story versus narrative: a definitional note

Stories have a clear beginning, middle and end and solve a problem, sometimes a dramatic peripeteia and sometimes a small conundrum. Stories are explicit, told and retold.

Narratives are a story made up of many stories and may not have a clear end, and may not have a clear problem or may indeed have many problems within. Narratives are often unseen, unnoticed, unanalyzed, and powerful shapers of human experience.

Take, for example, the American Dream… this is a narrative, one that is manifest in many different contexts… the media, folklore, social institutions.  It is made up of many stories, some of them also possibly narratives. Stories within the American Dream are about work and effort and the relationship between the two; about opportunity, fairness and equality; about rights and responsibilities; about meritocracy and privilege; about democracy. It is a complex narrative which contributes to its power.


1 thought on “story versus narrative: a definitional note

  1. This has interesting implications for research reports. Perhaps tracking studies could benefit from the narrative style whereas custom studies benefit from a story style. Not that they have to stick to one or the other but it’s helpful to have a framework behind a report and this could be it. Thank you!

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