Narrative Analysis


Narratives or stories occur when one or more speakers engage in sharing and recounting an experience or event.  Typically, the telling of a story occupies multiple turns in the course of a conversation and stories or narratives may share common structural features.

Narrative analysis takes the story as the investigative focus.

Narratives or stories may:

  • be oral or written
  • be elicited, for example during an interview, or naturally-occurring
  • be very short or long
  • be told as a way to share one's biography (life stories)
  • focus on events and the meaning of those events for those experiencing them (e.g. oral histories; auto-ethnographies)
  • focus on the ordinary stories people tell as a way to share everyday experiences (e.g. Labov and Waletzy's work)

Since the 'narrative turn' in the social sciences, narratives or stories have been the focus of considerable interest. This is because researchers have come to understand that personal, social, and cultural experiences are contructed through the sharing of stories.

Labov and Waletzky's work over 30 years ago (1967/1997) drew scholars in the study of language to the study or storytelling.  It is from this work that stories came to be seen as communication events in their own right.

There are a wide range of ways to view and analyze stories or narratives. 

In health care research, scholars have investigated the experience of health care and illness from patients' perspectives (e.g. Kleinman; Mishler) and the meaning of disease (e.g. Stevens & Tighe Doerr) using a variety of narrative methods.

There are several extended reviews of the narrative and storytelling literature, including: Riessman, Chase, Goodwin, Langellier, and Robinson.  See below for references.


Bruner, J. (1991). "The narrative construction of reality." Critical Inquiry, 18(1), 1-21.

Chase, SE. (2005). "Narrative Inquiry: Multiple lenses, approaches and voices." In NK Denzin & YS Lincoln (Eds) The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (3rd Edition) pp. 651-679. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Genette, G. (1980). Narrative Discourse: An essay in Method. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.  

Gergen, KJ. (1994). Realities and Relationships: Soundings in Social Construction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Goodwin, C. (1984). "Notes of story structure and the organization of participation." In JM Atkinson and JC Heritage (Eds.), Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis. (pp. 225-247). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jameson, F. (1981). The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Jefferson, G. (1978). "Sequential aspects of storytelling in conversation." In J. Schenkein (Ed.) Studies in the Organization of Conversational Interaction. (pp. 219-248). New York: Academic Press.

Kleinman, A. (1988). The Illness Narratives: Suffering and Health and The Human Condition. USA: Basic Books.

Labov, W. & Waletzky, J. (1967/1997). "Narrative analysis: Oral versions of personal experience."  Reprinted in The Journal of Narrative and Life History, 7, 3-39. 

Langellier, KM. (1999). "Personal narrative, performance, performativity: Two or three things that I know for sure."  Text and Performance Quarterly, 19, 125-144.

Langellier, KM. (1989). "Personal narratives: Perspectives on theory and research." Text and Performance Quarterly, 9, 243-276.

Mandelbaum, J. (1993). "Assigning responsibility in conversational storytelling: The interactional construction of reality." Text, 13(2), 247-266.

Mandelbaum (1989). "Interpersonal activities in conversational storytelling." Western Journal of Speech Communication, 53, 114-126.

Mishler, EG. (2005). "Patients stories, narratives of resistance, and the ethics of humane care: a la recherche du temps perdu." Health (London). 4, 231-51.

Mishler, EG. (1995). "Models of narrative analysis: A typology." Journal of Narrative and Life History, 5, 87-123.

Muller, JH. (1999). "Narrative Approaches to Qualitative Research in Primary Care." In BF Crabtree and WL Miller (Eds.) Doing Qualitative Research (2nd Ed). pp. 221-238. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Propp, V. (1968). Morphology of the Folktale. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Riessman, CK. (1993). Narrative Analysis.  Qualitative Research Methods Series 30. Newbury Park, CA; Sage Publications.

Robinson, J. (1981). "Personal narratives reconsidered." Journal of American Folklore, 94, 58-85.

Schegloff, EA. (1997). "'Narrative Analysis' thirty years later." The Journal of Narrative and Life History, 7, 97-107.

Stevens, PE. & Tighe Doerr, B. (1997). "Trauma of discovery: Women's narratives of being informed they are HIV-infected." AIDS Care, 9(5), 523-538.

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