Narrative Methods for Organizational and Communication Research


Introduction to Narrative Methods


David M. Boje

April 19, 2000, Revised May 1, 2000



Traditionally story has been viewed as less than narrative. Narrative requires plot, as well as coherence.  To narrative theory, story is folksy, without emplotment, a simple telling of chronology. I propose "antenarrative." Antenarrative is the fragmented, non-linear, incoherent, collective, unplotted, and pre-narrative speculation, a bet. To traditional narrative methods antenarrative is an improper storytelling, a wager that a proper narrative can be constituted. Narrative tries to stand as elite, to be above story. The crisis of narrative method in modernity is what to do with non-linear, almost living storytelling that is fragmented, polyphonic (many voiced) and collectively produced. My response is to stretch traditional approach by including what I call "antenarrative" methods. The focus is on the analysis of stories that are too unconstructed and fragmented to be analyzed in traditional approaches. The postmodern and chaotic soup of storytelling is somewhat difficult to analyze. Stories in organization are self-deconstructing, flowing, emerging, and networking not at all static. The purpose of this book is to set out eight antenarrative analysis options that can deal with prevalence of fragmented and polyphonic storytelling in complex organizations and to provide teaching examples of these methods that are applicable to organization studies. The analyses to be given an antenarrative reading include deconstruction, grand narrative analysis, microstoria analysis, story networking, intertextuality, causality, plot, and theme analysis. Narrative analysis combined with antenarrative analysis can help this field be a more multi-voiced methodology that focuses on non-linear, unplotted storytelling.


The fragmented, non-linear, incoherent, collective, and unplotted, and improper storytelling, is what I mean by the term "antenarrative." 



What is Antenarrative? I give "antenarrative" a double meaning. First, as being before and second as a bet.  First, story is "ante" to narrative; it is "antenarrative."  A "narrative" is something that is narrated, i.e. "story." Story is an account of incidents or events, but narrative comes after and ads, "plot" and "coherence" to the story line. Story is therefore "ante" to story and narrative is post-story. Story is an "ante" state of affairs existing previously to narrative; it is in advance of narrative. Used as an adverb, "ante" combined with "narrative" or "antenarrative" means earlier than narrative.

Ante is also a bet, something to do with gambling and speculation. The noun "ante" has an etymology dating to 1838 that is defined as "a poker stake usually put up before the deal to build the pot <the dealer called for a dollar ante>" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In horse racing, "ante-post" is a wager made on a horse before that day of the race.  As a verb, it is anteing.  

Since story, narrative, and antenarrative are used throughout the book, some introduction is important.  Story resists narrative; Story is antenarrative and on occasion even anti-narrative (a refusal to be coherent). The folk of organizations inhabit storytelling spaces outside plot, not tidy and rationalized narrative spaces. Narrative analysts replace folk stories with less messy academic narrative emplotments and create an account of organizations that is fictively rational, free of tangled contingency, and against story.

I would therefore disagree with Czarniawska (1997: 78) when she says "a story consists of a plot comprising causally related episodes that culminate in a solution to a problem." To me this is the definition of a narrative, not a story. I rely more on Ricoeur's (1984: 150) definition of story, as he endorses Gallie's (1968: 22) approach:

A story describes a sequence of actions and experiences done or undergone by a certain number of people, whether real or imaginary. These people are presented either in situations that change or as reacting to such change. In turn, these changes reveal hidden aspects of the situation and the people involved, and engender a new predicament which calls for thought, action, or both. This response to the new situation leads the story toward its conclusion.


Even this definition of story has for me, to much closure, but the concept of the followability of story allows us to look at antenarration before the emplotment of story, and search for preunderstanding before the story becomes followable.

Elsewhere Czarniawska (1999) defines narrative in a way I agree with, "For them to become a narrative, they require a plot, that is, some way to bring them into a meaningful whole." I prefer to think of narratives as the theory that organization and other theorists put onto stories, to see how narratives and prenarratives are acts of "commodification, exchange, and consumption" (Clair, Chapman, & Kunkel, 1996: 255). "They are narratives dressed as theory" (Clair, 1998: 20).

To translate story into narrative is to impose counterfeit coherence and order on otherwise fragmented and multi-layered experiences of desire. As Weick (1995: 128) puts it "When people punctuate their own living into stories, they impose a formal coherence on what is otherwise a flowing soup." White (1981:251) also observes that narrative theory is a finalization that "transforms events into historical facts by demonstrating their ability to function as elements of completed stories." Antenarrative is never final; they are improper.

Stories are "antenarrative," when told without the proper plot sequence and mediated coherence preferred in narrative theory. These are stories that are too unconstructed and too fragmented to be captured by retrospective sense making. "The important point" says Weick (1995: 27) "is that retrospective sensemaking is an activity in which many possible meanings may need to be synthesized, because many different projects [stories] are under way at the time reflection takes place" (additions, mine).  There is an implicit bet that such retrospective form may emerge, but it does not always take place. More sensemaking keeps displacing closure.

Antenarrative is not the same as "anti" narrative. In anti-narrative, the person can not narrate plot or closure, but is in the present moment. The telling of a personal experience story, for example Nancy whose mother has Alzheimer's:

And if I'm trying to get dinner ready and I'm already feeling bad, she's in front of the refrigerator. Then she goes to put her hand on the stove and I got the fire on. And then she's in front of the microwave and then she's in front of the silverware drawer. And - and if I send her out she gets mad at me. And then it's awful. That's when I have a really, a really bad time (Charmaz, 1991: 173 as cited in Frank, 1995: 99).


The nominal glue of Alzheimer's binds the story fragments together in a Baldessari-like anti-narrative. "One can conceive of "anti-narratives" whose storytelling purpose is precisely not only to deny any overall meaning or plot (as telos or process) but to display fragmentation, discontinuities, partial and temporary understandings, and the lack of fixed meanings while equally claiming to mimic or evoke the nature of the past world as experienced" (Pluciennik, Boado, Manfredini, & Peacock (1999: 653).   Anti-narrative and antenarrative do share this in common, both are beyond the closure required narrative theory. Next, I would like to introduce some defining definitions of antenarrative.


Five Dimensions of Antenarrative

First, antenarrating is both before whatever narratology as a method and theory supplements, frames and imposes onto story.  This is oftentimes the requriement for a beginning, middle, and end, complete with a moral and an agreed plot.  There is a double sense of "ante" as "being before" narrative and as still a "speculation" that I think returns something important to storytelling, or what I will call "antenarrating."  There are still many meanings to sort out before plot and coherence descend to close off the need for further sensemaking.

Second, antenarrative gives attention to the speculative, the ambiguity of sensemaking and guessing as to what is happening in the flow of experience. It answers the question "what is going on here?" Antenarrative is constituted out of the flow of lived experience, narrative method is more meta; it is about the storytelling that came before. Narrative is post, a retrospective explanation of storytelling's speculative appreciations.  Narrative is a form of memory of the story, but I think none that omits the antenarrative speculation, about what Shutz calls "coming-to-be" (See Weick, 1995: 25).  It is the speculative that gets lost in narrative method focus on taxonomy, plot, and coherence; the sense made becomes too bounded and it overdetermines.

Third, antenarrative directs our analytic attention to the flow of storytelling, as a sensemaking to living experience before narrative requires beginnings, middles, or endings. Narrative theory is an experience of the after effects of storytelling once coherence is rendered, while antenarrative is an experiencing of the storytelling life with abbreviated and interrupted story performances that yield plurivocality (Boje, 1995). And that life has its rules. "There are implicit rules in storytelling (who can tell it, to whom, and where)" (Boje, 1991a: 124).  Clair (1998: 74) ads the rule of how, "organizational members tell their stories. How organizational members frame their experiences and accounts may severely impact the kind and amount of exposure the story will receive."

Fourth, antenarrative is about the Tamara of storytelling (Boje, 1995). In Tamara, Los Angeles' longest-running play, a dozen characters unfold their stories before a walking, sometimes running, audience. They are trying to find out "who done it?" Instead of remaining stationary, viewing a single stage, the audience fragments into small groups that chase characters from one room to the next, from one floor to the next, even going into bedrooms, kitchens, and other chambers to chase and co-create the stories that interest them the most. If there are a dozen stages and a dozen storytellers, the number of story lines an audience could trace as it chases the wandering discourses of Tamara is 12 factorial (479,001,600).  

To me Tamara is a way to describe how storytelling as antenarrative occurs in complex organizations. It is before narrative closure; it is speculative, and it is in the flow of experience.  The Tamara ante narrative speculation highlights the plurivocal interpretation of organizational stories in a distributed and historically contextualized meaning network -- that is, the meaning of events depends upon the locality, the prior sequence of stories, and the transformation of characters in the wandering discourses.

Tamara is also the basis of an antenarrative theory of storytelling organizations. In storytelling organizations as seen in Tamara, a wandering linguistic framework in which stories are the medium of interpretative exchange. Storytelling organizations are antenarrative, existing to tell their collective stories, to live out their collective stories, to be in constant struggle over getting the stories of insiders and outsiders straight. It is a sensemaking that is coming into being, but not finished or concluded, in narrative retrospection.

Fifth, antenarrative is collective memory before it becomes reified into the story, the consensual narrative. It is before the plots have been agreed to; it is still in a state of coming-to-be; still in flux. As Weick (1995: 26) puts it "actions are known only when they have been completed." And narratives are known after they have been completely analyzed. I am more interested in antenarrative, where people are still chasing stories, and many different logics for plotting an ongoing event are still being investigated. Gephart (1992: 119-121) for example did a study of a serious accident, and noted how the logic of top-management differed from that of the operators. And because people in organizations typically are chasing multiple story lines, and are aware that overdetermining the story is risky, the collective memory is always being reworked and worked out, but never completed. It is reflection that is underway, not as Weick (1995: 27) says "because it makes no sense at all, but because it makes many different kinds of sense." In collective memory, some story sensing contradict others, and working it out is the stuff of antenarrative.

Postmodern Antenarratives - The postmodern condition is one of fragmentation, the storytelling in which coherence is lacking and fragments are everywhere.  Indeed in postmodern antenarrative there is no whole story, only fragments, and in the act of retrospective sense making in which we put a plot to story fragments is in process. In this Tamara of collective sensemaking, people are still tracing stories, still inventing bits and pieces to glue it all together. In the radical postmodern antenarrative, organization characters collide rather than interact, as to come in and out of one another's theatrical stages. And there is for each person a Tamara of stages, happening simultaneously, and we do not get to participate in all the performances. Rather than reified plots, there are fragments of stories, bits and pieces told here and there, to varying audiences, so that no one knows a whole story and there are no whole stories anyway. And pockets of some agreement come undone. There are coherent plots here and there, but everywhere else just jagged edges and bottomless pits of chaos to tip toe around. In such Tamara, the demand to narrate the whole is met by long periods of silence.

In the personal experience narration, the storyteller and narrator are one. In all other narratives, someone else tells the story and makes it into a formal narrative, one with mediated coherence and plot. But, in the Tamara of many story involvements with so many story fragments, coherence and plot are hard to come by.  In formal narration, there is a (linear) plot and a mediated coherence provided by the narrator. To narrative theory, story is folksy, without emplotment, a simple telling of chronology. But people live in the antenarrative. Narrative adds the plot, and tries to stand as elite above story as antenarrative.  The crisis of narrative in modernity is what to do with non-linear storytelling, with fragmented stories, polyphonic (many voiced) and the Tamara of collective story production, and the everyday storyteller immersed in fragmentation. Stories are antenarrative and are everywhere in organizations, and I think somewhat difficult to analyze. People are always in the middle of living and tracing their storied lives.

According to TwoTrees (1997), stories have three properties: time, place, and mind.  We believe that many narratologies currently being applied in the field of organizational analysis and the social sciences more broadly marginalize these three properties. In effect, narratology marginalizes story. In what follows, we will critically review common narratologies and suggest some ways in which the idea of story can be returned to analysis.

 Stories, TwoTrees suggests, have:


1.      A time, “You tell story at a certain time of the year, a season, or time of the day.  There are Fall and Spring stories.”


2.      A place,  “You recount stories at this place, and places have their own story.”


3.      A mind,  “Every creation, even a story, has a life of its own.  We create a story and it has a life. The stories have origins.  You must tell a story with permission.”


For TwoTrees, stories must be re-contextualized back to their time, place, and mind.  The stories live and there are penalties for getting a story wrong or telling it without permission. “What is the Lakota penalty for changing a story, telling a story wrong or without permission?” David Boje asked at a presentation by TwoTrees.  “It is death,” she replied (TwoTrees, 1997).   Why death?  “Because, the story in an oral culture is the entire living history of the community”

The purpose of this book is to set out eight antenarrative analysis options that can deal with prevalence of fragmented and polyphonic storytelling in complex organizations. Our order of alternative narrative analyses is:

1.      Deconstruction

2.      Grand Narrative

3.      Microstoria

4.      Story Network

5.      Intertextuality

6.      Causality

7.      Plot

8.      Theme


On the duality of narratives and stories - Reviewing the structuralist traditions of Russian Formalists (Propp & Shklovsky) American structuralism (James, Lubbock, Booth, & Chatman), and French Structuralists (Barthes, Todorov, Bremond, Greimas, Pavel, & Prince) Jonathan Culler (1981: 169) identifies a duality of narrative over story. Culler (1981: 169) notes: “if these theorists agree on anything it is this: that the theory of narrative requires a distinction between what I shall call 'story’ – a sequence of actions or events, conceived as independent of their manifestation in discourse – and what I shall call ‘discourse,’ the discursive presentation or narration of events.”

There can be several narrators to a story. Someone who lived through an experience can offer his or her "personal experience narrative." They tell their own story. Ricoeur (1984: 150) summarizes Gallie's (1968: 22) story definition as follows:

A story describes a sequence of actions and experiences done or undergone by a certain number of people, whether real or imaginary. These people are presented either in situations that change or as reacting to such change. In turn, these changes reveal hidden aspects of the situation and the people involved, and engender a new predicament which calls for thought, action, or both. This response to the new situation leads the story toward its conclusion.


Storytellers own the rights to narrate, and sorting these story rights is a constant occupation of organizational participants.  But, when someone else tells a story they did not inhabit, it is a different type of narrating. Researchers, even ethnographers, who live in the field, narrate differently than those who live their story. Some say story is mere chronology while narration is what the sociologists, historians, anthropologists and other social scientists do. Yet, as Lyotard (1984) made abundantly clear, scientists tell stories about their data and use story to sell their theory.  Gephart's (1986) ethnostatistics is proof enough that narrating and rhetoric goes on in the statistical work of social science. A statistical formula and the explanation of a table of equations can be considered forms of narrative.   McCloskey (1998) is convinced that economists narrate and use rhetoric that do not want to answer to.

What is the hegemony of narrative? Some people are not ready to narrate their story.  They are approached by social scientists and invited, even required to narrate. As someone narrates an experience for the first time, there is a retrospective sense making can occur as chaotic experience is given narrative order. But sense making is not all there is. Since some experiences lack that linear sequence and are just hard to tell as a "coherent" story.  Telling stories that lack coherence is contrary to modernity.  Yet in the postmodern condition, stories are harder to tell because experience itself is so fragmented and so full of chaos that fixed meaning or imagining coherence is fictive. Other stories are hard to tell because whatever meaning there may be has not been reflected upon, and there is a lack of distance and perspective.  Death, divorce, and disease stories are hard to narrate.  One can only trace the edges of the wounds (Frank, 1995: 98). There are experiences that are just too shattering to put into words, too fantastic to narrate. "Lived chaos makes reflection, and consequently storytelling, impossible" (p. 98).

We are said to be homo fabulans, humans telling and interpreting narratives. But there is always more to a good story. For Polkinghorne (1988) narrative analysis is defined by a very pragmatic insight, all inquiry as a process of narrative negotiations. In the narrative negotiations between qualitative researchers and the folk, the folk are not doing to well, their phenomenal experience is reduced to readable and "proper" narrative. The purpose of the book is to provide counter examples of dominant paradigms of narrative interpretation and analysis so that fewer stories will get reduced to narrative models. I seek to improve the narrative of organizations by recovering its polyphonic qualities of its storytellers. I long for a different storytelling, a collective storytelling that is antenarrative and undoes the linear time frames of modernity; I bet on the incoherent and the unplotted tellings.

Multi-story In the dominant paradigms of (monological) narrative analysis in organization studies, multi-story is defined as noise or a sequential or simplistic chronological case study that needs analysis to make it narrate. Story is viewed as antenarrative (just chronicle). The game in academia is to crate a narrative from so many stories, and retell the narrative not the stories in academic circles. My narrative negotiation is subversive. I seek to negotiate a new relation between narrative and story (antenarrative). Narrative knowing must include those ways of antenarrative analysis of stories told in organizational communities in which the telling of stories is the currency of knowledge making and knowledge negotiation.

All chapter titles are not new, but the older topic labels are rendered with new slants as you enter each chapter. My bet is that by making these alternative narrative analyses of stories more accessible with short chapters, will invite others to conduct these methods and soon "microstoria, intertextuality, and narrative causality will be as popular as the Harvard Case study. Or better yet cases will be rewritten into more poly vocal tapestries. 

Narrated Cases - I read one study that said narrative analysis is just about the same thing as Harvard Case study. To me this is a ridiculous assertion, justification to write a one-voiced and homogeneous way of narrating where the omniscient narrator hides behind every line. Oftentimes, someone else's story is what gets analyzed and that can be a more coherent and ordered plot than the teller imagined. And how do these cases read?  In the classroom, unlike the unprocessed "story" the formal case study reconstructs and replaces "stories" of the flux of experience with a "narrative" plot and a "moral" to be comprehended as a sequential whole. Narrative then has a closer correlation with coherent structure and the emplotment of causal explanation than does the less elegant "story." Yet the case study is an account pre-narrated to trap students into obvious endings.

To go beyond the overused case approaches, be they comparative, functionalist, or structuralist raises an important challenge. Cases, dare I say are "elitist" protocols that disparage and ridicule the ill-formed and fragmented non-retrospective story. I have collected together eight alternative narrative analyses that I contend are equally applicable to organization studies of "story," but not so widely used as case approaches. Avoiding these alternative narrative ways of telling and interpreting stories I would argue posits characters, events, plots, and accounts that are not merely a chronicle or a even a collection of stories to which an analysis can be applied. A universal analysis of major and minor factors and voices. What else can a progressive and romantic narrative unfold? Enter discourse analysis with its non-method deconstructions. If students get beyond complex intellectual models with bizarre language, it is a great way to teach students to think critically. Yet the deconstruction of romantic cases into themes of tragedy and hegemony, with a prolonged stare into the abyss, are not so popular in the classroom.

How does a field that centers on profoundly narrative, case study knowing resituate itself as an academic knowledge-making enterprise amid other postmodern storytelling that is fairly antenarrative in epistemological stance? Harvard cases are just the surface issue in narrating organizations differently. I decided to focus on alternative analyses since so much of what passes for academic narrative analysis in organization studies seems to rely upon sequential, single-voiced, stories. In short, an excessive reliance on the hypothetical-deductive approach. I do a fair share of narrative reviews for journals and I see, I think, too many manuscripts that did some one shot interviews, did the content analysis and taxonomy, but are shallow as an empty swimming pool. In narrative analyses we need to do more than treat stories as "in-place metering" devices to measure more important constructs like culture, tacit knowledge or knowledge work.  Beyond sequential and single-voiced case study and one-sided interviews, we can conceive of non-linear and even antenarrative accounts of experience and disputations of collective memory.  This would then accomplish my goal, to improve the narrative of organizations.

How to tell Organization Stories differently? Narrative analysis combined with antenarrative analysis can be a field that is about multi-voiced ways of telling stories, even antenarrative and non-linear ones whose linear and plot sequence is missing and no one seems to mind. To tell organization stories differently will, I think, require this more dialectic approach.  But narrating what? Other ways to story "Others" who refuse to narrate? I call to enact alternative narrative analyses that will story "Others" and the author. This can yield new narratives in organization studies, ones that are multi-voices, rich with fragmentation, and lacking in linearity. Even antenarrative in the sense that the reader is free to put the fragments together or just leave the narrative wreckage where it lies. 

Qualitative researchers have discussed the implications of using plots in research reports that map and embed specific epistemological, political, methodological, or other affiliations (e.g., Geertz,1983, 1988; Herndl, 1991; Van Maanen, 1988).

The alternative ways I assembled focus on multi-stranded stories of experiences that lack collective consensus. I seek alternatives to the fiat of the single-voiced, single authored narrative dictating organization memory. For example, we will look at intertextuality as a way to explore multi-stranded stories and microstoria to examine stories of the "little people" telling many histories that were omitted from the conquering hero or even the bourgeoisie CEO's account.   Intertextual and microstoria analyses are contrary to grand narratives of great heroes or grand projects. Each chapter will consist of these different analyses and present applications including examples of stories and analysis.

The book is intended for researchers wanting to do narrative analysis differently. It is a book that can be used in graduate seminars in several disciplines to supplement "standard" methods of narrative analysis.  Narrative analysis spans organization research in business, sociology, ecology, and communication disciplines. Yet, if the narrative analysis is only a search for coherent, linear, and ordered tales, as told by narrative authorities, then the stories written about organizations are too shallow, too superficial, and cover more than they tell. Van Maanen (1988) calls them "realist" tales of the field. Beginning graduate students who want to know how to conduct specific types of qualitative story analysis can use this book. But, they may want to start with a more standard text if they are searching for "realist" tales. And yet, some of the narrative analyses I seek to explore and make accessible to students are about the "materiality" of narrative.

There are many other viable analyses that did not make my list. I value greatly for example the life history work of George Roth, but George has skillfully rendered this already. There is also the ethnostatistics narrative work of Robert Gephart Jr. Here again, he has masterfully presented the approach elsewhere. I also did not put in work on narrative ethnography.  That training is available in Anthropology seminars and in English and Communication too. The alternatives I present are very much a part of these broader discourses.

My focus is on rendering approaches that are as yet not accessible to the qualitative methods classroom or to the journals of organization studies. The book begins and ends with approaches that are not new, but what is new is that alternative (antenarrative) reading given to each. Table One provides an overview of the antenarrative stance of each chapter. This is followed by a brief introduction to each one.


Antenarrative Approaches

The fragmented, non-linear, incoherent, collective, and unplotted, and improper storytelling, is what I mean by the term "antenarrative."

1.      Deconstruction

It is antenarrative in action, in ongoing acts of narrative self-deconstruction. The narrative is not fixed, but moves and flows with networks of embedded meaning. The analyst joins in the antenarrative by becoming part of the ongoing textual deconstruction of interpenetrating processes and weaves of reconstructing, unraveling and constructing stories.

2.      Grand Narrative

It is antenarrative in how one story can be told in ways that erase a prior way of telling the story. The ambition is to shatter grand narrative into many small stories and to problematize any linear mono-voiced grand narrative of the past by replacing it with an open polysemous (many-meanings) and multivocal (many-voiced) web of little stories. Not everyone wants Grand narratives banished, which gives the tension between dominant or Grand narrative, and the ante-narrating of little stories.

3.      Microstoria

Antenarrative because they are quite against the narrating in deconstruction, postmodern, grounded theory, and macrohistory. They prefer to situate their "little" story approach in Peircean "abduction" (abduction stands between induction and deduction). They prefer local antenarrative knowledge, the "little people's" histories and seem to just ignore the macro narrative "great man" accounts that are so fashionable in organization studies. Finally they resist interpreting "little" people's stories of times long past into contemporary modern or postmodern narrative fashion.

4.      Story Network

Stories can become nodes or links in a narrative network analysis, mere architectural display. By contrast, in antenarrative analysis the analyst traces the storytelling behavior in the organizing situation. The organization is seen as a storytelling system in which stories are the medium of exchange. Antenarrative focuses on the ground that moves not on the map and analytic portrayal.


5.      Intertextuality


It posits its own antenarrative network, a dialogic conversation among writers and readers of texts. Intertextuality gets at the process issues that narrative network analysis seems to miss. Intertext is a plurality, the polyphony of voices, a veritable textual system that is stereographic and almost living to use Barthes images.

6.      Causality

The antenarrative alternative is to study situated acts of storytelling that retrospectively erect and re-erect causality attributions. The causal field is messy and often unfathomable and acts of narration camouflage the antenarrative fabric.  To study the non-linear antenarrative pathways of story reconstruction before retrospective sensemaking is an alternative to causal map methodology.

7.      Plot

Plot analysis is based in Ricoeur's theory of emplotment, which allows for conditions of antenarrative, such as when there is not sufficient pre-understanding or coherence to grasp together a plot. Relevant to organization studies is questions of who gets to author the narrative in emplotments of complex organizations and what other emplotments are feasible?

8.      Theme

An antenarrative approach to theme is opposed to taxonomic classification. Taxonomy cells are little narrative cells to trap stories. Antenarrative can not be caged in taxonomy or the hierarchy of classification. Antenarrative highlights the storytelling moves and flows beyond such limits. Theme analysis would divest story of time, place, plurality, and connectivity.  Theme and taxonomy from an antenarrative view is a terrorist discourse, an analysis reduced to stereotypes, and a foreclosure on storytelling polysemy and a degradation of living exchange. It is the excess and in-between of theme analysis that concerns us here.  Beyond the logic of theme the cells of taxonomy is the messy plenitude. Antenarrative theme analysis steps outside containment to engage fragmentation, becoming, and undoing.







The Chapters

1. Deconstruction is not new. There have been several good ones in organization studies. Beginning with deconstruction allows us to immediately challenge ideas of telos, linearity, sequence, voice, and plot. I shall approach deconstruction as something that is happening in the ongoing acts of self-deconstruction in the systemic of narratives, in whole differences are embedded in the text, and always unraveling textual networks of thought.  My deconstruction view is antenarrative, since texts are self-deconstructing without the help of the analyst. And the role of the analyst is always part of the antenarrative experience and joins into the deconstruction. What is new here is to look at differences between outright destruction and what I read as deconstruction, and the call to resituate the dualities and hierarchies that get unpacked.

2. Grand narrative, made so (in) famous by Lyotard (1984) is also not new, but is certainly antenarrative. It is antenarrative in how one story can be told in ways that erase a prior way of telling the story. The ambition is to shatter grand narrative and to problematize any linear mono-voiced grand narrative of the past by replacing it with an open polysemous (many-meanings) and multivocal (many-voiced) web of little stories. Modernist organizational science is presented-as a linear grand narrative, where postmodern science stresses the nonlinear, multi-vocality and impressionistic fragmentation of knowledge.  While not new, grand narrative studies are still rare in organization studies. Lyotard is incredulous to grand narrative that we know. But saying it does not make it so. And to reject all grand narrative, I shall argue, does not seem to be too wise. The alternative that is offered in this book is to look at the interplay of grand and local narration.   The grand narratives of modernity, the McDonalds and the Marketeers are everywhere; yet not everyone wants grand narratives banished. 

3. Microstoria is to me a unique antenarrative alternative to the narrative analyses done so abundantly in organization studies. It is also quite a contrast to grand narrative or the universality of macro history.  And this is why I situate the Microstorian approach here. Microstorians I have read are quite against deconstruction, postmodern, grounded theory, and prefer to situate their approach in Peircean "abduction" (abduction stands between induction and deduction). Microstorians are not postmodern since they do not see texts as free-floating webs of signifiers or as schizophrenic narratives.  They do not surrender notions of textual materiality, nor do they abandon class and are not so eager to dismiss all grand narrative. They are antenarrative because they look to "little" acts of resistance to dominant narratives. They also reject conditioning or framing narratives of the past by contemporary theories of the present.  Microstorians do prefer local knowledge, the "little people's" histories and seem to just ignore the "great man" accounts that are so fashionable in organization studies. Microstoria relies on archival records and these analysts are at times quite material and empirical in ways that textual deconstruction is not. They claim not too aligned with grounded theory or with the genealogy of Foucault.  Rather, they aspire to the adduction middle ground between deductive and inductive analysis.

4. Story networks analysis is slotted here since the Microstorians do name searches in their archival research to fashion name-networks. Story networks are becoming all the narrative rage with aggregated causal mapping and latticed taxonomic architecture among story bits. But they are not being done with the kind of attention to context that is the stock and trade of the microstorians. The alternative I offer is more of an embedded antenarrative process focus to network analysis. I point out the dangers more than celebrate the accomplishments of story networks. The weakness of story network analysis is its over determination of structure, as opposed to processes of collective memory and social dynamics. What is the antenarrative alternative? Microstorians use story network analysis in an antenarrative sense by tracing the names of "little people" and their social relations (family and economic) to other people. In story network analysis, one collects layers of embedded storied relationships. Or, one collects stories and traces their relationship (person) links in the in situ and contextualized processes. Stories can become nodes or links in a narrative network analysis, but in antenarrative analysis the analyst traces the storytelling behavior in the organizing situation. What the analyst narrates are the deductively derived taxonomies that show the associations among story types (nodes). Still I have seen these studies presented to journal review as grounded theory.

5. Intertextuality is not new, but where are the organization studies? It is rarely, if ever applied in organization research and yet each day organizations add more texts to an intertextual world. Intertextuality gets at the process issues that narrative network analysis seems to miss. So this is why I situate it exactly here, 5th in the lineup. Intertextuality posits its own antenarrative network, a dialogic conversation among writers and readers of texts.  Intertextuality is all the dialoging that goes on between and within narratives. Intertextuality is explored quite fruitfully in Fairclough's work, but ignored is the element that was so important to Kristeva, the carnival.  When modernity freed itself of monologic and single-voiced author, the carnivalesque was released with the force of the polyphonic novel. And this polyphonic narrating and intertextuality continues to excite postmodern sensibility. In intertextual analysis we look for a crowd of authors, actors and readers engaged in carnivalesque scenes of dynamic textual production, distribution, and consumption.

6. Causality analysis begins with Nietzsche's theory of causality. I put the chapter here since the next deals with plot, which has as its element, causality. By definition a narrative explains the 'why': what caused a series of event or phenomenon to happen, unfold, and end the way they did?  The standard narrative causality analysis is to inventory narrative for causal assertions in texts and then erect a taxonomy or a set of abstracted and aggregated causal maps. But as Nietzsche reminds "causality alludes us" and is no more than an "invention" a way of plotting events.  In this sense, the causality analysis I propose is an antenarrative one. I am interested in recovering an antenarrative causality, the acts of storytelling that construct and reconstruct causality. Calling the causal narration of organizing into question is an antenarrative analysis. The causal field is messy and often unfathomable and acts of narration destroy the antenarrative fabric. In the postmodern world of organizations linear causality is a convenient fiction, an over-simplified narrative of complex antenarrative dynamics in which non-linearity (and that too is a fiction) reigns.

7. Plot analysis is older than Aristotle is. The antenarrative analysis alternative I present builds upon Ricoeur's work on the mimetics of emplotment. Relevant to organization studies is questions of who gets to author the narrative in emplotments of complex organizations and what other emplotments are feasible? There are also questions of how to bring the writers and readers of plot into intertextual dialogue. Ricoeur argues that readers can not follow a story plot through its twists, turns, contingencies, coincidences, and dead ends to a foregone narrative conclusion without lots of preunderstanding and that followability can be analyzed in a structural model interrelating time and narrative coherence.   

8. Finally, we reach narrative theme analysis and the end of our journey. Theme analysis is old, but the inductive ones are much rarer than the deductive taxonomies.  While theme analysis has been done before, what is at issue is the relationship between deductive, inductive, and antenarrative analysis.  Do we impose etic (outsider) taxonomies of narratives or do we engage in etic (insider) dialogue to become aware of how people experience narratives. In either case, the narrative analysis can be limiting when the relationships between the cells and the excess beyond the taxonomy are not explored. This exploration for me takes place with antenarrative. And this chapter is placed last because theme analysis is common to almost every qualitative work, and to change it in anyway is a daunting task.

In this last chapter we take several etic categories of narrative themes: bureaucratic, quest, chaos, and postmodern as our starting point. We then look at the etic fabrication and the emic experience of each one, as well as the antenarrative ebb and flow of stories outside and between these types. Then I resituate the etic/emic duality by showing how one bleeds into the other. This is not new, I have seen it done before. I show, for example, how we learn our etic frames in school and how analysts trip over emic frames and then after writing them out, erase all the emic authors of the narrative. But this is not the contribution I seek to make.

An antenarrative approach to theme is moves beyond theme and sub-theme taxonomic classification. Taxonomy in narrative theme analysis traps stories in little cells. Antenarrative does not destroy the cell house of theme analysis, but opens up the hierarchy of classification to see what gets left out. This is my contribution. Antenarrative highlights the storytelling moves and flows beyond the limits of theme analysis. Antenarrative analysis combined with theme analysis reconnects to stories of time, place, plurality, and connectivity.  In this way antenarrative is a way to resituate the duality between narrative and story (See Culler, 1980: 169-187). It allows the excess and in-between of theme analysis to move out of the margins.  Beyond the tidy logic of theme taxonomy is the messy plenitude of storytelling. This is a narrating space where the economy runs on stories not analysis. Antenarrative reconnects theme analysis to fragmentation, becoming, and the undoing of self-deconstruction.

Why study narrative and Antenarrative? Narratologies are boundless and wonderfully varying. Manning and Cullum-Swan (1996) provide a useful review as do Czarniawska (1997), and Fairhurst and Putnam (1999) for the interested reader. Such review is beyond the scope of our eight narrative analysis chapters. But, reading these and other reviews suggests to me that this is a contested domain. “Narratology is the theory and systematic study of narrative” (Currie, 1998: 1) but it is also the clash of many disciplines. My short list of narratologies ranges from realist to structuralist, social constructionist, poststructuralist, critical theorist, and postmodernist. The scientific study of narrative structure is in film, history, literature, advertising, comics, and organization and family life.

Table Two: Narratologies





Living Story



Stories live and possess time, place, and mind.

Knowledge is the story performed in time, place, and has a life of its own (mind); Story can not be dualized from context without imbalance and other consequences.

Restory the relation between dominant narrative and authors’ preferred story.


Peters & Waterman (1982)

Hammer & Champy  (1993); Harvard cases


“Real” reality mirrored more or less imperfectly in narrative or case. Narrative is a cultural artifact, and object; Social facts. 

Dualist: real is real, narrative is subjective interpretative knowledge; story is an object to know other objects (culture, etc.); managerialist; strategic.

Experimental manipulation; interview with narrative as measures; narrate with rating scales; biography of narrative uniqueness.


Barthes (early)



Propp  Shklovsky

Fisher Frye

de Saussure

H. White

“Real” is unknowable, but some forms are pragmatic or possess fidelity and probability, or scenes, plots, act, agency, purpose.

Narrative is sign system separated from knowledge of the signified; Narrative is rhetorical device; Contextualist epistemology of historical event unfolding in the present.

Collect and contrast form of the narrative and coherence of narrative elements.


Pierce & Pepper; Microstoria work e.g. Ginzburg, Muir, Levi.

Assertion of the reality of general terms or laws. Meaning is oriented toward the future.

Ideas are not mere abstractions; they are essences--things are what they are. Names are intended to show the nature of things.  “Any sort of fact is easily real for a contextualist” (Pepper, 1942: 143)

History session by the actors.  Learning from the past in view of future action.

Social Constructionist

Burger & Luckmann






Individual and socially constructed realities

Narrative is subjective account reified as objective knowledge. Narratives are acts of sensemaking.

Explore relative differences in narrative social construction.






Foucault (archaeology)

White & Epston

There is no outside to inside text duality or originary narrative.

Narratives are intertextual to knowledge of other narratives; narratives are ideological with political consequence

Deconstructive reading of narratives.

Critical Theorist





Debord in situationist Movement

Historical materialism (even dialectic teleology) shaped by class, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic values

Grand narratives dominate local knowledge. But there can be local resistance to grand knowledge narratives.

Hegemonic reading of narratives; ideology readings of narratives.


Best & Kellner (on Debord)




Deleuze & Guattari

Virtual and cultural hyperreal, skeptic critiques of late capitalism, to affirmation of spiritual world.

Knowledge and power are narratively fragmented; to affirmative knowledge living cosmos.

Polyphonic and juxtaposed readings and writing of a chorus of narratives



For two decades poststructuralists and some postmodernists and critical theorists have deployed deconstruction to declare the death of several other narratology sciences, a move that realist, structuralist, and social constructionist narratologies did not notice or elected to ignore. Social construction, for example, is alleged to exclude politics, economics, ecology and ideology in its narrative organization studies and narrative organization change projects.

In sum, the main change in narrative sciences has been to pay closer attention to alternatives to narrative analysis. Organization study, in my view, has rarely stepped outside the single-voiced, third-person narrative analysis to gaze at the conditions of antenarrative.  My goal is to embrace narrative analysis alternatives that would tell organization stories differently, that would resituate narrative analysis.  This resituation to rebalance the hierarchical domination of narrative over story. It is not to abandon narrative analysis, but to look at how to analyze fragmented and almost living stories (TwoTrees, 1997), which are to me the currency of organizational communication.