Moderate Bravery: Learning Through Mundane Experiments and Storytelling

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


Purpose: The ability to act in a purposeful and effective way amid institutional tensions and paradoxes is, right now, a highly prized quality in public leadership. The purpose of this chapter is to qualify moderately brave acts as a learning format that combines the analytical and performative skills implied in this kind of agency.
Design/methodology/approach: The chapter explores the engagement with paradoxes as a narrative praxis. From existing literature, it sums up an understanding of agency as a social process of mediating paradoxes in order to make action possible. Drawing on Northrop Frye’s theory of modes, the chapter explains this praxis as a narrative endeavour balancing the dynamics of tragedy (disintegration) and comedy (integration). Moderately brave acts are formed as a kind of low-mimetic synthesis – very much akin to comedy and realistic fiction. The narrative dynamics of low-mimetic synthesis are pursued in the case story of Christian, a Master of Public Administration (MPA) student from Copenhagen.
Findings: Moderately brave acts appear as a learning format that can inspire a less idealised, but not entirely ironic approach to the paradoxes of management. In this way, they can foster a nuanced and pragmatic agency that combines analytical reflexivity with the ability to take practical action in problematic situations.
Practical implication: The chapter may inspire teachers to use narrative techniques to allow students to deal with real problems of daily praxis in a way that embraces the tension between idealisation and deconstructive irony.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDeveloping Public Managers for a Changing World
EditorsKlaus Majgaard, Jens Carl Ry Nielsen, John W. Raine, Bríd Quinn
Number of pages25
Place of PublicationBingley
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing
Publication date2016
ISBN (Print)9781786350800
ISBN (Electronic)9781786350794
Publication statusPublished - 2016
SeriesCritical Perspectives on International Public Sector Management


  • Public management
  • Paradox
  • Narrative
  • Agency
  • Experiments
  • Management development

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