Bio: Katharine (Kathy) Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits its newsletter QuintZine, and blogs about storytelling at A Storied Career. Kathy, who earned her PhD from Union Institute & University authored Tell Me About Yourself (April 2009), Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates, A Foot in the Door, Top Notch Executive Interviews (fall 2009), Top Notch Executive Resumes; and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills.
1.What is Storytelling? and why are you interested in it?
I am among the storytelling fans who do not like to be boxed in by a specific definition of “story” or “storytelling.” I’ve found in the more than 57 interviews I’ve conducted with storytelling practitioners that most of them, perhaps surprisingly, prefer not to define “storytelling.” (However, a few feel a strict definition is vitally important.) Of the definitions offered by the practitioners who prefer to define story/storytelling, I’ve liked some more than others. One of my favorites is: “Story is context.”
I think I have been interested in storytelling for most of my life, but I didn’t really recognize the passion until I began my PhD program. I was taking an organizational-behavior course that focused on postmodernism. While researching the concept of postmodernism, I discovered an entire academic (and applied) discipline I had never heard of: organizational storytelling. This field instantly resonated with me, causing me to realize how much I had always loved storytelling, going back to reading the anecdotes in Reader’s Digest as a child. I was so intrigued by organizational storytelling that I made it the centerpiece of my doctoral dissertation, which combined my professional background in career management and job search with storytelling.
While in my PhD program, I started my blog, A Storied Career (http://astoriedcareer.com) as part of my coursework. As I completed my doctoral program, my storytelling interests began to expand. Organizational storytelling was too narrow to encompass my interests, so I broadened the blog’s scope — and my own passions — to the field of “applied storytelling,” a term I first heard from Michael Margolis.
My work on the blog was sporadic for its first three years; I would go long stretches without blogging. But in February of 2008, I made a commitment to blog 7 days a week. I have mostly lived up to that commitment, although I have skipped some days during my recent major, cross-country move.
2.On your blog (Astoried Career) you interview a wide variety of story thinkers what characteristics attract you too a potential interviewee?
When I first began sending out invitations for the Q&A series in the summer of 2008, I focused on applied-storytelling practitioners that I knew, or knew of, and admired. I was familiar with them through their books (for example, those of Terrence Gargiuolo and Annette Simmons), through their presentations at conferences (for example, Madelyn Blair, Michael Margolis, and Svend-Erik Engh), and through encountering them on the Web (for example, Shawn Callahan and Stephanie West Allen). Once I had invited all the best-known story luminaries — and most of them accepted the invitation and participated — I didn’t really have to search hard for new interviewees. I encountered them through my ongoing research for blog material. I’m excited that for the most recent series of Q&As, I’ve received nominations and self-nominations of people who want to participate or want to recommend a participant. I had always hoped that would happen, and I’m thrilled that is has.
In the interview series, I have tended not to focus on oral-performance storytellers, people involved in trans-media storytelling, storytellers in film and TV (such as screenwriters and people who teach screenwriting), people in comic-book storytelling, and folks into the storytelling of gaming. It’s not that I’m not interested in these areas. I just feel that other bloggers and writers — like you — do a good job of covering those fields and their practitioners, so it’s better for me to have a narrower focus. So many forms and uses for storytelling exist, and I can do a better job if I don’t try to cover all of them.
3.What is postmodern storytelling and how does it have anything in common with traditional oral narrative culture?
I view the current storytelling movement as an outgrowth of postmodernism. Postmodernism is characterized by critique, irony/ionic humor, mockery, parody, playfulness, disorientation, things that are symbolically rich and meaningful, multiple perspectives, conflict, the discontinuity of traditions, contradiction, ambiguity, paradox, metaphors, a strong aesthetic dimension, diversity and multiplicity, fragmentation, as well as questioning pre-established rules, values, expectations, right vs. wrong, good vs. bad, and underlying faith in reason and science.
In part, story becomes a way to make sense out of and find meaning in fragmented postmodern life.
Postmodernism means seeing organizations as texts, narratives, discourse, stories. David Boje, arguably the scholar who has most significantly connected storytelling with postmodernism, writes that “Stories are not indicators [of an organization], they ARE the organization.”
The postmodern turn has several key method assumptions. First, humans as storytelling animals act toward their organization and environments based upon their storied interpretations of self, other, organization, and environment. Second, story making is a collective process of social interaction in which story meanings change over time. Third, story meaning changes with the context of the telling as storytellers select, transform, and reform the meanings of stories in light of the context of the telling. Fourth, in [storytelling organization] theory the individual is part of the collective enterprise of constructing and transforming stories told to the world and stories of the environment being constructed. This is different from a structural-functionalist model of organizations in which story functions as measures of variables of an abstract structure. Fifth, the inquirer is a story-reader who upon entering the story-making world changes the story-making processes by being there at all.
Postmodernism also means fusing modern techniques with traditional concerns, which is where the second part of your question comes in. We can never get away from traditional oral narrative culture because we think in story; that’s how our brains are wired. But a postmodern view says that story does not come from an authority on high but belongs to everyone. It’s collective and distributed, and many people and perspectives participate in constructing stories (think about social media and blogs). Postmodernism also means rejecting the idea of an objective “reality;” there is only the reality we construct with others through discourse — by telling our stories.
Probably my best attempt at connecting postmodern storytelling with traditional oral narrative culture is in this essay I wrote as part of my PhD program: http://astoriedcareer.com/story_synthesis.html.
Having said all that, I am less interested in postmodernism than I used to be. Postmodern theory provided my entry point into storytelling, and my blog still carries the tagline “Kathy Hansen’s Blog to explore traditional and postmodern forms/uses of storytelling,” but it’s not a big part of my current thinking.