Telling the Story: Meaning making in a community narrative

Karyn Stapleton, John Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
142 Downloads (Pure)


Narrative theory distinguishes between the theme of a story and its form or “telling”. This idea is central to Narrative Psychology, where narrative is proposed as a way of understanding cognition (Bruner,1986, 2004) and the concept of narrative templates (Wertsch, 2002) is used to explain underlying regularities in how collective memories/accounts are structured and expressed. Linguistic studies of narrative have mostly examined “one-off” tellings, focusing on structural or social features, with a related concern to define narrative discourse per se. Consequently, there is little empirical examination of how shared templates are realised in different settings, nor of how such templates structure everyday understanding within communities. Here, we examine two separate tellings of a political/community narrative in a Belfast nationalist community. Both draw upon a shared narrative template, which links sense-making and identity at different levels within the community. However, there are marked performative differences between the two tellings. Our analysis is distinctive in focusing on a shared narrative template in two settings rather than on self-contained narrative. We highlight three key points relevant to narrative pragmatics. Firstly, we show how community narrative operates as a shared sense-making resource for members. Secondly, we demonstrate that different discourse activities are used to realise the underlying template, and hence, we argue against seeking definitive descriptions of “narrative discourse”. Finally, we show how the narrative performances reflect power and the perceived purpose of the respective interviews, thereby providing a framework for identity positioning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-80
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date5 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

Funder: ESRC


  • Narrative templates
  • Narrative performance
  • Community narrative
  • Political narrative
  • Meaning/sense-making
  • Narrative discourse


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