chapter  3
Action, Motivation, and Moral Outcome
Pages 21

Picture an island and imagine how your perspective of it changes as you move from point to point along the shore. Each new angle of view enables you to see some things and obscures others. In this book, we use the metaphor of angles to establish different interpretative viewpoints on narratives. We establish six such viewpoints, which are part of what in the last chapter we termed an “open architecture” for organizational narratology. In this chapter we explore the angle of action, motivation, and moral outcome. These seem a natural starting place since they are so integral to an understanding of narratives, and also because all three are invoked whenever issues of responsibility and accountability arise in organizations, which is to say, nearly all the time. We begin with action because action is continuous and multifaceted. If the story is not advancing (through the introduction of new action) it is withering (Randall & McKim, 2008). At any moment, anything can become a Barthesian (1996) cardinal function and drive the story in a new direction. When anything can account for direction in a story, observers of narratives look for details and watch the story unfold. As we develop each of the angles we will be concerned with in this book, we tell

stories that illuminate important points along the way. To avoid a routine protocol, stories are offered at different places in chapters and will differ in length and style. In this chapter we relate a story about the rocky beginning and endings of a United States senator’s service on a presidential commission during the 1960s. After telling it, we lay out a series of analytic features of action, motivation, and moral outcome that both help to explain the story and illuminate action concepts related to narrative. After telling and analyzing the Fred Harris-Lyndon Johnson story, we turn to a broader review of the concepts of action, motivation, and moral outcome in narratology as they affect people in day-to-day circumstances. Our chapter ends with a story that shows how the concepts of action, motivation, and moral outcome are fused in

making an explanation. The tie between the angle of action, motivation, and moral outcome and the application of explanation is that explanation always occurs after action has been taken and generally involves citing reasons for what people did (i.e., motivation). Explanations are usually called for when the moral status of actions is questionable. The explanation in this case is about the inconceivably high cost of medical care in a Texas city, and the heroic research efforts of an outsider who brought it to light.