Organizational Story and Storytelling: a Critical Review

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Critical Review

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Organizational Story and Storytelling: A Critical Review
By Mary E. Boyce, PhD, Asso. Professor, Dept. of Management & Business, Whitehead College, University of Redlands, P. O. Box 3080, 1200 E. Colton Avenue, Redlands, CA, USA 92373 voice: (909)335-4068 fax: (909)335-5125 e-mail: Accepted for publication in the Journal of Organizational Change Management , 1996, Volume 9, Number 5

Acknowledgement: The author wishes to thank David Boje, Will McWhinney, Jon Sager, Burkard Sievers and Teri Tompkins for their comments on earlier versions of this paper.

Abstract The Social Construction of Reality Organization Symbolism as an Organizing Perspective Taking A Critical Perspective A Focused, Interdisciplinary Lens For Review Contributions From A Multidisciplinary Foundation Key Studies in Folklore and Anthropology Research in Communication Theories Key Studies In Organizational Story And Storytelling Organizational Story and Myth Storytelling as a Process Challenges to Theory and Practice Summary REFERENCES



Critical Review

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The stories told in organizations offer researchers and OD practitioners a natural entry point to understanding and intervening in the culture(s) of an organization. Informed by perspectives of social constructivism, organizational symbolism, and critical theory, key studies of organizational story and storytelling are examined, multidisciplinary foundations are identified, and challenges to the application of story work in organizations are presented.

The stories told in organizations offer researchers and OD practitioners a natural entry point to understanding and intervening in the culture(s) of an organization. This review is informed by social constructivism, organizational symbolism, and critical theory. Considered individually, each of these perspectives includes a point of view, a genealogy of sorts regarding idea development, and examples of story research. Taken altogether, social constructivism, interpretive organizational symbolism, and critical theory provide a focused, interdisciplinary lens for the review of studies in organizational story and storytelling. Organizational story and storytelling studies build upon a foundation of multidisciplinary research that has shaped the understanding we have of story and storytelling. This review highlights the contributions of several key studies, critically examines the perspectives of these studies, and reflects on what has been learned about story and storytelling. Challenges to theory and practice are identified and attention is drawn to the applications possible for researchers and practitioners utilizing story and storytelling in their work in organizations.

The Social Construction of Reality
A social constructivist perspective is one of three perspectives informing this review. Berger and Luckmann (1967) described social construction as a blend of a social reality and symbolic interaction. They contended that the reality we collectively experience has, in fact, been constructed by our social interactions. Berger and Luckmann began with the universal need for meaning and order. They proposed that as individuals engage in the construction of their personal meaning, collectives engage in the construction of a social reality. In its first generation, a socially constructed reality is shared by all the participants. It is as this reality needs to be communicated and passed on to another generation that difficulty arises. There is a desire to integrate a new generation into the current reality. It is this need for integration which Berger and Luckmann believed motivates "legitimation" (1967: 86). Legitimation is the process by which people construct explanations and justifications for the fundamental elements of their collective, institutionalized tradition. There has been...
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