Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Book Review: Human Communication as Narration

In perhaps his most important contribution to rhetorical theory and the understanding of human communication, Walter Fisher presents an explanation of his narrative paradigm in Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value and Action. This book essentially elaborates on and refines Fisher’s previous articles on the narrative paradigm and aims to present a more complete explanation of the theory’s roots, as well as its main tenets and relevant applications.Human Communication as Narration begins with an exhaustive examination of the history of narratives and logic, which includes his assertion that the logic by which human communication should be assessed return to the roots of the original meaning of logos: â€Å"story, reason, rationale, conception, discourse, thought† (p. 10). He asserts that Plato and Aristotle transformed the word logos into a specific term that applied only to philosophical/technical discourse, which launched a †Å"historical hegemonic struggle† that has lasted for more than 2,000 years (p. 10).Fisher explains that the positivist, â€Å"rational-world paradigm† that emphasized formal logic and reasoning (p. 58) is improved upon with his view of a more post-modern, ontological foundation where meaning is co-created through less formal structures like stories. In resurrecting the original meaning of logos, grounding his theory in ontology, and classifying human beings as â€Å"Homo narrans† (p. xi) , or storytelling animals, Fisher rejects the notion that technical logic is the only path to truth and knowledge, and argues that, as the ancients believed, all human communication is rational and contains truth and knowledge (p. 0). This more inclusive account of human communication together with the view that all human communication needs to be seen as stories sets the foundation for Fishers’ theory of narratives. In presenting the main points of his narrative theory ov er several chapters, Fisher explains that humans experience and understand life as a series of ongoing narratives, and that these stories are symbolic interpretations of â€Å"aspects of the world that [are] historically and culturally grounded and shaped by human personality† (p. 9). Given that stories are more than just a figure of speech and have the power to both inform and influence, Fisher establishes â€Å"narrative rationality† as a universal logic and means for the assessment for stories that is accessible by nature to all human beings (p. 47). This assessment is tested against narrative â€Å"probability (coherence) and fidelity (truthfulness and reliability)† (p. 47) – in other words, humans come to believe in and act on stories in so much as they relate to and identify with them.Going back to his assertion that human communication doesn’t have to exist in perfect structures of rhetorical arguments, he further explains that all humans po ssess the ability to reason and can therefore both communicate and accept truth as â€Å"good reasons† (p. 105). Perhaps an even better, more succinct explanation of this comes earlier in the book where Fisher states that â€Å"the materials of the narrative paradigm are symbols, signs of consubstantiation, and good reasons [are] the communicative expression of social reality† (p. 5). By including both formal logic and a logic of â€Å"good reasons† in the basis for argument, Fisher’s narrative paradigm contributes to rhetorical theory by expanding the meaning of persuasion just as Burke’s theory of identification did. Since the average person isn’t trained in formal logic, Fisher believed that the logic of good reasons (i. e. common sense), sits above all other persuasive means since it is universal and inherent in all human communication.Fisher goes on to assert that narrative rationality should also be â€Å"the foundation on which a com plete theory of rhetoric needs to be built† (p. 194). In this sense, the selection of stories we tell and come to accept is demonstrative of who we are and what we want others to believe about us. In the final section of his book, Fisher applies his narrative rationality in several real-world case studies including the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, Death of a Salesman, The Great Gatsby and the philosophical discussion between Socrates and Callicles in Plato’s Gorgias.These examples provide a helpful demonstration of how narrative rationality can be used to assess the coherence, truthfulness and reliability of stories across a wide range of contexts. In conceptualizing and applying narrative rationality, Fisher contributes an important method for the study of narratives in a variety of communication contexts, which is one of the most important contributions he makes to the study of communication. Through Human Communication as Narration, Fisher provided a more accessible, u niversal means for communicating and understanding human truth.Drawing inspiration from the works of Kenneth Burke, Alasdair MacIntyre, Stephen Toulmin and Chaim Perelman, Fisher’s narrative paradigm argues that formal logic and the positivist view are inadequately prepared to account for the motives and values in human communication. He offers a broader explanation that all forms of human communication are driven by and evolve from our inherent need to determine whether an accounting of new knowledge matches up with what we already know.In the 30 years since Human Communication as Narration was first published, scholars and professionals from a wide range of disciplines have applied Fisher’s narrative paradigm in a variety of contexts. Narrative methods for rhetorical analysis and criticism have been used by Barbara Sharf (1990), Hollihan and Riley (1987), and Michael Cornfield (1992), among many others. In 1993, David Mains argued that the time was ripe for a move to ward narrative sociology, which asserted that â€Å"sociology’s phenomena is made up precisely of stories† (p. 2) as well as that sociologists are mainly narrators. The use of narratives as a means for persuasion in advertising and public relations has been widely documented in recent years by Cinzia Bianchi (2011); Barbara Stern, Craig Thompson and Eric Arnould (1998); and Melanie Green (2006). The narrative paradigm has also been deployed in interpersonal communication and organizational communication (Ashcraft & Pacanowsky, 1996). And a large body of research has been dedicated to the study of narratives as a strategy in conflict resolution as well (Gergen & Gergen, 2006; Sandole et al. 2009). These are just a few of the ways in which Fisher’s narrative paradigm still contributes to the understanding of human communication today. But while the narrative paradigm has enjoyed a renaissance of late with new research that refines and extends the theory (Currie, 2 005; Kirkwood, 1992; McClure, 2009; Stroud, 2002), largely due to its growing multi-disciplinary interest as noted above, it has also attracted much criticism. But while these scholars recognized its value, they have also demonstrated that it is not as useful for critical analysis as it aimed to be.Stroud (2002) found issue with the lack of account for contradiction in stories when assessing narrative rationality. Kirkwood (1992) felt that Fisher’s narrative rationality is limiting in that it doesn’t allow for the possibilities of new stories to be accepted and acted upon. He goes on to argue that a â€Å"rhetoric of possibility† presented through narratives can better account for how rhetors challenge people with â€Å"new and unsuspected possibilities of being and action in the world† (Kirkwood, 1992, p. 31).McClure (2009) also specifically argued that the narrative paradigm must also account for the â€Å"inventional possibilities of new narratives, t he rhetorical revision of old narratives, and the appeal and acceptance of improbable narrative accounts† (p. 191). He also asserts that by expanding the role of Burke’s identification, the narrative paradigm can become a more viable theory and method of criticism. While several scholars have both praised and criticized Fisher’s narrative paradigm, the part of his story that related to narrative’s origins, philosophical foundation and relevance to human communication rang true for me.In my study of rhetorical theory I, too, have often felt that the structures of formal argument are too constricting and limiting in their ability to interpret all forms of persuasive communication. When using Fisher’s own narrative rationality to measure the coherence and fidelity of Human Communication as Narration, I find it to be both coherent and true – especially from my viewpoint as a woman living in a post-modern, post-structuralist society who works in t he field of public relations where stories are the very fabric of our communication strategies.And while I recognize the validity of the proposed extensions of his theory by Kirkwood (1992), McClure (2009) and Stroud (2002), I feel they also serve as proof points for the generative power of Fisher’s paradigm in new ways of thinking about stories. References Ashcraft, K. & Pacanowsky, M. (1996). â€Å"A woman’s worst enemy†: Reflections on a narrative of organizational life and female identity. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 24, 217-239. Bianchi, C. (2011). Semiotic approaches to advertising texts and strategies: Narrative, passion, marketing.Semiotica, 183, 243-271. Cornfield, M. (1992). The press and political controversy: The case for narrative analysis. Political Communication, 9, 47-59. Currie, M. (2005). Postmodern narrative theory. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Fisher, W. R. (1987). Human communication as narration: Toward a philosophy o f reason, value and action. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. Gergen, M. & Gergen, K. (2006). Narratives in action. Narrative Inquiry, 16, 112-121. Green, M. (2006). Narratives and cancer communication. Journal of Communication, 56, 163-183.Hollihan, T. & Riley, P. (1987). The rhetorical power of a compelling story. Communication Quarterly, 35, 13-25. Kirkwood, W. G. (1992). Narrative and the rhetoric of possibility. Communication Monographs, 59, 30-47. Maines, D. (1993). Narrative’s moment and sociology’s phenomena: Toward a narrative sociology. The Sociological Quarterly, 34, 17-38. McClure, K. (2009). Resurrecting the narrative paradigm: Identification and the case of Young Earth Creationism. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 39, 189-211. Sandole, D. , Byrne, S. , Sandole-Saroste, I. & Senehi, J. Eds. ). (2009). The handbook of conflict analysis and resolution. Routledge: New York. Sharf, B. (1990). Physician-patient communication as interpersonal rhetoric : A narrative approach. Health Communication, 2, 217-231. Stern, B. , Thompson, C. & Arnould, E. (1998). Narrative analysis of a marketing relationship: The consumer's perspective. Psychology & Marketing, 15, 195-214. Stroud, S. (2002). Multivalent narratives: Extending the narrative paradigm with insights from ancient philosophical thought. Western Journal of Communication, 66, 369-393.

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