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Review of  Narrative Interaction

Reviewer: Olga Levitski
Book Title: Narrative Interaction
Book Author: Uta M Quasthoff Tabea Becker
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): English
Greek, Modern
Issue Number: 16.3039

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Date: Mon, 17 Oct 2005 23:24:17 -0400
From: Olga Levitski
Subject: Narrative Interaction

EDITORS: Quasthoff, Uta M.; Becker, Tabea
TITLE: Narrative Interaction
SERIES: Studies in Narrative 5
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2005

Olga Levitski, Department of Linguistics, York University, Toronto, Canada.


This book comprises studies on narrative as a prototypical form of human
communication. The book introduces various approaches to narratives. It
deals with both theoretical and empirical issues. The book is a valuable
addition to the constantly growing body of narrative research. The volume
offers a multidimensional approach to the narrative in its diversity,
created by interactional reality in the various languages and contexts.
The volume focuses on narration as a contextualized and contextualizing
activity, which allocates to the participants the roles of a narrator, co-
narrator, and listener. The presented articles are oriented towards
functional and interactive perspective on oral narrating in face-to-face
interaction, which should be distinguished from written or literary story-
telling. While most of the research is focused on the prototype narrative,
the present collection emphasizes the fact that this type of narrative is
not very frequent in everyday conversation. The value of this volume is in
that the data come from both everyday and institutional interactions.


The book is organized in three parts. Following a brief introductory
chapter, Part I, Acquiring the world through narrative interaction,
consists of four chapters that explore the various aspects of narrative
interactions among young children and adolescents. Part II, The co-
construction of narratives, consists of three chapters that investigate
the role the narratives play in construction and representation of
personal and professional experience, focusing on their collaborative
dimension. Part III, Retold stories, consists of four chapters, which
examine shared narratives that shape and transform collective experiences
and memories in both personal and institutional domains.

Chapter 1. Introduction: Tabea Becker and Uta M. Quasthoff, Different
dimensions in the field of narrative interaction, pp. 1-11.
This chapter introduces the aims of the presented studies, their
theoretical and methodological background, and theoretical framework. It
can serve as a starting point to anyone interested in narrative
interaction, providing a thorough review of the recent literature on
narratives, its critical evaluation, and outline for prospective studies.
This chapter is theoretical in focus. The authors attempt to systematize
the field of narrative research by proposing a model that differentiates
between the various concepts of narrative. The proposed model reconciles
micro- and macro-structural approaches to narratives, and demonstrates the
importance of considering both approaches in conjunction and not in
dichotomy. The authors point out that most of the narrative research is
shifted towards one of the extremes of their model, focussing on either
basic research into narrative or its cultural semiotic extension. However,
the authors argue that two concepts of narratives are intertwined, and the
micro-structural research on narratives can shed light on macro-structural
societal mechanisms and processes.

Part I. Acquiring the world through narrative interaction
Chapter 2. Friederike Kern and Uta M. Quasthoff, Fantasy stories and
conversational narratives of personal experience: Genre-specific,
interactional and developmental perspectives, pp. 15-56.
This chapter contrasts different narrative genres in child-adult
interaction, showing how both narrator and listener follow genre-specific
narrative patterns. It explores the process of acquisition of narrative
skills by children. It shows how the adults provide dialogic support,
helping children acquire the skills required for successful completion of
a story-telling task. The results of the study can be interpreted from a
genre-specific and interactional point of view, which are mutually
related. The genre-specific requirements lead to particular interactional
moves by the participants. Sequential organization of a narrative
interaction based on a personal experience is similar to that based on the
fantasy stories only when listeners play an active role in the
interaction. Without the listener's interactive support, there are clear
differences in the two narrative genres.

Chapter 3. Richard Sohmer and Sarah Michaels, The "Two-Puppies" Story: The
role of narrative in teaching and learning science, pp. 57-91.
This chapter is applied in focus. It studies narratives from the didactic
perspective. The authors show how the narratives used in a classroom help
students reorganize perception and develop scientific approach to the
subjects they narrate about. The narratives help students mediate between
the everyday reality and the abstract physical concepts, transforming
mysterious world of physics into the realm of familiar experience.
Students, who otherwise have difficulty in understanding complex concepts,
get a better grasp of science through narrating stories.

Chapter 4. Tabea Becker, The role of narrative interaction in narrative
development, pp. 93-111.
This chapter focuses on the development of textual structures. There are
several stages in the process of developing narrative structures, in which
only certain narrative genre, namely personal experience, is tied to an
interactional development, while others are not. The study uses the genres
of picture story, retold narrative, fantasy story and personal narrative.
It demonstrates that the different narrative genres reflect different
patterns and processes of acquisition. The study results in the model of
the developmental process of structuring personal experience. Since
children narrate personal experience in the context of conversations, they
rely on interactional resources. This process is different from narrating
fantasy stories, in which the participants draw on the previously known
narrative texts. Therefore, in studying the narrative development, it is
important to differentiate between the narrative genres.

Chapter 5. Rebecca Branner, Humorous disaster and success stories among
female adolescents in Germany, pp. 113-147.
This chapter examines humorous strategies and sociolinguistic functions of
girls' disaster and success stories. It shows how humour is linguistically
produced, and supports the view that it shapes the group culture. The data
presented in this chapter confirms the previous findings: similarly to the
adult women, adolescent girls frequently transform their misfortunes into
humorous narratives. Such psychologically difficult events as embarrassing
and dramatic episodes are retold in a humorous manner, which helps
distance the narrator and the listeners from the negative experience.
Similarly to the previous studies, the author finds that success stories
occur in conversations of female adolescents very infrequently.

Part II. The co-construction of narratives.
Chapter 6. Eszter Beran and Zsolt Unoka, Construction of self-narrative in
a psychotherapeutic setting: An analysis of the mutual determination of
narrative perspective taken by patient and therapist, pp. 151-167.
This chapter uses narratives for therapeutic purposes, showing how self-
identity is constructed through narratives in patient-therapist
interactions. The narratives here are used to unfold the patient's
biographical memory. This approach can be especially helpful while
treating patients with multiple personality disorders. Narrative
perspective in psychoanalytic sessions helps reveal the fact that the
various isolated self-states are constructed interactively, and are tied
to certain interacting partners. The use of the narrative perspective
during psychoanalytical sessions helps the patients unite their isolated
self-narratives, and to shift their self-perception.

Chapter 7. Vera John-Steiner, Christopher Shank and Teresa Meehan, The
role of metaphor in the narrative co-construction of collaborative
experience, pp. 169-195.
The authors of this chapter use a broader socio-semiotic approach to
narratives in studying professional and academic collaborative
experiences. Their analysis of discourse patterns and metaphors reveals
the dominance of conceptual schemas related to motion and journey. The
authors find gender differences in representation patterns in terms of
type, frequency, and distribution of metaphors used in conversations about
collaborative experiences. This analysis provides insights into the
visual, kinesthetic, and verbal modes of thought, showing how
collaborators progress with their thinking and develop ideas. The study
shows how inner thoughts become more substantial when they are
communicated to the research partners in the shared working space.

Chapter 8. Chiara Monzoni, The use of interjections in Italian
conversation: The participation of the audience in narratives, pp. 197-220.
This chapter is focused on how narratives are co-constructed by
interactants in spontaneous conversations. The author uses the
Conversation Analysis approach in order to study the distribution of
interactional roles: teller, co-teller, and recipient. The study shows
that these roles can change from those established at the beginning of the
telling, because they are constantly negotiated during the narrative
process. Story-telling is an activity in which all the interactants
equally participate and take active stances through the use of
interventions. The original text can be co-authored because the narrative
activity is collaborative. Therefore, in studying narratives, it is
important to take into account the speakers' roles in conversation.

Part III. Retold Stories.
Chapter 9. Alexandra Georgakopoulos, Same old story? On the interactional
dynamics of shared narratives, pp. 223-241.
This chapter deals with shared and familiar narratives found in informal
context in Greece. The author argues that the shared stories are different
from the prototypical personal story of past events in floor-bidding and
floor-holding arrangements. Three ways of initiating shared stories are
identified: elicitation, preface, and reference. They implicate three
points of continuum, from a full retelling to a mini-telling and quick
allusion. The choice of way of initiating the shared narrative depends on
the participants, who range from unknowing to those actively involved in
the local interactional reality. Narrating shared stories relates to the
local contexts, and suits local purposes. As such, the shared narratives
can be a source for studying the shared assumptions, process of
appropriation of collective experiences, and stylization.

Chapter 10. Jenny Cook-Gumperz, Institutional memories: the narrative
retelling of a professional life, pp. 243-261.
This chapter demonstrates how narratives can be used in order to study the
process of individual positioning towards institutions. Narratives in the
institutional context prove to be a powerful semiotic and social
instrument for displaying attitudes and values. Although narrative
retelling of a professional life reflects the collective institutional
memory, the narrator selects details and frames the events in a specific
way. During a narrative interaction, the shared memory is constructed. The
narrative bears traces of institutional thinking: the narrator's
classification and evaluation of the way his professional institution
functions comply with his professional role and identity in this very
institution. At the same time, the participation and empathy of the
audience constitute a very important aspect of the narrative interaction.

Chapter 11. Neal R. Norrick, Interaction in the telling and retelling of
interlaced stories: The co-construction of humorous narratives, pp. 263-
This chapter presents an applied "linguistic" approach to narratives,
revealing its role in the identity formation. It focuses on the
interaction of participants during the telling and retelling of interlaced
stories on marriage proposals. The study offers an opportunity to observe
how the tellers negotiate their interactive roles in the conversation, how
they decide where, when, and to which extent their perspective should be
introduced. The author offers a viewpoint on a process of narrative and
conversational accommodation of the speakers during the narration
of "practised" stories. This process is interactive, because the narrators
reconceptualize the retold events using the inputs they receive from the

Chapter 12. Susanne Günthner, Narrative reconstruction of past
experiences: Adjustments and modifications in the process of
recontextualizing a past experience, pp. 285-301.
This chapter explores the process of decontextualization of past
experience from its original perception to the new one, which is produced
in a communicative context. The analysis of the original interaction and
its different narrative reconstructions reveals the fact that the speaker
presents the past events in the different ways, adjusting them to the
communicative situation, communicative aims, and inputs received from the
participants. Complaint stories provide a particularly rich material for
narrative reconstructions, because they recontextualize past experience in
the socio-communicative present time. Narrating about past experience,
speakers highlight different details and aspects, and stylize the
antagonists in different ways. The study shows that narratives found in
everyday setting are dialogic and multivocal.


The book offers a unique perspective on narratives, which that bridges two
main approaches: linguistic and cultural-semiotic. The authors see
narrative as an interactive process, i.e., basic human activity, and its
product, the actual narrative text. The merit of this book is in combining
the micro, linguistic, level of analysis of particular narrative texts or
events, with the macro, socio-semiotic level. Bridging these two
approaches allows for studying the narratives in their social context, and
as a cognitive mechanism. In this collection of articles, narratives are
presented in a variety of forms, from stories told by the children aged 5-
6, to conversations of scientists.

As this collection demonstrates, narrative is an invaluable tool for
investigating the various social and psychological phenomena. The volume
shows that the narrative as a cognitive concept and narrative interaction
are intricately interwoven: studying narratives can shed light on the ways
the self is negotiated and understood in each particular interaction. As
shown in the articles by E. Beran & Z. Unoka, J. Cook-Gumperz, R. Branner
and S. Günthner, the narrative activity helps construct, shape and
maintain the reality. It also influences self-perception and identity
formation, because the self is fluid and socially constructed in each
particular interaction: "Identity is the product rather than the source of
linguistic and other semiotic practices and therefore is a social and
cultural rather than primarily internal psychological phenomenon."
(Bucholtz & Hall 2005: 585)

Narrative is multifunctional, i.e. it may serve as a mechanism for dealing
with painful episodes, but at the same time, it may reinforce the negative
past experiences. Therefore, understanding the cognitive mechanism of
reproducing the past events through talk can be especially helpful for
therapeutic purposes. In general, the reviewed volume offers a valuable
insight into the applied field of narrative research, for example, for
didactic purposes. In the articles by R. Sohmer & S. Michaels, and by V.
John-Steiner, C. Shank & T. Meehan, the narrative is understood as a mode
for clarifying meaning (Cazden & Hymes 1978).

Although it is impossible to embrace all the existing approaches to
narrative in one volume, the collection would have benefited from a
discourse analytical perspective, because language is a key mechanism of
cultural reproduction. (Ries, 1997)


Bucholtz, M. and Hall, K. (2005) Identity and Interaction: A sociocultural
linguistic approach. Discourse Studies 7(4-5): 585-614.

Cazden, C. and Hymes, D. (1978) Narrative thinking and story-telling
rights: a folklorist's clue to a critique of education. Keystone folklore
22(1-2): 21-35.

Ries, N. (1997) Russian talk: culture and conversation during Perestroika.
Ithaca, N.Y. and London: Cornell University Press.


Olga Levitski has a MA degree from St-Petersburg State University, where
she specialized in folklore, and MA in theoretical linguistics from York
University of Toronto. Her main interests are discourse analysis,
sociolinguistics, and folklore. At the moment she is working on
plurilingual codeswitching; this also involves fieldwork conducting
sociolinguistic interviews (data collection, transcription and analysis).