Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology

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University of Chicago Press, Nov 15, 2010 - Social Science - 224 pages

Stories accompany us through life from birth to death. But they do not merely entertain, inform, or distress us—they show us what counts as right or wrong and teach us who we are and who we can imagine being. Stories connect people, but they can also disconnect, creating boundaries between people and justifying violence. In Letting Stories Breathe, Arthur W. Frank grapples with this fundamental aspect of our lives, offering both a theory of how stories shape us and a useful method for analyzing them. Along the way he also tells stories: from folktales to research interviews to remembrances.

Frank’s unique approach uses literary concepts to ask social scientific questions: how do stories make life good and when do they endanger it? Going beyond theory, he presents a thorough introduction to dialogical narrative analysis, analyzing modes of interpretation, providing specific questions to start analysis, and describing different forms analysis can take. Building on his renowned work exploring the relationship between narrative and illness, Letting Stories Breathe expands Frank’s horizons further, offering a compelling perspective on how stories affect human lives.


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This is a profoundly interesting and useful book. While writing my thesis I returned to it many times as if to draw strength from a deep well. Beautifully written, it carries the reader through theory to practice with an apparent effortlessness that belies the sound scholarship underlying this qualitative approach. 


Six Stories about Stories
1 The Capacities of Stories
2 Stories at Work
3 Dialogical Narrative Analysis as a Method of Questioning
4 Dialogical Interpretation and Stories Particular Truth
5 Exemplars of Dialogical Narrative Analyses
6 How Stories Can Be Good Companions

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About the author (2010)

Arthur W. Frank is professor of sociology at the University of Calgary and the author of At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness; The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics; and The Renewal of Generosity: Illness, Medicine, and How to Live, the latter two also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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