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date: 18 April 2024

Narrative in Sociocultural Studies of Languagefree

Narrative in Sociocultural Studies of Languagefree

  • Sabina M. PerrinoSabina M. PerrinoBinghamton University, SUNY


Narratives are primary modes in human communication and engagement across cultures and have been used as key analytical tools in numerous disciplinary fields. While defining what a narrative is, how many units it contains and so forth has been a daunting task in narratological studies, it is important to emphasize that, since the narrative turn in the 1980s, narratives have been appreciated not only for their content, or “denotational text,” but also for their pragmatic effects in the here-and-now of speech participants’ interactions, or their “interactional text.” More specifically, linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists consider narratives-as-practices instead of relying only on narratives-as-texts. From the classic Labovian model, in which narrative units are key elements for a narrative to be considered as such, to the more pragmatic and discursive approaches to narratives, many theoretical advancements have been made in this field. A linguistic anthropological analysis of a set of narratives collected in northern Italy (2003–2023) and in the United States (2017–2023) illustrates these discursive and pragmatic approaches to storytelling. These analyses demonstrate that narratives are interactional events in which their sociocultural surrounding is fluid and unpredictable, and, crucially, it always influences the story in significant ways as it unfolds in interaction. In this respect, while the narrative model elaborated by William Labov in the 1960s has been widely used, linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists have meaningfully advanced this field by adding an important pragmatic layer to their narrative theories and analyses. In their view, narratives need to include not only the sociocultural context in which they are told but, importantly, speech participants’ contributions during the storytelling event. Within this analytical and theoretical framework, scholars can unveil narrative patterns that would remain covert otherwise, such as the various spatiotemporal (or chronotopic) configurations that are encapsulated in the collected stories. In this sense, participants’ past stories can become part of the here-and-now interaction. Thus, narratives hardly have a clear division between the past story and the present storytelling event, which, at times, conflate and become one.


  • Linguistic Anthropology
  • Sociocultural Anthropology


It is natural for humans to tell stories when they interact with each other. Knowing how many stories humans tell in a day would be a difficult endeavor, especially because what counts as “a story” varies across disciplines and cultures. Indeed, narratives make sense if they are considered within their sociocultural context of occurrence. While scholars across many disciplines have tried to come up with a comprehensive definition of what a narrative is, it is important to also consider them for their pragmatic effects, such as the real-time dynamics between interactants and not just for their content, or “denotational text” (Silverstein 1998, 2023). Through an analysis of a set of narrative practices, in this article, I demonstrate that narratives are also performative interactional events in which their sociocultural surrounding is always fluid and can influence the story in unpredictable ways as it unfolds in interaction. Considering narratives as interactional events too is part of new theoretical orientations that linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists studying narratives have been taking.

Narratives are more meaningful if they are studied as situated practices in which their interactional dimensions and surrounded context are as important as their main plot. In other words, if narratives are decontextualized or removed from their context of occurrence, their meaning might be different. In this respect, linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists have made significant advancements by emphasizing the interactional dynamics of narratives as they emerge in conversations or in other settings (De Fina 2012, 2013; Perrino 2020, 2021b; Perrino and Wortham 2022; Ochs 2004; Ochs and Capps 1996, 2001; Wortham 2001; Wortham and Rhodes 2015). To show how narrative studies have advanced since the “narrative turn” in the 1980s (De Fina and Georgakopoulou 2012), I briefly discuss how narrative analysis has developed from a text-oriented paradigm to a practice-oriented perspective (De Fina 2020) by outlining the well-known Labovian model, in which precise narrative units are considered foundational. However, linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists have noted the limitations of this approach by illustrating that narratives are interactional events in which the classic Labovian units might not be sufficient to explain their pragmatic effects. As Falconi and Graber (2019b) contend, moreover, referring to narrative practices as storytelling or as narrative carries significant differences—the former being used in more formalized situations than the latter (Falconi and Graber 2019b, 9). Narratives are thus more informal and pragmatic than storytelling events. With this differentiation in mind, in this article, I examine narrative practices and focus more on the fleeting, interactional dimensions of these speech events.

This article therefore examines the value of narratives not only as emerging in interactional settings but also as part of their sociocultural context. More specifically, my article will emphasize three key narrative aspects: (a) how scholars need to consider narratives-as-practices instead of narratives-as-texts only; (b) how narratives play a foundational role in the (co)construction of key interactional patterns between speech participants; and, finally, (c) how narrators and audience members navigate through significant spatiotemporal scales while their stories unfold. In this respect, the application of the Bakhtinian notion of chronotope (Bakhtin 1981), which allows researchers to study time and space together, to narrative practices has offered scholars new venues for their analyses. Crucially, I demonstrate that narratives are key interactional events that need to be examined as such to be able to fully capture and appreciate the fluid and dynamic relationships between speech participants as they tell their stories. Thus, whether they are oral or textual, narratives are key situated practices to study these dynamics, as I show in my two narrative examples from northern Italy and the United States. I now turn to a brief literature review focusing on how narratives have been shifting from being considered only for their textual and structural conceptualization, mostly based on the well-known Labovian model (Labov and Waletzky 1967), to a more pragmatic perspective thanks to works of several linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists (De Fina and Georgakopoulou 2012; Ochs 2004; Ochs and Capps 2001).

The Narrative Turn: From Narratives-as-Texts to Narratives-as-Practices

Before the narrative turn in the 1980s, narratives were studied just for their structural content or denotational text (Silverstein 1998, 2023). While a more comprehensive narrative conceptualization was necessary, one that includes its interactional dynamics, it would be wrong to completely underestimate this structural perspective on stories. Narratives-as-texts have indeed been critical ways to conceive of stories both analytically and theoretically. In the 1960s, William Labov and his research team (Labov and Waletzky 1967; Labov 1972) reinforced this structural perspective by implementing a narrative model that has been very influential within linguistics and adjacent disciplines. More specifically, in their model, Labov and Waletzky (1967) contended that narratives need to contain six units indicating the “necessary” progression of a story. Following this model, a narrative which did not contain all six units in their precise sequencing was not considered a complete story. Labov and Waletzky elaborated the definition of a narrative as “one verbal technique for recapitulating past experience, in particular a technique of constructing narrative units which match the temporal sequence of that experience” (Labov and Waletzky 1967, 13). Within their perspective, not all stories about past experiences could be counted as narratives given the prominence that the authors give to the temporal sequence of a story.

For Labov and Waletzky (1967) the smallest narrative unit was the independent clause which can encapsulate precise spatiotemporal events. However, narratives cannot be based on sequencing of clauses only. That is why the two scholars elaborated six narrative units that are more complex than simple strings of independent clauses. The six narrative units are (a) the abstract, (b) the orientation, (c) the complicating action, (d) the resolution, (e) the coda, and finally, (f) the evaluation (Labov and Waletzky 1967). In Labov and Waletzky’s (1967) perspective, the abstract constitutes a brief synopsis of the narrative. In a couple of sentences, before they start telling their stories, narrators often catch the attention of their audience members by hinting at the main topic of their narratives (e.g., Do you know what happened to me while I was driving home on Monday evening?). In the orientation, the narrator orients the audience members by unveiling some aspects which contextualize the story, such as the main protagonists and the spatiotemporal dimensions of the story. The complicating action is the main storyline—the key events that define the narrative. The resolution is the final development of the story— how the main plot is resolved. The coda typically connects the narrative with the here-and-now of the narrator(s) and of the audience members. Furthermore, the storyteller might reveal a moral lesson as a way to teach important values to the audience members. Connected with the coda, the evaluation is the narrator’s personal thoughts on the narrative or a way to evaluate the main events of the story. In this final phase of the storytelling event, the narrator might emphasize what the audience members should learn from the narrative. This final narrative unit, moreover, can be further subdivided into various types of evaluations that narrators might offer depending on their personality, the topic of the story, and their various stances.

Since its creation, the Labovian narrative model has been used and appreciated by many scholars. After the narrative turn in the 1980s, however, many linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists started to depart from it in significant ways. For example, Heath (1982) studied how bedtime narratives can influence the way children participate in school activities and how they perform. She examined and compared these practices in three nearby towns in the United States. Focusing more on traditional forms of narration, Bauman (1986) examined folk tales and their function in their contexts of occurrence. From a different perspective, Brenneis (1988) studied how narrative can be instrumental in creating, pursuing, and managing various kinds of conflicts. For these and other scholars, narratives are meaningful only if considered within their sociocultural context and not as mere decontextualized plots. The interactional dynamics between narrator(s) and audience members, or their “interactional text” (Silverstein 1998, 2023)—what happens during the storytelling event itself—has been primary too. De Fina and Georgakopoulou (2012, 35) described the limitations of the Labovian model by emphasizing that it does not include “cases of systematic audience participation, co-construction of the story between teller and audience and many other phenomena that characterize the telling of narratives in interaction.” The interactional dimension of narratives, which is not included in the Labovian model, make stories unpredictable and often unstructured, thus showing their fluidity rather than their precise sequential order. In this respect, it is more realistic to study narratives-as-practices rather than narratives-as-texts (De Fina 2020) in which all these important contextualizing dimensions are removed.

From this perspective, it is counterproductive and unnatural to divide up a narrative into units and with precise beginnings and endings. As Ingold has contended, for example, stories have continuous engagements between the past and the present interactional moments (the storytelling events). “There is no point at which the story ends and life begins,” wrote Ingold (2011, 161). “Stories should not end for the same reason that life should not. And in the story, as in life, it is in the movement from place to place— or from topic to topic— that knowledge is integrated.” “To tell a story,” continued Ingold, “is to relate, in narrative, the occurrences of the past, bringing them to life in the vivid present of listeners as if they were going on here and now” (Ingold 2011, 161). While Ingold’s distinction between narratives, which are specific events in his view, and “stories,” which are more metaphorical, is useful, in this article I use the concepts of narratives and stories in more pragmatic ways. In this light, narrators’ past “tellings” can easily become part of the present here-and-now interactions since there are no fixed boundaries between the past narratives and the present narrating events in the actual interaction. In particular cases, as the ones that I examined in Senegalese storytelling practices (Perrino 2007a, 2011) for example, there are complex chronotopic configurations showing the conflation of past and present events. It is thus clear that the narrative units proposed by Labov and Waletzky (1967) would limit the plasticity and dynamicity of narrative practices, whose interactional nature is primary for the main plot as well. Furthermore, Labov’s work on narratives has other limitations such as the cultural specificity of the data that he and his team collected, which was centered in the United States. By contrast, in their research, linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists have included the analyses of narratives from across the globe.

From Labov’s research on narrative, indeed, many developments have been made in narrative studies that have considered narratives more as practices than as texts (De Fina and Georgakopoulou 2012; Falconi and Graber 2019a, 2019b; Schiffrin, De Fina, and Nylund 2010). Since the early 1980s, linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists have studied narratives as performances embedded in their sociocultural surroundings (Bauman 1977, 1986). Narratives are indeed situated and are emergent speech events in which every component is significant: the various interactional patterns and speaker roles (Koven 2011) between narrator(s) and audience members (which could be reversed multiple times during the telling), their past and present relationships, their sociocultural and linguistic background, the embedding context(s), and, of course, the content of the story that is naturally influenced by all these elements (Wortham 2001). The audience, moreover, plays a key role in storytelling events. De Fina and Georgakopoulou (2012) clarified this by emphasizing that

a significant consequence of the fact that stories are not told in a vacuum but by tellers to audiences in specific settings and for specific purposes is that the mechanisms through which performers contextualize meanings for their audience come to the forefront (p. 61).

Thus, this complexity needs to be taken into account when studying and analyzing these speech events. The audience members become part of the narrative as soon as the storytelling event starts. The audience can even change the trajectory of the narrative plot in important ways; even silent audience members could do so (Goodwin 2015). Within this perspective, as Goodwin (1986) contended, the interactional patterns and structures in a narrative both mold and are molded by the audience members. I now briefly turn to how narratives have been conceptualized and studied as interactional events by linguistic anthropologists.

Narratives as Interactional Events

Since narratives are situated interactional events, it is critical to examine their analytical and theoretical potential as well as their great variability. Inspired by the works of the Russian linguist, semiotician, and literary critic Roman Jakobson (1957, 1960), who considered narratives as speech events whose “narrated event” (or the content) was as important as their “narrating event” (or the interactional, dynamic aspect of stories), linguistic anthropologists have examined storytelling practices for their emergent qualities in interaction as well. More specifically, Michael Silverstein (1998, 2023), one of Jakobson’s students, examined the intricate relationships between what he named “denotational text” and “interactional text” across many data sets, including narrative practices. For him, and for many linguistic anthropologists (Falconi and Graber 2019a, 2019b; Koven 2011; Perrino 2015c; Wortham 2000, 2001), denotational text and interactional text are always intertwined; they influence each other in significant ways. More specifically, the denotational text refers to the coherence of the story in terms of reference and predication about the “state of affairs.” It is the main plot of the story. The interactional text refers to the emergent properties of the coherence that the interaction itself has, such as what interactional moves are performed by the speech participants, how these actions are enacted, what the roles of the speech participants are, and so forth. In storytelling practices, narrators and audience members create intricate and heterogeneous relations between denotational and interactional texts (Perrino and Wortham 2022).

Storytelling practices are thus constantly (re)configured by participants’ interactional dynamics while they tell their stories in diverse settings including interviews (De Fina and Perrino 2011; Perrino 2011, 2022b; Wortham et al. 2011), various digital platforms (De Fina 2016; De Fina and Perrino 2019; De Fina and Toscano-Gore 2017; Perrino 2019; Simões Marques and Koven 2017), and schools (Rymes 1995, 2008; Wortham 2001, 2006). Including the interactional text in narrative analyses is key since it offers researchers a wide spectrum of perspectives that would remain obscured otherwise (Perrino 2020). Concepts such as the Bakhtinian chronotope, stance and stancetaking, and scales would not be applicable in narrative analysis within a narratives-as-texts approach only. Before demonstrating the richness of this interactional approach to narrative practices through two examples extracted from my data, I briefly describe the Bakhtinian notions of chronotope and stance/stancetaking which significantly enrich narrative analysis.

Enacting Narrative Practices through Time and Space

The sociocultural context in which narratives emerge always entails varied and fluid spatiotemporal dimensions since stories can be about past, present, and future events. In this respect, analyzing storytelling practices through the Bakhtinian chronotope has been very valuable. This term, which literally means “time space” (Bakhtin 1981), has been applied across many disciplines to examine the temporal and spatial dimensions in narrative practices and beyond. Originally, however, Bakhtin created this notion while he was analyzing European and Russian novels. As he wrote,

in the literary artistic chronotope, spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole. Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history.

Curiously, this concept, which was initially created for textual analysis, has become a key analytical tool for contextual analysis. In this respect, analyzing narratives through chronotopic lenses ties them to their sociocultural context even more since stories always emerge in certain places and at certain times and, from those multiple spatiotemporal coordinates, they can then refer to past or future ones. As a result of all these possible movements, narratives are fluid, heterogeneous, and unpredictable.

Linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists have used the notion of chronotope to study narrative practices extensively while developing it in new theoretical directions and while examining various narrative venues (Divita 2014; Koven 2013; Lempert and Perrino 2007; Perrino 2007a, 2011, 2015a; Wirtz 2016; Vokes and Pype 2018; Woolard 2012), including stories in pandemic times (Perrino 2022a). Importantly, referring to storytelling practices, Silverstein (2005, 6) offered a persuasive definition of the chronotope as “the temporally (hence, chrono-) and spatially (hence, -tope) particular envelope in the narrated universe of social space-time in which and through which, in emplotment, narrative characters move.” His novel interpretation of the Bakhtinian chronotope has made this concept even more adaptable to research on narrative practices.

Inspired by this line of inquiry, in my research on Senegalese and northern Italian storytelling practices (Perrino 2007a, 2015a, 2015b), I have extended the chronotope concept to what I name “participant transposition,” a concept that illustrates how narratives are always manipulated by narrators and audience members while their stories unfold. In these cases, narrators “move” their interlocutors into the plots of their stories by transforming them into specific characters in ways that blend the present interaction with the narrator’s past. Through this narrative strategy, narrators thus create an interactional coherence that can take various unpredictable directions, thereby showing, even more, the interconnections between the story (the denotational text) and the storytelling event (the interactional text). In this way, various alignments between the chronotope of the narrated event and the chronotope of the storytelling event get configured in significant ways. Through these configurations, past and present can become part of the same spatiotemporal framework, thus offering new perspectives for narrative analysis. The chronotope concept helps unveil the hybridity and the continuous movements of past characters and interactants in storytelling events as I demonstrate in my two examples. In brief, the chronotope as employed by linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguistics captures intricate spatiotemporal configurations in ways that would be invisible through a narratives-as-texts approach or textual analysis.

Chronotopes are also complexly interrelated with the notions of stance and stancetaking, as it has been shown in linguistic anthropological and sociolinguistic research. While they tell their stories, individuals might inhabit certain identities, for example, by positioning themselves in different ways vis-à-vis the telling, the topic of the story, or the speech participants’ interactional moves. When storyteller(s) and audience members align or dis-align (Goffman 1981) with a topic or an idea, they may or may not take a stance to support or oppose that topic or idea. Jaffe defined stance as “taking up a position with respect to the form or the content of one’s utterance” (Jaffe 2009, 2; see also Ochs 1993), which has been a key theoretical and analytical tool to examine speech participants’ subtle moves in narrative practices across time and space.

The interrelation between chronotopic enactments and stance/stancetaking becomes visible in storytelling practices about family members, for example, so much as to create kin-chronotopic frameworks. As Agha (2015, 402) has described:

Participants in social practices around the world routinely invoke the idiom of kinship to perform or construe interpersonal behaviors, whether their own or of those they meet or try to imagine. In doing so, they inhabit kin-like relationships with persons or groups that are sometimes nearby in time and place (such as their interlocutors), and sometimes quite far (such as the dead or the unborn).

As I show in my first example, participants’ “kinship chronotopes” thus help (co)construct and better understand not only their fluid identities but also their intimate relations (Perrino 2021a; Pritzker and Perrino 2021) as they solidify during their storytelling practices. Narrator(s) and audience members blend time and space by making their sociocultural traditions and family histories as part of their here-and-now interactions through various discourse strategies (Gumperz 1982), and they navigate through different spatiotemporal scales while they enact their intimate and collective identities in their stories.

Narrative Practices, Identities, and Metaphorizations across Time and Space

The two examples that I analyze in this article showcase how certain interactional patterns involving intimate relations and branding identities are coconstructed and sustained in storytelling practices. I have collected these narratives during my linguistic anthropological fieldwork in northern Italy since 2003 during long stays and summer trips and in New York State during the COVID-19 pandemic.1 I have been inspired by research methods in linguistic anthropology (Perrino and Pritzker 2022) while conducting interviews (Perrino 2022b) and collecting stories in more informal settings, such as everyday unprompted conversations.2 These research methodologies, moreover, need to be adapted to the various contexts in which scholars conduct their research. Narratives are often part of the collected data since participants are prone to tell their past and present experiences in narrative formats. They may also recount their impending plans or wishes as stories that are projected to an unknown future. I now turn to two examples extracted from the narratives that I collected in northern Italy and in the United States.3 As these examples illustrate, narratives make sense only if they are fully embedded in their sociocultural and historical context(s).

Collective Identities in and through Northern Italian Executives’ Narratives

My first example is taken from my research on oral narratives in northern Italy. More specifically, I collected these storytelling practices in interviews that I conducted with executives of several northern Italian companies in 2011 and 2012 (Kohler and Perrino 2017; Perrino and Kohler 2020). In this project, I studied how northern Italian executives constructed their branding identities vis-à-vis the widely circulating ideologies of an “authentic” Made in Italy brand. In their stories, these executives blurred the boundaries between past and present during many moments of their storytelling: they incorporated historical memories into their here-and-now narratives, thus transporting history into their present, individual, and collective identities. This sense of belonging that strongly emerges in these narratives demonstrates the underlying, circulating ideologies of being part of the same “Italian culture” based on a prestigious historical and artistic past and a “Made in Italy” brand that, in these executives’ perspective, should not be shared with non-Italians (Perrino 2020). The northern Italian executive featured in the first example, whom I named Moreno, is the owner of a well-known Italian fashion company, which I called M.Moda S.p.A.4 The first question I asked was about the history of his family. Moreno immediately launched into a narrative of the past in which he showed the close connection between his family and his company. In his narration, he indeed emphasized that his company had been completely based on his family for a long time. The founder was his grandfather who gathered other members of the family to work with him for the company. Moreno shared many stories about the history of his company:

Narrative Example

(M: Moreno; I: Interviewer)

First Line: Original Italian Version

Second Line: English Translation

1  M:  [. . .] il papà Carl-Carlalberto e lo zio maggiore Claudio ripartirono

       [. . .] our dad Carl-Carlalberto and our older uncle Claudio started again

2     praticamente ricominciarono da zero con trentasei dipendenti

       basically [they] started again from scratch with thirty-six workers

3     e fondarono quella che è la M.Moda S.p.A.

       and [they] founded what is M.Moda S.p.A. [i.e., public company]

4     quindi in realtà se guardiamo le- le- la storia senza nessun tipo d’interruzione

       so in reality if [we] look at the- the- the history without any kind of interruption

5     diciamo la storia data dal ’58 ad oggi quindi 54 anni- anni

       let’s say the history starting from 1958 until today so fifty-four years- years

6     però se prendiamo invece anche la parte precedente

       but if [we] also take the previous part instead

7     quindi diciamo il DNA le origini del nonno

       so let’s say the DNA, our grandfather’s origins

8     allora ne fa molti di più con circa intorno a cento anni

       then there are many more [years of history] about one hundred years

9     perché è iniziata all’inizio degli anni degli anni venti- ven- col nonno [. . .]

       because [it] started at the beginning of the 1920s twent- with [our] grandfather [. . .]

10     [. . .] e::hh sicuramente un altro punto di forza diciamo di successo

[. . .] e::hh [it is] certainly another advantage let’s say of success

11     viene un po’ dal nostro DNA il fatto che Mantova

[it] comes a bit from our DNA the fact that Mantua

12     cioè sia di essere nati in Italia prima di tutto

that is to say being born in Italy first of all

13     che ovviamente ha un DNA di cultura rinascimentale il gusto del bello

which obviously has a DNA from the Renaissance culture the taste for beauty

14     ehh quindi l’arte un po’ il gusto di vivere bene

ehh so art a little bit [like] the taste for living well

15     di saper realizzare dei prodotti che abbiano un grande appeal

for being able to create products which have a great appeal5

16     quindi il fatto del DNA italiano e in particolare Mantova

so the fact of the Italian DNA and in particular Mantua

17     che ha rappresentato per la cultura dell’abbigliamento

which represented for the clothing culture

18   I:  mmhmm

19  M:  Isabella D’Este cultura rinascimentale [clears throat] è sicuramente un punto di forza

Isabella D’Este Renaissance culture [clears throat] [it] is certainly an advantage

20     quindi direi la tradizione no?

so [I] would say tradition [is an advantage], right?

21     la tradizione italiana e la tradizione la mantovanità [. . .]

Italian tradition and the tradition of being from Mantua [. . .]

22     [. . .] ma per noi è ovviamente una cultura e un DNA che abbiamo

[. . .] but for us [this] is obviously a culture and a DNA that [we] have

23     e che ovviamente abbiamo dentro di noi

and that obviously [we] have inside ourselves

24     e che ovviamente ci gratifica e ci fa- ci responsabilizza

and which obviously gratifies us and [which] makes us- holds us responsible

25     anche sul fatto di dover ovviamente rappresentare il Made in Italy nei migliori dei modi

even on the fact of having to obviously represent the Made in Italy in the best way

26     e quindi è un valore che abbiamo

and so [this] is a value that [we] have

27     un valore aggiunto che abbiamo che ci portiamo dentro [. . .]

an added value that [we] have and that [we] carry inside ourselves [. . .]

As Moreno narrates the history of his company, he merges it with the history of his family when he says that his father and older uncles were the initial founders of M.Moda in line 1. He even traces back the origins of his company to the 1920s (line 9) when his grandfather was already working in what was the fashion industry at that time. There is a strong grounding of the narrative in history here as if the two narratives could not be disentangled. In a sense the two chronotopes (the one of his family and the one of his company) are cross-aligned or merged. This chronotopic cross-alignment (Perrino 2007a, 2011) becomes even clearer when Moreno formally links the two histories and identities in line 7: the DNA of his family, he argues, is indeed part of his fashion company. A kinship chronotope (Agha 2015, 402) coalesces from these very lines and is sustained throughout the storytelling event. Adding this biologized metaphor, the DNA, to his narrative is a way to show how his company is deeply connected within a genetic line that cannot be shared with nonfamily members.

In lines 10–14, moreover, Moreno scales up by extending his intimate family connection to his town and by asserting that M.Moda’s success is rooted not only in its prestigious historical past but also in the local DNA of his town, Mantua (line 11, 13). Mantua’s DNA is “rinascimentale” (“from the Renaissance,” line 13), thus contributing to an “authentic” historical and artistic aura that pervades this town, its museums, antique churches, buildings, and companies, including M.Moda. For Moreno, as for many other executives with whom I spoke, this DNA metaphor is applied across the Italian business world from fashion, glassmaking, and food to artistic productions. There are various scalar dimensions within his DNA rhetoric in Moreno’s narratives: from a more global, Italian DNA, he shifts to a more local, town-based DNA, and even to a more individual, personal DNA that Italian individuals are believed to have. Mantua’s history, art, and traditions are part of a shared DNA—of something that is intimately linked to the idea of being locally produced in Mantua. In his words, its “mantovanità” (“being from Mantua,” line 21) is a shared, intimate dimension of being part of the same town. In lines 16–21, Moreno scales up even more by extending his local DNA background to the national Italian DNA, and reinforces these intimate, chronotopic relations even more. At the same time, Moreno also enacts both his individual and collective identities, which are fluidly shifting from a more local Mantua-based identity, to a more national Italian one.

Moreno’s DNA rhetoric is even more pronounced in lines 22–27 when he uses the deictic inclusive first-person plural subject (“noi,” “we”)6 and object (“noi” and “ci,” “us”) pronouns to refer not only to people from his town of Mantua but to Italians more generally. He connects his family’s historical and artistic DNA to a more collective Italian DNA as one that gratifies Italians but also makes them responsible for representing it to the world with pride. His use of first-person plural pronouns aligns Moreno with a collective vision of Made in Italy, as if all Italians, possibly including the present interviewers, have both the benefits in participating in this collectivity and the duty to salvage and cherish it. For Moreno, Made in Italy is a value that all his conationals naturally have (lines 26–27) from their prestigious historical and artistic background.

Moreno also uses some parallelistic structures (Wilce 1998, 2001) and emphasizes his collective claims about Made in Italy even more. The intertextual effects of Moreno’s parallelism accentuate not only the uniqueness of Made in Italy, but also its collective, intimate dimension. At lines 22, 23, 24, and 25, he repeats the adverb “obviously” (“ovviamente”) to reframe the fact that Italians naturally have a unique, gratifying DNA that holds them together and that cannot be shared. At the same time, at lines 23, 26, 27, he repeats the auxiliary verb “to have” conjugated in the first-person plural, “abbiamo” (“[we] must” or “[we] have to”), which reinforces this ideology of a collective identity even more. Through these parallelistic moves, which continue throughout the interview,7 Moreno makes his claims more visible and more convincing. Moreno’s inclusive moves—which are sustained during the entire interview—hypothetically include the other speech participants. The interactional moves of the speech participants do indeed influence the trajectory of Moreno’s stories. Besides myself, there was another individual who was present during Moreno’s storytelling event, yet, both of us remained mostly silent (Ephratt 2022; Nakane 2012) throughout his telling. I did, however, offer a minimal response in line 18 thus showing sympathy, approval, and active listening.

Like in Moreno’s example, individuals often (co)-construct their sociocultural identities and use metaphorical references while they tell their stories. For example, during a conversation that I had with Sara, an Italian-American friend who lives in New York City, during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, she launched into narratives of fear and dread given the tragic situation across the globe.8

In her stories, Sara described the COVID-19 virus by using metaphors of war as if humans were in wartime. She narrated her fears during one of the most intense moments of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City when dead bodies were piled up in small vans across the city. The chronotopes that emerge from her stories are chronotopes of war, which invokes images of past and present wars, and chronotopes of dread, which are naturally connected with the chronotopes of war and with the overall sense of disarray and despair during the first phases of the pandemic (Perrino 2022a). Sara even stated that COVID-19 is even “worse than a real war.” A chronotope of war is thus reinforced in her narrative by just considering the contextual situation in which she finds herself in New York City in April 2020. For Sara, images of dead bodies in minivans ready to be transported to mass graves were not stories that only belonged to the times of the 1918–1920 flu or of other past pandemics. They were part of the realities that were happening in New York City and in many other locations across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this case, analyzing narratives by fully embedding them in their sociocultural context and by using spatiotemporal configurations as analytical tools, such as chronotopes of war, can assist researchers examining how humans have experienced dread and fear across centuries and in different localities and temporalities (Perrino 2022a).

In short, being able to study these metaphorizations across time and space is possible and meaningful thanks to a narratives-as-practices approach, as I described in “Narrative Practices, Identities, and Metaphorizations across Time and Space.” Many of the pandemic narratives that I collected present moments of these metaphorizations in which viruses become invisible “enemies.” During the first months of 2020, stories about the “fights” that humans needed to engage in against their common “enemy,” the coronavirus, abounded in social media and in face-to-face conversations more generally. The construction and alimentation of chronotopes of war could thus produce dangerous ideologies related to warfare and social justice. In this respect, it is vital to use spatiotemporal frameworks in analyzing narrative practices since they offer a great spectrum of variables that could be applied to diverse narrating situations and contexts.


Analyzing narratives as part of their sociocultural settings and as practices has been a fundamental shift from previous theoretical and analytical frameworks, such as the model first theorized by Labov. As I have described in this article, adopting a narratives-as-practices approach versus a narratives-as-texts one has been key to performing a richer analysis of storytelling practices. This does not mean that narrative plots are not important; quite the opposite: they become more prominent and visible thanks to a multimodal attention to the entire structure of storytelling practices, including the dynamics between storyteller(s) and audience members. Furthermore, analysts need to also study how narrators and audience members navigate through the many, complex spatiotemporal configurations that every narrative deploys. Thus, as I have demonstrated, speech participants blend time and space by making their sociocultural traditions and family histories as part of their here-and-now interactions through various discourse strategies (Gumperz 1982). In the process, they may enact intimate and collective identities in their stories (Perrino 2020).

As my two examples show, storytelling practices need to be studied within their sociocultural context of occurrence. In the first example, the northern Italian executives, who are proud of their historical and artistic patrimony, are concerned about protecting the image of both their local and national Made in Italy brand and thus might create a collective sense of closeness while enacting their intimate identities. In Moreno’s and other northern Italians’ perspective, Italians’ prestigious historical and artistic patrimony can be shared only with Italians who have a specific DNA—an unfortunate rhetoric that has become very common not only in Italy but across the globe as well.

Within a different context, the second example features narratives of despair as they were enacted during the many COVID-19-related lockdown and desolating moments. On these occasions, individuals might recur to past tragic historical moments, such as stories that emerged from the 1918 to 1920 flu pandemic, to make sense of their everyday lives. They might also draw on spatiotemporal coordinates that resuscitate images and feelings of past wars and disasters. Yet, the creation and reproduction of chronotopes of war, as I have argued, could trigger dangerous ideologies in moments of crisis and despair, while not realizing that in some other locations across the globe individuals might engage with real wars and death while facing the COVID-19 crisis as well.

In closing, narratives are powerful mechanisms to share contextualized life experiences thanks to their pragmatic stances and movements. Narratives are indeed practices, as I have shown, and need to be studied as such to appreciate their minute nuances and multiple meanings. Further research should address these important points keeping in mind the versatility and variability of storytelling practices around the world. More cross-cultural studies on narrative practices are needed.

Appendix: Transcription and Abbreviations Conventions9

- Syllable cut-off.

. Stopping fall in tone.

, Continuing intonation.

? Rising intonation.

! Animated tone.

____ Words with underline indicate stress.

CAP Words in capitals indicate increased volume.

(. . .) Talk between parenthesis indicates the transcriber’s best guess at a stretch of discourse that is unclear on the original recording.

[. . .] Three dots between square brackets indicate that some material of the original transcript has been omitted.

[ ] The material inside square brackets indicate the transcriber’s comments and suggestions.

Regular font Original version.

Italics English Translation.

Bold Portions of transcripts discussed in the analysis.

Further Reading

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  • Bauman, Richard. 1986. Story, Performance, and Event: Contextual Studies of Oral Narrative. New York: Cambridge University Press.
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  • De Fina, Anna. 2013. “Narratives as Practices: Negotiating Identities through Storytelling.” In Narrative Research in Applied Linguistics, edited by Gary Barkhuizen, 154–175. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • De Fina, Anna. 2020. “Doing Narrative Analysis from a Narratives-as-Practices Perspective.” Narrative Inquiry 31 (1): 49–71.
  • Falconi, Elizabeth, and Kathryn Graber. 2019. Storytelling as Narrative Practice: Ethnographic Approaches to the Tales We Tell. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
  • Labov, William. 1972. The Transformation of Experience in Narrative Syntax, edited by William Labov. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Labov, William, and Joshua Waletzky. 1967. “Narrative Analysis: Oral Versions of Personal Experience.” Journal of Narrative & Life History 7 (1–4): 3–38.
  • Ochs, Elinor. 2004. “Narrative Lessons.” In A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology, edited by Alessandro Duranti, 269–289. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Ochs, Elinor, and Lisa Capps. 1996. “Narrating the Self.” Annual Review of Anthropology 25 (1): 19–43.
  • Ochs, Elinor, and Lisa Capps. 2001. Living Narrative: Creating Lives in Everyday Storytelling. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Perrino, Sabina. 2021. “Narratives as Discursive Practices in Interviews: A Linguistic Anthropological Approach.” Narrative Inquiry 31 (1): 72–96.
  • Schiffrin, Deborah, Anna De Fina, and Anastasia Nylund. 2010. Telling Stories: Language Narrative and Social Life. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
  • Wortham, Stanton. 2000. “Interactional Positioning and Narrative Self-Construction.” Narrative Inquiry 10 (1): 157–184.
  • Wortham, Stanton. 2001. Narratives in Action: A Strategy for Research Analysis. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Wortham, Stanton, and Catherine Rhodes. 2015. “Narratives across Speech Events.” Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.


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  • 1. I also conducted linguistic anthropological fieldwork for my PhD dissertation in Senegal, West Africa from 1999 until 2003 (Perrino 2002, 2007a, 2007b).

  • 2. All my projects followed ethical practices (Black 2017; Black and Conley Riner 2022; Briggs 1986) and were approved by the Institutional Review Board.

  • 3. I transcribed and translated these narratives following linguistic anthropological methodologies (Shohet and Loyd 2022).

  • 4. S.p.A. means “Società per Azioni” and is the Italian juridical designation for a joint-stock company with legal personhood separate from its shareholders.

  • 5. The English term appeal has become part of the Italian vocabulary among managers in companies as well as ordinary speakers.

  • 6. In standardized Italian, personal subject pronouns are optional. Although their optional character varies regionally, they are mainly used for resolving certain discursive ambiguities and for emphatic purposes.

  • 7. For more details on this interview see Kohler and Perrino (2017).

  • 8. At that time, I was conducting research on “pandemic narratives” (Perrino 2022a, 2022c) in upstate New York and in Italy (in person and virtually).

  • 9. In this article, I follow Gail Jefferson’s (1978) transcription conventions.