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A Brief History and Theory of Speaking

Brief History
Storytelling
Colonial America
Aristotle's Rhetoric
Burke's Dramatism
Fisher's Paradigm
Shannon and Weaver

Walter Fisher's Narrative Paradigm

Although most communicators will argue that narratives are only one part of communication, Walter Fisher believes that all communication is a form of storytelling. His Narrative Paradigm asserts that people are essentially storytelling animals and our reason is best appealed to through stories. Fisher defines narration as symbolic actions, words, and/or deeds that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create or interpret them. Obviously, his broad definition that everything with sequence and meaning is a narrative leaves little room to argue with his claim that all meaningful communication is storytelling.

Fisher says that not all stories are created equally. He thinks that everyone has the same innate ability to determine the narrative rationality (interpreted value) of the stories we hear based upon two aspects. First we examine the narrative coherence. This is our way of determining if the story holds together and makes sense in our world. Then we check the narrative fidelity. Here we see if the story matches our own beliefs and experiences and, hence, portrays the world we live in.

The traditional paradigm of the rational world claims that:

  • People are essentially rational
  • We make decisions on the basis of arguments
  • The type of speaking situation determines the course of our argument
  • Rationality is determined by how much we know and how well we argue
  • The world is a set of logical puzzles that we can solve through rational analysis

Fisher believes that this viewpoint is too limited and suggests a new paradigm. His builds upon the narrative foundation of communication:

  • People are essentially storytellers
  • We make decisions on the basis of good reasons
  • History, biography, culture, and character determine what we consider good reasons
  • Narrative rationality is determined by the coherence and fidelity of our stories
  • The world is a set of stories from which we choose, and thus constantly re-create, our lives
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This page includes information from A First Look at Communication Theory