Conversational narrative: a meta-analysis of narrative analysis

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Carbon, Susan Elizabeth

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This dissertation is a meta-analysis of the narrative analysis methodologies of Labov and Waletzky (1967), Labov (1972, 1997, 2001, 2002), Polanyi (1985) and Ochs and Capps (2001) using data from the Minnesota Corpus (Barnes, 1984) to test the usefulness of these methodologies. Conversational narrative was first a subject of analysis in the late 60's when Labov and Waletzky, working under the influence of structural linguistics, decided that in order to better understand narrative, one must understand its most basic form, which they felt resided in oral versions of personal experience. Since their groundbreaking 1967 study, the field of conversational narrative analysis has been dominated by structural approaches to narrative that seek to define the structural components of a narrative and formulate an analysis based on these components. Only recently with the introduction of Ochs and Capps' methodology in 2001 has an alternative which values both the context and the interactive nature of narrative and seeks to describe the co-participant's influences on narrative been put forth. This meta-analysis suggests that there are positive and negative qualities to each of the methodologies at issue and that different methodologies are more or less appropriate for different types of data. While the structural approaches to conversational narrative suggested by Labov and Polanyi do not provide an adequate means to analyze interactive narratives, Ochs and Capps' methodology requires more extensive ethnographic information than what were available from the Minnesota corpus data. While the Ochs and Capps' approach seems overall to be the best suited for the type of data at issue in the Minnesota corpus, there are also clear benefits to be derived from applying a more structural approach. Specifically, an analysis of a narrative's Non-Storyworld clauses (as defined by Polanyi) seems to provide important insights. Moreover, these clauses can help the analyst address how interlocutors make sense of the relevance of narrative in coversational discourse, something hinted at by both Labov and Polanyi. I suggest that a combination of elements from both structural and ethnographic approaches provides a more complete methodology with which to analyze interactive narrative data.