Scholarship as Storytelling

Have you ever noticed that really engaging academic scholarship unfolds like a story?  Like the authors had subconscious ideas about main characters and plots and conflict and resolution?  Great scholars are often great characters in their own right, or at least they become great characters, in kind of a literary way.  I think I have a pretty good sense of Coase the character, even though I’ve never read a word about the man as a human being.

So here are links to a three-part series with Ira Glass, who talks about how he does what he does on This American Life.

All of this got me to thinking, what if academics thought more self-consciously about the stories that they tell in their work, even the ones that they tell implicitly or indirectly?  What if they actually set out to get better at storytelling?  I’m not talking about the subgenre of stories-as-scholarship.  I’m talking about what all scholars do — lawyers and historians and economists and biologists.  What if conventions could be broadened — not so that scholarly narratives could be transparent and manipulative (so, we don’t want Spielberg the scholar) but so that richness of imagination were rewarded?

One thought on “Scholarship as Storytelling

  1. It is the question of manipulation that is paramount. The reference to it in the form of disowning this intention reflects a knowledge of its presence at the core of this issue.

    A conscious attention to the storytelling dimensions is a conscious attention to rhetoric.

    Another dimension of this consideration concerns the excitation of the mythological mind in reflexive response to the storytelling to the detriment of the rational and language processes.

    Good scholarly writing needs good organization, but I question the extent to which it would be served by introducing these dimensions.

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