happy ending

PhD Extract 2 – On writing style

The form of this thesis breaks from scientific academic convention in several ways. Perhaps most obviously, the author, or researcher, is conspicuously present. Some sections of the document are more traditional, but they are interspersed with personal narrative and descriptive dialogues from interviews and discussion sessions. This is completely deliberate, it is the intent of this thesis to represent storytelling culture in the most honest and respectful way possible, and using a ‘messy text’ (Denzin, 1997) was deemed the most appropriate approach (see chapter 3). The mix of writing was developed as a means to navigate the story strands contained throughout the text.

…The writing adopted in this thesis does not claim to be a complete auto ethnography. There are indeed autobiographical elements, but they are confined to my storytelling journey. Reed-Danahay claims that ‘one of the main characteristics of an auto ethnographic perspective is that the auto ethnographer is a boundary-crosser, and the role can be characterised as that of a dual identity.’ (1997, p. 3) This has certainly been the case for me. My writing slides along a continuum, as the lens switches from outsider to insider and back again, from techno junkie to technophobe, and from listener to teller. The writing switches from personal journal entries, to narrative ethnography charting storytelling events, to dialogue-led discussion and interviews, and to ‘scientific’ impassive writing.

…I am not naïve enough to presume that the reflexive/narrative ethnographic elements in this thesis are ‘transformational’, nevertheless, it is hoped that the narratives presented serve to paint a realistic, meaningful and honest picture of the storytelling community in Scotland.

Storytelling is about making the ordinary extraordinary. The crucial point here is ordinary, making events and situations which listeners can relate to, whether it be by the force of human nature in believable characters, or say, familiar landscapes. If stories are not relevant to current society then they must be changed or else forgotten, that is, if they do not captivate the audience and elicit the desired response then the story piece is not working. Over time, if the story no longer fulfils its purpose, its presence fades. The upshot is that the existing corpus of stories are always important to today’s society, i.e. if they do not work then they will not be retold.

Maxwell, D. 2010. Traditional Storytelling in a Digital World: the transformative power of Storytelling across media, Doctoral Thesis, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design University of Dundee, March 2010.

Illustration by Stefanie Hess.