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date: 31 January 2023

Narrative in Sociocultural Studies of Languagefree

Narrative in Sociocultural Studies of Languagefree

  • Sabina M. PerrinoSabina M. PerrinoBinghamton University, SUNY


This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.

Narratives have always been primary modes in human communication and engagement across cultures and have been used as key analytical tools in numerous disciplines. But how many narratives do individuals produce on a daily basis? This question is difficult to answer given the high variability of the types of narratives that humans tell and the fact that not every sociocultural setting might consider narratives in the same way. Individuals tell stories in many communicative practices, and they have also elaborated ideologies related to what are considered “good” or “bad” stories. These ideologies are, of course, part of specific sociocultural and linguistic contexts and thus might acquire different meanings from a cross-cultural perspective.

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 (2003–2022) and in the United States (2017–2022) illustrates these discursive and pragmatic approaches to storytelling. These analyses thus demonstrate that narratives are interactional events in which their sociocultural surrounding is fluid, unpredictable, and, crucially, it always influences the story in significant ways as it unfolds in interaction. In this respect, while the Labovian model 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 past story and the present storytelling event, which, at times, conflate and become one.


  • Linguistic Anthropology
  • Sociocultural Anthropology