chapter  9
Representing Narrative Realities
Pages 15

Throughout this book, we have advocated a wide latitude in what counts as a story and we have aligned ourselves with a democratic theory of narratives. According to this theory, anyone can tell a story and anyone can critique one (Fisher, 1987). It seldom matters whether two stories are compatible or, if not, which of two tellings is true. The six angles for narrative appreciation we have explained are all part of what we term an “open architecture” for organizational narratology. Our intention has been to lay down some premises about narratives and how they may be interpreted and used that leaves ample room for augmentation. The angles are vantage points from which to enlarge and deepen understanding and appreciation of narratives in our work lives. In this last chapter, we confront a complication for the democratic theory of

narratives. Even though it works nearly all the time for people who utilize and work with narratives to accept a wide range of narratives and to accept that different narrators tell different versions of the truth, not all situations allow for this open, democratic, flexible, polyvocal approach. Organization members and leaders base significant and consequential decisions on narrative data, and they are often obligated to have the same understanding and interpretation of what went on in a particular set of circumstances. The significance of narrative data lies not just in their richness and near-universal availability, but in the fact that they are the same kind of data that organizational members use to plan, enact, interpret, and evaluate their own actions and those of others. As Weick argues, “Most organizational realities are based on narrative” (1995, p. 127). Thus, when we analyze narratives, we are starting with raw material that is central to the cognitive and cultural world of our subjects (Polkinghorne, 1995; Pentland, 1999). Because narratives are so overwhelmingly

involved in determining what happens in organizations, members are justifiably concerned about the truthfulness-the verisimilitude-of narratives. Sometimes two or more narratives clash and only one of them can be approved as the best representation of what actually happened. Some authority, such as the court system, determines what is taken for the truth. Oppositional narratives, such as the stories offered by competing sides in a court case, require adjudication and a judgment about which of them is taken to be true (Bruner, 2002). In the court system, as in other narrative contexts, the point of view of the narrative is a major part of its truthfulness. The issue for this chapter is how to reconcile our open, democratic ideals about narrative with the necessity, on at least some occasions, to select from among competing narratives on the basis of their truth. In what follows, we address the contingent and mercurial nature of narratives by

analyzing their point of view and verisimilitude. We close by taking account of the implications of our approach for narrative research.