Currently Happening Presently Now: STORYTELLING

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Sugiyama, M. S. (1996). On the origins of narrative. Human Nature, 7(4), 403-425.

Stories consist largely of representations of the human social environment. These representations can be used to influence the behavior of others (consider, e.g., rumor, propaganda, public relations, advertising). Storytelling can thus be seen as a transaction in which the benefit to the listener is information about his or her environment, and the benefit to the storyteller is the elicitation of behavior from the listener that serves the former's interests. However, because no two individuals have exactly the same fitness interests, we would expect different storytellers to have different narrative perspectives and priorities due to differences in sex, age, health, social status, marital status, number of offspring, and so on. Tellingly, the folklore record indicates that different storytellers within the same cultural group tell the same story differently. Furthermore, the historical and ethnographic records provide numerous examples of storytelling deliberately used as a means of political manipulation. This evidence suggests that storyteller bias is rooted in differences in individual fitness interests, and that storytelling may have originated as a means of promoting these interests.

Sugiyama, M. S. (2001). Narrative theory and function: Why evolution matters. Philosophy and Literature, 25(2), 233-250.

There can be little doubt that narrative emerged in human prehistory. Language, an obvious prerequisite for storytelling, is likely to have emerged by at least 50,000 and possibly 250,000 years ago, depending upon whether one places one’s trust in archaeological or anatomical evidence. The most reasonable estimate is offered by Geoffrey Miller, who points out that, given its universality, the language faculty must have emerged by the time ancestral Homo sapiens began migrating out of Africa approximately 100,000 years ago. Although the oldest known written narrative (The Epic of Gilgamesh) dates back only 5,000 years, the written literary traditions of many ancient cultures are known to be rooted in longstanding oral traditions. The fact that many modern foraging peoples have rich and complex oral traditions further suggests that the emergence of narrative is not linked to the development of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Moreover, other forms of symbolic expression, such as the cave paintings, Venus figurines, and engraved bone and antler that have been found at various sites throughout Europe, date back approximately 30,000 years, and rock paintings in Australia may date back even farther. Since humans were physiologically capable of speech long before they began producing these artifacts, storytelling is likely to be at least as ancient as these other representational forms. Indeed, one scholar situates the “dawn of the oral tradition” within this period (Pfeiffer, p. 189). Given, then, that modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) have been in existence for approximately 100,000 years and are the only hominid species or subspecies known for certain to exhibit storytelling behavior, we can safely say that oral narrative is a product of our hunting-and-gathering past, likely to have emerged between 30,000 and 100,000 years ago. The universality of narrative is further testimony to its being an ancient cognitive phenomenon. Literate or not, all known cultures, past and present, practice storytelling. Moreover, all normally developing humans acquire the ability to process and generate stories: studies of Western children indicate that the ability to tell stories emerges spontaneously between the ages of two-and-a-half and three, and children as young as thirty months can distinguish between narrative and non-narrative uses of language. In contrast to reading, writing, and arithmetic, no special education is required for narrative competence to develop, nor is there any evidence that oral literacy is acquired through contact with other cultures; although subject matter is often exchanged between groups, the practice of storytelling itself arises independently among even the most isolated peoples. Nor does any type of culture have a monopoly on narrative sophistication: the stories of hunter-horticulturalist societies are no less observant, insightful, or artful than those of agrarian or industrial societies.

Sugiyama, M. S. (2001). Food, foragers, and folklore: The role of narrative in human subsistence. Evolution and Human Behavior, 22(4), 221-240.

Narrative is a species-typical, reliably developing, complex cognitive process whose design is unlikely to have emerged by chance. Moreover, the folklore record indicates that narrative content is consistent across widely divergent cultures. I have argued elsewhere that a storyteller may use narrative to manipulate an audience's representations of the social and/or physical environment to serve his or her own fitness ends. However, my subsequent research suggests that such manipulation results from a broader selection pressure which narrative effectively alleviates: information acquisition. By substituting verbal representations for potentially costly first-hand experience, narrative enables an individual to safely and efficiently acquire information pertinent to the pursuit of fitness in local habitats. If this hypothesis is true, narrative should be rich with information useful to the pursuit of fitness. One class of information integral to the accomplishment of this task is foraging knowledge. In this paper, then, I present evidence that foraging peoples use narrative to transmit subsistence information: specifically, I demonstrate how various narrative devices (e.g., setting, description, mimicry, anthropomorphism) are used to communicate foraging knowledge.

Sugiyama, M. S., & Sugiyama, L. (2009). A Frugal (Re) Past: Use of Oral Tradition to Buffer Foraging Risk. Studies in the Literary Imagination, 42, 1-29.

Gottschall, J. (2012). The storytelling animal: How stories make us human. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Coe, K., Aiken, N. E., & Palmer, C. T. (2006, March). Once upon a time: Ancestors and the evolutionary significance of stories. In Anthropological Forum (Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 21-40). Routledge.

Palmer, C. T., Wright, J., Wright, S. A., Cassidy, C., VanPool, T. L., & Coe, K. (2006). The many manipulations of morty mouse: Children's stories and the parental encouragement of altruism. Journal of anthropological research, 235-257.

"The success of the narrative approach first became apparent in the field of the human sciences. From about 1995 onwards, this development was described as 'the narrativist turn', and it soon spread to the social sciences....After a centuries-old tradition of travel stories, it is now the very concept of narrative that has begun to drift from one scientific continent to another: from psychology to education, from the social sciences to political science, from medical research to law and theology or the cognitive sciences....It is thanks to this shift that storytelling has been able to emerge as a technology of communications, control, and power. The narrativist turn of the mid 1990s in the social sciences coincided with the Internet explosion and the advances in the new information and communications technologies that created the preconditions for the "storytelling revival" and that allowed it to spread so rapidly. NGOs, government agencies, and big companies increasingly discovered the effectiveness of storytelling....It is an immersion mechanism, a tool for profiling individuals, a technique for visualizing information, and a powerful way of spreading disinformation...The instrumental use of narrative for the purposes of management and control has, for instance, resulted in denunciations of the fictional contract (which allows us to distinguish between reality and fiction and to suspend our disbelief for the duration of the story) because it transforms readers into guinea pigs and what management calls 'tracked experiences', or, in other words, behaviors that are subject to experimental protocols."
-Christian Salmon, Storytelling: Bewitching the Modern Mind, 2010, page 6-7.

Neuhauser, P. (1993). Corporate legends and lore: The power of storytelling as a management tool. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Morgan, S., & Dennehy, R. F. (1997). The power of organizational storytelling: a management development perspective. Journal of Management Development, 16(7), 494-501.

Brown, J. S. (Ed.). (2005). Storytelling in organizations: Why storytelling is transforming 21st century organizations and management. Routledge.

Gill, R. (2011). Corporate storytelling as an effective internal public relations strategy. International Business and Management, 3(1), 17-25.

Gill, R. (2011). Using storytelling to maintain employee loyalty during change. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 2(1), 23-32.

Czarniawska, B. (2004). The ‘narrative turn’in social studies. Narratives in social science research, 1-16.

Berger, R., & Quinney, R. (2004, August). The narrative turn in social inquiry: Toward a storytelling sociology. In annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, San Francisco, CA.

Simmons, A. (2006). The story factor: Secrets of influence from the art of storytelling. Basic books.

Papadatos, C. (2006). The art of storytelling: how loyalty marketers can build emotional connections to their brands. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 23(7), 382-384.

Woodside, A. G., Sood, S., & Miller, K. E. (2008). When consumers and brands talk: Storytelling theory and research in psychology and marketing. Psychology & Marketing, 25(2), 97-145.

Hyvärinen, M. (2006). Towards a conceptual history of narrative.

Bamberg, M. (2006). Stories: Big or small: Why do we care?. Narrative inquiry, 16(1), 139-147.

We had fed the heart on fantasy,
The heart's grown brutal from the fare.
-William Butler Yeats, The Stare's Nest By My Window


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