Narrative Paradigm - Alec R. Hosterman
Transcript Narrative Paradigm - Alec R. Hosterman
Of Walter Fisher
What is the essence of human nature?
Thibaut & Kelly: Humans are rational creatures
Berger: People are basically curious
Mead: Our ability to use symbols is what makes us
Fisher: Doesn’t argue any of these, but thinks that
human communication reveals something more
basic than rationality, curiosity or even symbol
Walter Fisher, professor emeritus at the
University of Southern California’s
Annenberg School of Communication
Fisher sees us as narrative beings and that
storytelling epitomizes our human nature.
He tells us that all forms of human communication
are narrative, meaning that we communicate in order
to tell stories, or give report of an event or events.
(With the exception of Phatic Communication, such as jokes, “Hi, How
are you?” greetings and other forms of Phatic communication.)
Forrest Gump: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdsMqRaz2WY
In 1978, Fisher introduced the concept of good
reasons, which led to his proposal of the narrative
paradigm in 1984.
He proposed that offering good reasons has more
to do with telling a compelling story than it does
with piling up evidence or constructing a tight
Aristotle: 2000 years of logical rhetoric
For 2000 years rhetoric had been analyzed in
terms of reason, pathos, logos and how well people
were making their argument.
Rhetoric was all about persuasion and how to
Until Fisher created a paradigm shift from a
rational-world paradigm to a narrative one.
Prevailing Rational-World Paradigm
People are essentially rational.
We make decisions on the basis of arguments.
The type of speaking situation (legal, scientific,
legislative) determines the course of our
Rationality is determined by how much we
know and how well we argue.
The world is a set of logical puzzles that we can
solve through rational analysis.
Major Conceptual Shift to Narrative Paradigm
People are essentially storytellers.
We make decisions on the basis of good
reasons, which vary depending on the
communication situation, media, and genre
(philosophical, technical, rhetorical, or artistic).
History, biography, culture and character
determine what we consider good reasons.
Narrative rationality is determined by the
coherence and fidelity of our stories.
The world is a set of stories from which we
choose, and thus constantly re-create, our lives.
Narrative Rationality: Coherence & Fidelity
According to Fisher, not all stories are good.
Stories need to meet the twin tests of narrative
coherence and narrative fidelity.
Together they are measures of a story’s
truthfulness and humanity.
How probable does the story sound to the listener?
Does the narrative hang together?
Do the people and events it portrays seem to be of
Do the characters act consistently or are there
The quality of a story that causes the words to strike a responsive
chord in the life of the listener.
When the listener hears it, the story rings true with the listener’s
experiences and stories they may tell about themselves.
The story provides good reasons to guide our future actions.
When we buy into a story, we buy into the type of character we
Examples of stereotypical stories we love (underdog movies, people
overcoming great odds to achieve greatness)
Susan Boyle: http://youtu.be/RxPZh4AnWyk
The Logic of Good Reasons
Fisher says we are concerned with:
The values embedded in the message
The relevance of those values to decisions
The consequence of adhering to those values
The overlap with the worldview of the audience
Conformity with what the audience members
believe is “an ideal basis for conduct”
Fisher suggests that there is an ideal audience or
permanent public that identifies the humane
values that a good story embodies:
It appears that there is a permanent public, an
actual community existing over time, that believes
in the values of truth, the good, beauty, health,
wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, harmony,
order, communion, friendship, and oneness with
the Cosmos– as variously as those values may be
defined or practiced in “real” life.
Fisher believes that we are not as logic driven as
many communications theories argue.
He says that we are more persuaded by a good
story than a good argument, that a good story is a
powerful means of persuasion.
According to Fisher, the world is a set of stories and
when a person is speaking there is a story involved.
He determined that we choose from those stories
and we construct our own life by the decisions we
Does Fisher’s Story Have
Coherence & Fidelity?
Fisher’s approach is strongly democratic.
When communication is viewed as narrative,
people usually don’t need specialized training or
expertise to figure out if a story holds together or
offers good reasons for believing it to be true.
People with ordinary common sense are competent
Many critics charge that Fisher is overly optimistic
when, similar to Aristotle, Fisher argues that people
have a natural tendency to prefer the true and the
Rhetorical Critic Barbara Warnick at the University
of Washington calls attention to the great
communicative power of evil or wrongheaded
stories such as Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
Effective versus Good
Hitler achieved one of history’s most notorious acts
of rhetoric, yet in its time and place it achieved both
coherence and fidelity.
Fisher thinks Warnick is confusing Hitler’s effective
discourse with the good discourse that people tend
But he grants that evil can overwhelm that
tendency and thinks that’s all the more reason to
identify and promote the humane values described
by the narrative paradigm.
Fisher proposed the Narrative Paradigm, the idea
1. Man is a storytelling animal
2. That human communication is largely a
3. And that we should test the narrative rationality
of stories for credibility and fidelity.
1. Paradigm Shift:
A minor change in the way most people see the world
and its meanings.
True or False?
2. Can this be applied in our daily lives?
Yes or No?
3. If yes, how?
Questions or thoughts?
Of Walter Fisher
Everyone has a story.
Thank you for listening to mine!