Elizabeth Falconi and Kathryn Graber’s edited Storytelling as Narrative Practice

Cover Storytelling as Narrative Practice


Interview by Dilara Inam

Dilara Inam: As you say you blur many taken-for-granted distinctions between spontaneous and rehearsed or quotidian and unconventional ways of telling a story. Also, there are crucial discussions on how to understand the concept of “everyday” as a category of analysis which became even more clear in Elizabeth Falconi’s chapter on Zapotec storytelling. How was your experience with working on storytelling as narrative practices holistically? With the increased interest in the concept of storytelling, how would people benefit from this book?

Kate Graber: Thanks for your question, which strikes at the heart of what we were trying to do in this book. This project emerged from a conversation that Lizzy [Falconi] and I had several years ago, in which we realized that although we were researching different genres of language—Buryat news stories and Zapotec folktales—our research participants were treating both as stories, somehow. The same analytical problems of storytelling animated these really different contexts, in Russia and Mexico: understanding what’s at stake in a particular society in demarcating what counts as “story” (and as a “good” story), identifying how tellers break through into performance, figuring out how they’re socialized into it, learning from the story audience’s uptake, and so on. Yet what I was researching—and what a lot of the other chapter authors in the volume describe—is usually analyzed in other terms: as media discourse, for instance, or as narratives of personal experience, in the case of other chapters. So we were interested in what ethnographically unites those different genres. What might a myth have in common with a family history, or a news story with the grand master-narrative of a nation-state? The rules and the forms of the narratives differ, but the social fact of having rules and forms does not. We realized that storytelling is a more expansive concept than disciplinary and topical divisions have allowed it to be. I think if more people are interested in storytelling right now, it’s because they have that same hunch.

Elizabeth Falconi: I would say that over the course of my research I was presented with and heard many different types of stories, some were presented more formally as “Zapotec folktales” while others emerged spontaneously in conversation. The similarities in stories that were presented to me as distinct in terms of genres, tellership and so on was very interesting to me, and which I discuss on pages 174-177 in my own chapter in the book. This perhaps answers your question about how to approach storytelling holistically. My attention to different storytelling episodes of the same teller (here Isidro) was another way to approach the analysis of this practice holistically. Storytelling is an ingrained practice in a wide variety of cultural contexts, and paying attention to this analytically I can help students and scholar develop an awareness of the role such practices play in socialization, relationship building, and the inter-generational transmission of knowledge, helping us to break down barriers between cultural groups associated with “oral versus written” traditions and so on.

Dilara Inam: Without the expected genres to talk about narrative practices, it becomes a very broad topic which discussed in a well-organized way in your book. We see 12 different case studies surrounding the discussions on narrative practices organized under three main parts which are Boundaries of Self, Negotiating Heritage and Constructing Discursive Authority. How did you end up deciding to structure the book? Continue reading