The big story about small stories: Narratives of crime and terrorism

John Wilson, Karyn Stapleton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The 'big story/small story' distinction has emerged as a discrete approach to narrative analysis. Proponents of this approach are critical of the 'big stories' elicited by structural analysts, which they see as highly structured narratives of past experiences, typically elicited in an interview context. In contrast, they highlight the importance of studying the fragmented, contextualised 'small stories' that arise in everyday conversation/interaction. We question the basis of this distinction and we suggest that it unnecessarily proliferates analytic categories. Further, we suggest that the methodologies followed by 'small stories' analysts are often similar to those used to elicit 'big stories' and are hence open to similar criticisms; in particular, a failure to fully consider the issue of (contextual) naturalism. Drawing on interviews of crime/terrorism in Northern Ireland, we show how these data comprise both 'big stories' and 'small stories' within the same context and often within the same narrative.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-312
JournalJournal of Sociolinguistics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2010


  • Big stories • small stories • narrative • interview • contextual naturalism • observer's paradox


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