions on the basis of small stories and through fine-grained analysis – charting their ways of telling and studying the identity work that their tellers engage in, while also re-thinking the mainstay analytic vocabulary (Georgakopoulou 2002, 2005a, 2006a, b). In the space of this paper, I will try to flesh out small stories and sketch a “grand vision” for them: as being part of the main agenda of narrative research and as being integrally connected with issues of self that matter to narrative research, be it of the narrative analysis or of the narrative inquiry kind.

The significance of small stories as talk-in-interaction and as social practice became apparent to me in the course of an ethnographic study of a group of female adolescents in a small town in Greece, which I embarked on in 1998. Small stories as the narrative data in the participants’ self-recorded conversations that resisted easy categorizations were part of socialization settings (cafés, parks, benches etc.) outside school that formed at that point in their lives crucial sites of subjectivity. As I have shown elsewhere (2003a), small stories were thus intimately linked with the town’s topography as socio-symbolic semiosis: they were social activities habitually associated with sites of engagement (Scollon & Scollon 2004, p 28) that is, socio-cultural spheres for semiotic activity in real time that come with differential degrees of regulation, accessibility, and participation, but also with expectations and norms about what is licensed or not. In this way, the small stories’ interactional features were both constituted by and constituting their sites of engagement as culturally shaped (and in this case, genderized and constraining) liminal spaces.

Small stories were mostly about very recent (‘this morning’, ‘last night’) events. I called these immediately reworked slices of life that arose out of a need to share with friends what had just happened ‘breaking news’: a term that aimed at capturing their dynamic and ongoing nature. Since then, my research has shown that breaking news are salient and powerful narrative meaning-making ways in mediated interactions too (e.g., on email, Georgakopoulou, 2004) or when the participants have a range of mediational tools (e.g., text-messaging) at their disposal alongside face-to-face communication. This is the case in the conversations of adolescents in the classroom and in the playground of a London comprehensive school that I am currently researching with colleagues.2 A routine activity in the data involves small stories of very recent mediated interactions (mostly mobile phone

2 Project on Urban Classroom Culture and Interaction as part of the ESRC Identities and Social Action Programme, http://www.identities.org.uk

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