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White Paper on Narrative and Argumentative Discourse

Since what may be called the “narrative turn” in the 1980s, it is widely recognized that narrative constitutes a fundamental conceptual and analytical framework for the understanding of human experiences and existence (Bakhtin, 1981; Bruner, 1986; Culler, 1984; Fisher, 1984; Ricoeur, 1981). Accordingly, we not only make sense of and give order to our aleatoric and fragmented experiences through stories, but also maintain a coherent sense of self in the otherwise fragmented roles and positions in which we find ourselves. 

As fundamental as the above are the relations and interactions we enter in our daily lives in constructing a sense of agency and identity, as well as in coordinating with others to reach otherwise unattainable goals. The exchange of positions in these interactions, and reasons justifying the adoption of those goals, are captured by another paramount conceptual and analytical framework of argument (Perelman & Olbrects-Tyteca, 1969; Toulmin, 1958).

This paper explores the links between the two fundamental discourse analytic perspectives - narrative and argumentative - and the possibilities of their combined analytic potential. The potential of their intersection, we cautiously contend, is greater when circumscribed within clearly identified boundaries. Hence the paper also aims to identify when a narrative argument or argumentative narration framework can prove more useful, and some of the ways it could reach its potential. This is done with the awareness that in many contexts, what is understood as narrative and argumentative are often blended together. Thus, it is critical that we start by distinguishing what is meant by an argumentative perspective and by a narrative perspective.