When do Stories Work?: Evidence and Illustration in the Social Sciences

Andrew Gelman, Thomas Basbøll

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Storytelling has long been recognized as central to human cognition and communication. Here we explore a more active role of stories in social science research, not merely to illustrate concepts but also to develop new ideas and evaluate hypotheses, for example, in deciding that a research method is effective. We see stories as central to engagement with the development and evaluation of theories, and we argue that for a story to be useful in this way, it should be anomalous (representing aspects of life that are not well explained by existing models) and immutable (with details that are well-enough established that they have the potential to indicate problems with a new model). We develop these ideas through considering two well-known examples from the work of Karl Weick and Robert Axelrod, and we discuss why transparent sourcing (in the case of Axelrod) makes a story a more effective research tool, whereas improper sourcing (in the case of Weick) interferes with the key useful roles of stories in the scientific process.
Storytelling has long been recognized as central to human cognition and communication. Here we explore a more active role of stories in social science research, not merely to illustrate concepts but also to develop new ideas and evaluate hypotheses, for example, in deciding that a research method is effective. We see stories as central to engagement with the development and evaluation of theories, and we argue that for a story to be useful in this way, it should be anomalous (representing aspects of life that are not well explained by existing models) and immutable (with details that are well-enough established that they have the potential to indicate problems with a new model). We develop these ideas through considering two well-known examples from the work of Karl Weick and Robert Axelrod, and we discuss why transparent sourcing (in the case of Axelrod) makes a story a more effective research tool, whereas improper sourcing (in the case of Weick) interferes with the key useful roles of stories in the scientific process.
LanguageEnglish
JournalSociological Methods & Research
Volume43
Issue number4
Pages547-570
ISSN0049-1241
DOIs
StatePublished - 2014

Keywords

    Cite this

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    When do Stories Work? Evidence and Illustration in the Social Sciences. / Gelman, Andrew; Basbøll, Thomas.

    In: Sociological Methods & Research, Vol. 43, No. 4, 2014, p. 547-570.

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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    T2 - Sociological Methods & Research

    AU - Gelman,Andrew

    AU - Basbøll,Thomas

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    AB - Storytelling has long been recognized as central to human cognition and communication. Here we explore a more active role of stories in social science research, not merely to illustrate concepts but also to develop new ideas and evaluate hypotheses, for example, in deciding that a research method is effective. We see stories as central to engagement with the development and evaluation of theories, and we argue that for a story to be useful in this way, it should be anomalous (representing aspects of life that are not well explained by existing models) and immutable (with details that are well-enough established that they have the potential to indicate problems with a new model). We develop these ideas through considering two well-known examples from the work of Karl Weick and Robert Axelrod, and we discuss why transparent sourcing (in the case of Axelrod) makes a story a more effective research tool, whereas improper sourcing (in the case of Weick) interferes with the key useful roles of stories in the scientific process.

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    KW - Statistics

    KW - Management science

    KW - Game theory

    KW - Evidence

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