Saturday, December 17, 2016

Research Note for an article on buzzword "narrative" (11): Quite Recent Google entries on the topic (12/10/2016 - 12/17/2016)

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(Pls. see below for other, less lengthy citations from Google Alerts).

(11.1) What makes influential science? Telling a good story, (December 16, 2016)

It turns out that even in the world of scientific writing, your eighth-grade teacher was right: how you write can matter as much as what you write.

In a study published Dec. 15 in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers from the University of Washington looked at the abstracts from more than 700 scientific papers about climate change to find out what makes a paper influential in its field. But instead of focusing on content, they looked at writing style, which is normally more the province of humanities professors rather than scientists.

Their idea was that papers written in a more narrative style—those that tell a story—might be more influential than those with a drier, more expository style. Psychology and literary theory have long held that if you want someone to remember something, you should communicate it in the form of a story. The UW researchers—led by Annie Hillier, a recent graduate from the UW's School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, and professors Ryan Kelly and Terrie Klinger—wondered whether this theory would hold up in the realm of peer-reviewed scientific literature.

Remarkably, it did. The most highly cited papers tended to include elements like sensory language, a greater degree of language indicating cause-and-effect and a direct appeal to the reader for a particular follow-up action.

"The results were especially surprising given that we often think of scientific influence as being driven by science itself, rather than the form in which it is presented," Hillier said.

Perhaps even more surprising, the researchers noted, was the finding that the highest-rated journals tended to feature articles that had more narrative content.

"We don't know if the really top journals pick the most readable articles, and that's why those articles are more influential, or if the more narrative papers would be influential no matter what journal they are in," Kelly said.

The researchers used a crowdsourcing website to evaluate the narrative content of the journal articles. Online contributors were asked a series of questions about each abstract to measure whether papers had a narrative style, including elements like language that appeals to one's senses and emotions.
The researchers hope this work might lead to advances in scientific communication, improving the odds that science might lead the way to better decisions in the policy realm.


(11.2) Alison Cooke Mintzer, "Storytelling With Numbers: Analysis of data and statistics can easily be wrong," (November-December 2016)
As a kid, I loved math. The answer was right or wrong, black or white. You could easily see where you went wrong if your answer wasn’t correct and could remedy that to arrive at the one expected
In college, I decided to abandon my calculus career path and delve into statistics. Statistics, I quickly determined, is not math but data—namely the analysis and interpretation of data. While I loved the black and white nature of math, the gray nature of statistics intrigued me, because of the narrative it allows. A percentage itself is black and white—40%, for example—but how it is presented, the stories it is used to convey are gray—only two out of five, or nearly half or less than half. The positioning begins the narrative.
If it wasn’t clear already, in many ways, the presidential election showed all Americans how easily data and statistics can get the analysis wrong. Data can be very useful, but it can also provide a narrative that may not be always correct. ...
[T] he concept of a data narrative reminds all of us that, in order to properly leverage that data, we have to look at the inputs and be mindful of how the numbers are then interpreted.

(11.3) Lauren Wein, "Election Is Like a Book — The Problem Is We’ve Read It Before,"
No matter the plot, a great novel deftly walks the knife edge between the life force and the death drive — letting the reader know that the stakes in the book, as in life, are always high. A great novel doesn’t preach or set out a situation in black and white. It is capacious enough to hold contradictory ideas and opinions and, by doing so, help the reader do the same.
Of course this is true of great people too — animated by contradiction, by oppositions and tensions. We are constantly navigating between loyalties and desires, aspirations and disappointments.
America: the first country to define itself by the variety and variability of its citizens. The first country whose authors were also its characters; who would vote for its leaders rather than submit to a god-like monarch or dictator. America: a collaboration between leaders and subjects. (Well, some of them — it would take time, but in watershed moments, “of the people, by the people, for the people” would come to include those of us who are not white males.) America: an imperfect, ever-evolving narrative.
On Tuesday, November 8, I was so certain — in retrospect, suspiciously so — that at long last, we had arrived at another watershed moment in our great narrative: 96 years ago, women could not vote, were confined to the domestic sphere, had almost no control over their reproductive destinies. But, in 2016, we heard Eliza Hamilton’s plaintive “let me be a part of the narrative,” and felt that we were not only part of it, we were writing it. First a black man, now a woman. The glass ceiling would be shattered, that narrative would widen, make space for us all.
Like most of New York City, I spent much of Wednesday with a red nose and swollen eyes, shuffling through the streets, silent, in shock. If you’ve lived through one or more serious depressive episodes, you know that a good part of it has to do with resisting the demise of an illusion that has sustained you. There is great shame in recognizing your own hubris, your blind spots. And then there is a paralysis that follows, the exhaustion at the thought of realignment. Of having to integrate new information, expand your point of view, find your place in the new world order.
But I confess that there was also a moment in the course of Wednesday, that the reader in me felt a small but undeniable frisson of affirmation: the American narrative is even more capacious than I had thought. ... 
No matter how long we live, how many books we read, great narratives can still surprise us.
America! Its terrain more alive, more dynamic, than I ever suspected. The narrative is fluid, contradictory and evolving.
But this new chapter of ours is none of those things. Far worse than the map turning red, far worse than the shame and sadness of realizing our own limited points of view, is the fact that this chapter might have been lifted from another book entirely — one by Bertolt Brecht or George Orwell or Gunter Grass. This hairpin turn is a reminder that we have to pay attention to the text and subtext, which are constantly threatening to overtake each other. America is not a beach read — we must always be mindful, vigilant, on alert, must read with red pen in hand. 
This chapter, as written by a small-minded narcissist and his newly appointed henchmen is brutal and one-note, intent on narrowing and excluding, rejecting and suppressing. In this chapter, demagoguery threatens to subsume democracy, promising to divide rather than integrate, regress rather than evolve. To bastardize Walt Whitman, it actively, literally refuses to contain multitudes.
This chapter shows every sign of fatal imbalance — too much death drive and not enough life force. It doesn’t care what came before (slavery, internment) or what might come after (climate change).
We’ve read this one before, and we know how it ends.

(11.4) Chris Golden, "WikiLeaks Founder Speaks Out, DESTROYS Liberal Trump-Russia Narrative: ‘Our Source Is…’ "
The narrative that the Russians are Donald Trump’s secret BFFs and that their intelligence forces or sympathetic operatives were put to work against Hillary Clinton seems to be falling apart every day. Yet, it’s been uncritically reported so often that it’s taken as truth throughout the mainstream media.

(11.4) ORDER AND DISORDER: THE (DE)CONSTRUCTION OF NARRATIVE IN LITERATURE AND THOUGHTRomantic Circles:A refereed scholarly Website devoted to the study of Romantic-period literature and culture

Submitted by rc-admin on Wed, 12/14/2016 - 09:59
Wednesday, December 14, 2016 - 11:15am
Boston College English Graduate Conference
deadline for submissions:
Monday, February 6, 2017

Narrative identity takes part in the story’s movement, in the dialectic between order and disorder.”

--Paul Ricoeur [JB comment: his heart is still laughing!]

Marking the indistinct boundary between “a mere sequence of moments” and “a story” is the complex but inescapable concept of narrative. Narratives appear to order and unify events, creating a sense of coherent meaning, yet the narratives by which we order our lives—narratives of gender, race, class, nation, etc.—are always internally troubled.


(11.5) Editorial, "The coverage of Syria’s civil war,"
A new chapter is beginning, but it is unclear what will happen next in the vicious conflict. As we struggle to understand how a tragedy of this magnitude could unfold before our eyes, it is critical to unravel the way the Syrian conflict is covered in the media. Up to this point, the coverage of the war has been largely written from a western perspective. Editors from western publications, often based in Beirut or Istanbul because Syria is far too dangerous, rely on freelance journalists and activists for on the ground reporting. Social media updates from unverified sources have been used alongside statements from a variety of human rights organisations each claiming to represent the Syrian people.
The result has been an unusual unity in western coverage of Syria in which publications of different political persuasion embrace the same narrative. While this type of coverage might suit the needs of readers in Berlin or New York, those in the region require a broader form of reportage. We can’t rely on one single narrative of the Syria conflict or any conflict for that matter. This is not to say that the western narrative is wrong. Rather, the question is whether it is a complete narrative.

(11.6) How to Make Your Corporate Narrative Far More Powerful.

Only 51% of employees use the corporate narrative in their communications; these three steps will boost that number significantly

13 Dec 2016 | CEB Marketing & CommunicationsShare

Most firms would benefit from a better corporate narrative. At base, it is a way of giving everyone who works with or for the company a shared sense of purpose, and for customers and others to understand what the company is trying to achieve.

The problem is that, at a time when near constant change makes this kind of message so important for discouraged and unsure employees, companies find it harder than ever to create a single, compelling story that cuts through the noise. And this isn’t good because inconsistent messaging about a company’s identity and direction can make the company appear at best disorganized and at worst disingenuous.

Why It’s Hard to Create a Company Story

Corporate communications teams – who are normally charged with coming up with a corporate narrative – tend to focus their energy on making the story itself perfect. And for good reason: they need a narrative that defines the company vision, inspires employees and others, but that doesn’t become irrelevant at the first shift in strategy, new acquisition, or change of senior executive.

The problem, however, is that the crucial part to making a success of the corporate narrative is what happens after you’ve written it: embedding it into the company culture. There are three reasons why companies struggle with this.

Lack of consensus: Communications team face an uphill battle to unify different perspectives and work around group dynamics to build a single narrative. At most companies, the corporate narrative is conceptualized, constructed, and approved by just a few individuals who often express conflicting or differing ideas.

Lack of understanding: Just having a corporate narrative does not guarantee its use; employees need to embrace the story and put it into action. Among those employees who are aware of the corporate narrative, 51% choose not to use it in their messages, according to CEB analysis.

The problem is a lack of understanding about the context for the narrative. Business leaders should help employees understand the shared behaviors, mindset, and language that defines the company’s vision.

Lack of widespread use: Contrary to expectations, the majority of employees who use the corporate narrative are not within communications or marketing. Employees in virtually all functions have the potential to communicate using the corporate narrative but this only works if the narrative reflects what they believe and do.

Three Steps to Get the Corporate Narrative Working

There are three ways for companies to get everyone to speak the same corporate language.

Incorporate user understanding: Business leaders cannot create corporate narratives by the usual market landscape, customer interviews and brainstorming sessions. The narrative must explain the company’s story, its vision for the future and how it wants to get there. As such, leaders must build a consensus about the narrative and ensure it reflects the everyday jobs and beliefs of the people who use it, not just the executives who developed it.

Supplement the narrative: An essential part of corporate narrative is supporting materials (e.g. FAQs) that offer opportunities for continued improvement. Workshops, conferences, and training are all parts of companies’ efforts to create a corporate narrative that employees can use and understand.

(11.7) Rod Dreher,"Chastisement As The Gift It Was,"
A reader e-mailed the response below to the “Story Of Your Life” post. If you didn’t read that one, the thing you need to know is that it talks about people who construe bad or otherwise unwelcome events in their lives as part of a redemption story, and those who construe them as a contamination story. Sit down for this one:
This post of yours touched a nerve with me. It is interesting how these “contamination stories” and “redemption stories” will often tend to cycle back and forth over the course of a lifetime, depending upon our spiritual state. I have found in my own life that the redemption narrative, if not planted firmly in a dependency on God’s grace, often leads one into a false sense of prideful security and personal control–ripe pastures for the snares of the evil one. I considered posting this to your site anonymously, but it’s a bit long and perhaps veers a bit off topic. If you find it interesting, feel free to use it as you see fit. I think it illustrates how, depending on the narrative we choose to accept, what might look “good” on some level can cause things to turn “sour”, and things that are objectively “bad” (or at least, caused by our own sinfulness) might be the very catalyst which allow us to recognize God’s redemptive grace whereby we again participate in the redemption story. To illustrate my point:
My story begins more than 10 years ago in college. It was a few weeks before the commencement of my sophomore year when my younger brother passed away unexpectedly (long story short, he was born with a heart defect, but his end was very abrupt and unexpected both by his doctors). It’s always hard to lose a sibling, as you well know, but to lose one who is only 14 was devastating to myself personally, to my family, and to our church. My family was very devout and I was raised in a very active Southern Baptist Church. While I now have a deep and abiding respect for many aspects of that faith tradition, I had already begun to drift away due to the (at least perceived) paucity of that denomination’s intellectual tradition. I had a lot of questions and was generally told to just have faith in scripture and all my questions would go away. As you can imagine, my brother’s death intensified my need for answers. The two years after his death marked a period of deep spiritual longing and experimentation with various modes of the Christian tradition, but was also something of a spiritual wilderness and dislocation. I didn’t reject my faith at the time, though in retrospect I would describe this time period as falling within a “contamination narrative” in that I had burrowed so far into my own head so as to avoid my emotions and grief that it was hard to experience anything save a sense of longing and my own hardening cynicism.
This is the period in which I first became acquainted with the Orthodox Church. A dear college friend was in the process of converting and asked if I would like to attend a liturgy one Christmas Eve. It was beautiful, and I was intrigued, but I wasn’t really that interested at the time. Still, I was engaged enough that when it came time for a fall Orthodox college retreat I agreed to go, if for no other reason than that they needed drivers and I had a car. It was there that I got to know (not meet, we’d known each other casually for some time) the young woman who in short order would become my wife. She was from a similarly evangelical background and was a deeply committed Christian, but she was very smart and sophisticated and (like me) uneasy with the answers presented her by her faith tradition. On top of that, she had recently lost a sibling to cancer. We formed an immediate bond, and I think that we both felt as though we were finally able to grieve and to make sense of what had happened to us. Thus what had been a “contamination narrative” I came to see as a “redemption narrative”; God drawing two souls together who desperately needed someone who they could trust enough to work through the pain together.
We also began attending the local Orthodox Church. Very soon (too soon) thereafter I had asked her to marry me. We both agreed that we wanted our faith to play a central role in our lives. It was the end of my senior year and not wanting to be away from her (nor, believing as we did, wanting to cohabit unmarried) we married that summer and soon thereafter began the process of joining the Orthodox Church and were then Chrismated. Talk about a redemption narrative, I found myself on something of a spiritual plateau, and had nothing but optimism for the future! But all was not well.
I have thought long over the course of these 8 years since I separated from and later divorced my first wife what happened. Certainly my own sinfulness and naivete played a role. My continued struggle with pride and intellectualism at the expense of the heart also contributed. We had jumped into marriage before we knew enough about one another, and I neglected to take seriously the mental and emotional scars left on her by her own sad life, nor with my own capacity to handle their effects. In my pride, I thought that I was so much stronger than I was. Within six months of joining the Orthodox Church, a conversion to which she was integral, she decided not only that she no longer wished to be an Orthodox Christian, but also that she no longer believed in God. You can imagine how crushed and confused this left me, who just being at the beginning of my journey into the church was bereft of my partner. We struggled on for another year and a half. Perhaps if we had stayed put, surrounded by our church and familiar surroundings things would have been alright, but we made the decision to go back to school, and the marriage did not survive the first year.
And so, what I had perceived as a “redemption narrative” became to my hurting soul yet another even deeper and bleaker “contamination narrative” to which I slowly, but eventually succumbed. It’s amazing how relatively small decisions, made with the best of intentions, seal our fate within our own sinful narrative. While I remained attached to the church for some time after we separated, my eventual decision to divorce her and not to seek absolution (because, I poorly reasoned, if I don’t confess it, in some sense I haven’t lost her) sealed my fate. Intentionally cutting myself off from the sacramental life of the Orthodox Church, while I yet remained on the outskirts of her orbit, I became more spiritually dead (with the resulting symptoms of increased anxiety, depression, and despondency) as the years wore on.
Obviously, I have no idea where this story is going to end, but I am pleased to report that I am very much living in the midst of what I perceive as a “redemption narrative”, and one that, had I chosen to perceive it with different eyes, could just as easily have resulted in a “contamination narrative” propelled as it is by my own sinfulness. After years spent keeping my head down in my own self-pity, drifting ever further away from God, my family, and most of my true friends, I began to engage in, shall we say, a sinful social relationship with a member of the opposite sex. What had begun as a physical affair blossomed into affection and even love. I didn’t quite know what to do with this, committed as I had been to staying as far away from anyone as I possibly could (at this point less for reasons of morality than because of a desire to retain control of my life). How could I marry again? Our affair produced a pregnancy, and I faced a decision: live up to the full consequences of my actions, stop feeling sorry for myself, and seek redemption, or give in to logic of the despair that I had let myself fall into.
By the grace of God, I could not conceive of any other action than to see this chastisement as the gift that it was. I had been given the chance I had desperately prayed for. That’s when the amazing “redemption narrative” within which I now find myself began. I took this good woman, who being raised in an only nominally Christian household knew little of God but had a hunger in her heart far stronger than any that I have ever known, as my wife. We both wished (for somewhat different reasons) to find a church where we could be involved as a family. After visiting many churches and rejecting them for a variety of reasons, we attended one of the local Orthodox Churches and both discovered (again for different reasons) that we had found our church home. After 8 years, I am once again in full communion with the Orthodox Church and through regular prayer, confession, and partaking in the liturgy and the Eucharist have found the burden of the sins of these years slipping away.
Obviously we have many challenges ahead as a family, and I am not so naive now as to not believe that the fruits of my past sinfulness may continue to sprout bitter fruit which will require watchfulness. I know, more than ever, that prayer and vigilance is ever needed lest we sink into spiritual complacency. But for now, I am pleased to report that our son is to be Baptized and Chrismated in the Antiochian Orthodox Church this Sunday. [And you may be interested to know that his baptismal name is to be Benedict; while I am a fan of Alasdair MacIntyre and have been reading you for awhile, this is primarily a result of the time I spent working at a Benedictine Monastery and College a few years ago.]
I know your post was more about the stories we tell ourselves in general, and this email has taken a distinctively religious angle–pondering on the interaction between the story we tell ourselves about what is happening and the grace that we receive which seems (to my mind at any rate) to frame the edges of the narrative in which we may choose to participate either negatively or positively. As I said, if you think any of it is relevant, feel free to use it with any edits that seem appropriate. All Blessings of the upcoming Feast of the Nativity! ...


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