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Boje: "The Storytelling Organization"

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 7 months ago

The Storytelling Organization: A Study of Story Performance in an Office-Supply Firm

By David M. Boje


The Boje article examines organizations as story telling systems. According to Boje, “In organizations, storytelling is the preferred sense-making currency of human relationships among internal and external stakeholders.” (106) Boje’s article explores stories told in an office-supply firm (here, called Gold), looking at both the overt and the more subtle clues that often emerge from the stories that co-workers tell among each other. What makes Boje’s approach a bit different from his peers is his emphasis on the performance aspect of the storytelling. It is an area that he claims has been ignored in research – even though the importance of how a story is told can be incredibly important to the interpretation of the story. He offers a description of the story as “a joint performance of teller(s) and hearer(s) in which often overlooked, very subtle utterances play an important role in the negotiation of meaning and co-production in a storytelling episode.”


Boje outlines a variety of past research on storytelling, pointing out the deficiencies in some of the approaches – all of which center around the failure to look at storytelling in context, ignoring situated language performance. Case studies often present stories second and third hand, failing to reveal subtleties of the storytelling process. Likewise, stories studied through interview methods or through surveys have also ignored the performance aspect of the actual storytelling. Boje argues that such approaches fall short when trying to understand the truths behind the stories. “Stories can therefore be correctly interpreted only to the extent that the researcher grasps the story in situ. Second, identifying stories in context will be rewarded by the discovery that there are a multitude of stories that are not discernible at first.” (109)


As mentioned, Boje studied an office firm, here named Gold, by tape recording and videotaping over 100 hours of meetings between employees and other stakeholders. He catalogued the stories into different types of story patterns and then coded story bits with different symbols, including notations that indicated pauses and changes in inflection, etc. Boje personally transcribed over 400 hours over the eight months of his study!


Boje’s look at storytelling in the office firm, Gold, raised some important questions. Does story performance occur more frequently in some types of organizations than in others? Is it more frequent in turbulent organizations? (some research would suggest that it is). Are people who are more skilled storytellers and story interpreters more effective communicators than those who are not? (again, research seems to say yes). Most importantly, for Boje, are his conclusions on the value of his approach to studying storytelling: “…story researchers can benefit by entering organizations to observe first-hand how people perform storytelling.” (125) What Boje calls the “storytelling organization theory” puts the story text and performance next to each other – each giving “insight into the complex and varied ways organization members use storytelling in their work world.” (125)

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