Storytelling in Conversation


Rutgers University

They’re not, then, doing simply telling a story for no good reason, or telling of something that happened once to somebody else, or that happens to people, but they’re offering something that does something now, i.e. describes, explains, accounts for, our current circumstances—mine, yours, or mine and yours.

(Sacks, 1992: II: 465)


There is a substantial body of literature on storytelling in a number of fields, including Linguistics, Anthropology, Folklore, Sociology, Cultural Studies, Communication, Psychology and Cognitive Science. This work has focused predominantly on the story. In contrast, conversation analytic work focuses on the telling, revealing the stable set of features that interactants deploy to produce storytelling as a recognizable activity and through which they implement a variety of social actions. (On activity and overall structural organization, see Robinson, this volume.) In focusing on the telling of stories, conversation analysts have shown that stories are interactive productions, co-constructed by teller and recipient and tailored to the occasions of their production. The focus on telling also facilitates the observation that with stories, tellers not only relate experiences but simultaneously complain, blame, account, justify and so on (Schegloff, 1997a: 97).

Sacks (1972c: 345) examined the story “the baby cried the mommy picked it up,” explicating the kind of knowledge ...

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