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Narrative 15.3 (2007) 306-334

Storytelling and the Sciences of Mind:
Cognitive Narratology, Discursive Psychology, and Narratives in Face-to-Face Interaction
David Herman

1. Introduction

Research in the cognitive sciences, including fields such as psychology, linguistics, and the philosophy of mind, can help foster the development of "postclassical" approaches to the study of narrative. At issue are frameworks for narrative research that build on the work of classical, structuralist narratologists but supplement that work with concepts and methods that were unavailable to story analysts such as Roland Barthes, Gérard Genette, A. J. Greimas, and Tzvetan Todorov during the heyday of the structuralist revolution.1 One such framework, or cluster of frameworks, has begun to take shape under the rubric of "cognitive narratology," and in the present essay I hope to contribute to this emergent area of narrative inquiry by drawing on ideas from social psychology to explore the nexus between narrative and mind.2 Further, whereas cognitive narratologists have focused for the most part on written, literary narratives, my essay aims to broaden the scope of this research by using as a case study a narrative told in face-to-face interaction. Expanding the corpus of narratives on which narratological theories have been based, and making [End Page 306] adjustments in the theories according to constraints imposed by medium, genre, or communicative situation, constitute crucial aspects of the shift from classical to postclassical models for narrative study. Thus, although the present paper foregrounds oral narratives of personal experience, cognitive narratology is transmedial in scope; it is concerned with mind-relevant aspects of storytelling practices, wherever—and by whatever means—those practices occur.3

The particular strand of social-psychological research from which my essay borrows analytic tools is sometimes referred to as discursive psychology.4 Theorists working in this tradition draw a distinction between, on the one hand, "cognitivist approaches to language, where texts, sentences and descriptions are taken as depictions of an externally given world, or as realizations of underlying cognitive representations of that world" (Edwards and Potter 8), and, on the other hand, the discursive approach, which treats "discourse not as the product or expression of thoughts or mental states lying behind or beneath it, but as a domain of public accountability in which psychological states are made relevant" in particular contexts of talk (Edwards, "Surface" 41). Thus, whereas cognitivist approaches treat discourse as "1) the input to, or output from, or categories and schemas used in, mental models and processes; and/or 2) a methodological resource for research into mental states and representations" (Edwards, "Surface" 42), by contrast

The focus of discursive psychology is the action orientation of talk and writing . . . We are concerned with the nature of knowledge, cognition and reality: with how events are described and explained, how factual reports are constructed, how cognitive states are attributed. These are defined as discursive topics, things people topicalize or orientate themselves to, or imply, in their discourse . . . [Such topics are] examined in the context of their occurrence as situated and occasioned constructions whose precise nature makes sense, to participants and analysts alike, in terms of the social actions those descriptions accomplish.

(Edwards and Potter 2)

In short, if cognitivist approaches view discourse as a window onto underlying mental processes that form a kind of bedrock layer for psychological investigation, the discursive approach studies how the mind is oriented to and accounted for in systematic, norm-governed ways by participants in talk.5

As discussed further in section 3 below, analysts working in the tradition of discursive psychology as well as other, related frameworks for inquiry have sought to make a case for what Rom Harré termed the "second cognitive revolution" ("Introduction"). The first cognitive revolution, coinciding with the emergence of cognitive science in the 1950s as an umbrella discipline encompassing research in such fields as psychology, linguistics, computer science, and philosophy (Gardner), marked a shift away from behaviorism to the study of cognition; accordingly, first-wave cognitive science postulated that "there are...


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