David M. Boje
June 29, 1999
Purpose: To introduce you to the game playing among storytelling organizations (see Figure One below). The idea is to theorize organizations as storytelling systems where stories are the currency of exchange within and between them.
Antenarrative is defined as a bet on the future pattern, in (more or less) authentic scenario of event-space. It is also a before narrative that serves as a hypothesis of the trajectory of unfolding events that avoids the pitfalls of premature narrative closure (Boje, 2001a, 2007, 2008).
Antenarratives are being studied in four forms:
Storytelling organization writers, theorize people as collectively storying and then restorying their past, present, and future existence. They come at the topic from a variety of philosophical position s. Here, we will mention that Mary Boyce's (1995) work on storytelling organization work is based in social construction philosophy, Czarniawska's (1997) Narrating Organization bridges social construction with a Burkean scene-act ratio analysis, while my own storytelling organization work is based more in critical postmodern philosophy. It began as a mix of folklore and social construction and moved to more poststructuralist, critical theory, and postmodern epistemologies (myth in Boje, Fedor & Rowland, 1982; folklore and social construction in Boje, 1991; critical postmodern in Boje 1994,1995, 1998 to g, 1999; hegemony of storytelling in Boje, Luhman & Baack, 1999).
My interest in storytelling organizations grew out of a myth-making paper I did for Lou Pondy in 1976, that I redrafted with Fedor and Rowland (1982). The idea was that organizations are replete with competing ideologies and goals that result from the uncertainty pervading them. Myth making is an adaptive way groups in organizations sustain logics and shared meanings to make sense of events. Myths are ways to handle problematic aspects of modern organizations. Myths narrow the horizon in which organizational life is allowed to make sense. Myths collide and compete in the ongoing negotiation of power and privilege among groups attempting to determine the dominant myth-making systems. Myths create, maintain, and legitimate past, present, and future actions and consequences. Myths have live cycles of development, maturation, decline and reformulation. Such was the myth making organizations.
In the 1990s, I refined a storytelling organization as "collective storytelling system in which the performance of stories is a key part of members' sense-making and a means to allow the to supplement individual memories with institutional memory (Boje, 1991: 106; Boje, 1995: 1000). It is the collective rehistoricizing (memory) of the institution, the ongoing (re)negotiation as the present is unfolded into the past (attention), and the (re)visioning (expecting) the future (Boje, 1994). Gephart (1991: 37 ) in a study of leader succession defines storytelling organization as "constructed in the above succession stories as a tool of program for making sense of events." Mary Boyce (1995) has done a study of storytelling organizations. Storytelling organizations struggle to get the stories of insiders and outsiders straight, to market firms like Disney to customers (guests), investors, vendors, and employees (cast members). By 1995, I had moved away form social construction in favor of more postmodern formulations of storytelling organizations.
Disney Storytelling Organization and its Publics My study of Disney (1995) used deconstruction and postmodern theory to demythologize the official founding stories of Walt and the Magic Kingdom by juxtaposing counter-narratives. For example, placing Disney's official story in juxtaposition to marginal or excluded stories of strikes, reprimands, and Tayloristic practices. The supplement narratives were not added to some "pure" original or founding narrative the counter-narratives occur red along side the official story.
Storytelling Organization Consulting A dear friend of mine, Michael Kaye worked with my myth and story writings and worked them into a successful consulting practice. "Stories can shape the culture of organizations. Through stories and myths, we can form images of the organization and judge whether it is healthy or ailing. They tell us about the people who are saving the organization and those who are bringing it down…myths support rituals, communicate values and help leaders envisage the future " (Kaye, 1996: 63).
Mary Boyce (1995b) has done excellent review on storytelling organization theory from a social construction perspective.
In Swedish organization-as-theater, managers are expected to integrate their character and role in terms of agency and purpose, and not to act as their own self-promoting agent. Leaders of modern organization-as-theater are expected to play the good guy in progressive (myth) scenes of material accumulation, achieving purpose in highly complex spectacles of production and consumption. The modern stage is set as progress or de cline and the leader is expected to just play the prescribed role with "the consistency required between the stage, the actor, and the act" (Czarniawska, 1997: 35).
Extending Storytelling Organization Theory to Multiple Interacting Organizations
1. Multiple Storytelling Organization Research
Boje, Luhman and Baack (1999) did a study of the hegemonic aspects of interacting storytelling organizations. The perspective taken in the paper extends earlier work on the "storytelling organization" by looking at the encounters of QM, Choral Company, Academy, and JMI as four storytelling organizations that are co-negotiating, co-constructing, and co-shaping the "telling" of each others stories. Multiple and simultaneous storytellers and story-readers selected, transformed, and reformed stories in the storytelling organization.
In 1998, I did a series of Nike and the activists articles (see dark side) to show the relationship between multiple storytelling organizations. Philip Knight's Nike is a "storytelling organization" as are the web-bases activists’ storytelling organizations. The Nike storytelling organization constructs through storied sense making practices its very legitimacy to employ young, female Asian workers to accumulate billions in capital. But, activist entrepreneurs are also virtual storytelling organizations, using the Internet to assemble delegitimation stories to damage the integrity of Nike, crafting stories to purposely deconstruct the dominant ideology and institutional memory of Nike, who they frame as Wile Coyote. Activists also provoke print media coverage, letter writing campaigns, and annual worldwide boycotts of Nike products. Nike focuses on how well paid their employees are and how much better the working conditions are now than in the past.
From a Marcuse (1964) perspective, to understand Nike we need to go beyond categorizing Nike as positive or negative, and trace the process by which Nike is transforming into something other than what we see here and now. What we see here and now is a Nike that is replete with contradiction; between espouse and actual conduct; between public relations smokescreens and workers' life space; between Phil Knights' billions and Lap Nguyen's meager wages. Nike is both itself and its opposite.
My focus in this work has been to look at inter-relationships of multiple storytelling organizations. Figure One, for example, models the network of relationships among the four types of storytelling organizations (N, S, A, M) which are the focus of this study. Since I can not reproduce the figure on the web, you have to imagine storied communication relationships between these six STOs. There is a figure with (N-1) fifteen lines of relationship.
My purpose is to trace the ways in which
the network of multiple storytelling organizations (Nike, Media, Activists,
Studiers), workers (domestic and Third World), and consumers (including
stockholders and retailers) circulate and spin stories to influence one
another. The six nodes combine four types of storytelling organizations
(N, S, A, M) and two clusters (C, W) which behave similarly in terms of
storytelling behavior. There are weak lines of little or no direct communication
between Nike and the activists; they rely upon weak third party ties. Nike
and the Activists both court the Media and the Studiers. There are also
weak ties between workers, investors, and customers who rarely see on another,
but rely upon the other storytellers in the network to keep them informed
(i.e. M, N, S, and sometimes A).
Figure One: Network of STOs (this is better drawn out as a set of circles with intersecting relationships, but I could not reproduce this on the web).
Third World, with and without union representation)
Seeking labor reform, anti-sweatshop, and environment)
|For example, C
represents customers, stockholders, and independent retail outlets which
receive stories but, as a rule do not originate stories (an exception is
when activists organize consumers into protests which become media events).
Consumer s have weak ties to W and A. This network structure
also involves processes. There are stockholders which both N and
A want to attract to their point of view.
One process I am exploring in Figure One
is how stories are passed along relational ties as the spin changes depending
upon the audience and the aspects of the story the teller elects to accent.
For example, in the pathway (2, 14, 15) Nike can construct a press release
to the media (M), which can be spun into a revised story told by
activists (A) to studiers (S) who subscribe to a list serve.
The activist tale can be combined with worker reports (W) and then released
back to the media (M) and become part of news accounts which proceed
along one or two way ties to consumers (12), academics (13), and Nike (2).
Resistance occurs as counter stories and
story spins are constructed and retold along alternate pathways to attempt
to change the balance of power relationships. Nike, for example, has more
power to construct stories of the worker that script worker behavior.
W, however, can resist N by creating ties to A, S,
and M because these stories, in turn affect C which can then
affect N's reputation and subsequent market share from C.
The activists (A) seek to tell stories in ways that get picked up
by S and M which can reach the media in order to create an
impact upon C which will affect N's power over W.
The STO network is a dynamic
system. For example, as a story is released by M or A, N reacts by contracting
a counter-story from S, releasing a press release, or pumping up diversionary
ad campaigns that can affect C. As N releases new press releases to the
media , annual reports to stockholders, ad campaigns to customers, and
consultant studies to the academy, the A and M report on N's defensive
posturing. N, in turn releases stories of A's behavior in the overall system.
2. Extending Storytelling Organization Research with Latour
Bruno Latour's work speaks to the historical
and political aspects of storytelling organizations (see Boje, 1994:
437-9). Stories have a disciplinary effect.
I hope this gives you some idea of the
new developments in storytelling organization theory and some of the new
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Boje, D. M. (1998a). Amos Tuck's Post-Sweat Nike Spin Pp 618-623. In Business Research Yearbook: Global Business Perspectives, Vol. V. Biberman, J . & Alkafarji, A (Eds.).
Boje, D. M. (1998b). Wile Coyote Meets the Road Runner Paper presentation to the Sun Break Conference, Chaos and Complexity, chaired by Janice Bl ack, Las Cruces, NM, February at New Mexico State University.
Boje, D. M. (1998c). What Postmodern Philosophers Have to Contribute to Knowledge Researchers Paper presented to INFORMS (Institute for Ope rations Research and Management Sciences) conference, Seattle, WA, October (click on David's presentation)
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Boje, D. M. (1998g). The Swoosh Goddess is a Vampire: Nike's Environmental Accounting Storytelling. Pp. 23-32. In International Business and Ecology Research Yearbook. IABD Publication.
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Vaara, E., & Tienari, J. Forthcoming. On the narrative construction of multinational corporations: An antenarrative analysis of legitimation and resistance in a cross-border merger. Organization Science. Published online in Articles in Advance, November 30, 2010. http://orgsci.journal.informs.org/cgi/content/abstract/orsc.1100.0593v1 More References on Storytelling Organizations
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