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Letting Stories Breathe

A Socio-Narratology

Stories accompany us through life from birth to death. But they do not merely entertain, inform, or distress us—they show us what counts as right or wrong and teach us who we are and who we can imagine being. Stories connect people, but they can also disconnect, creating boundaries between people and justifying violence. In Letting Stories Breathe, Arthur W. Frank grapples with this fundamental aspect of our lives, offering both a theory of how stories shape us and a useful method for analyzing them. Along the way he also tells stories: from folktales to research interviews to remembrances.

Frank’s unique approach uses literary concepts to ask social scientific questions: how do stories make life good and when do they endanger it? Going beyond theory, he presents a thorough introduction to dialogical narrative analysis, analyzing modes of interpretation, providing specific questions to start analysis, and describing different forms analysis can take. Building on his renowned work exploring the relationship between narrative and illness, Letting Stories Breathe expands Frank’s horizons further, offering a compelling perspective on how stories affect human lives.

224 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory


Rhetoric and Communication

Sociology: General Sociology


“Frank is a beautiful writer and this is a terrific book. His socio-narratology, while clearly drawing on the work of earlier scholars, is genuinely original, and his mastery of narrative theory, facility with a range of theoretical traditions of narrative analysis, deep fondness for literature, and capacity as a storyteller—all these together allow him to make a very persuasive case.”

Cheryl Mattingly, University of Southern California

“This is a powerful book. Arthur Frank already has a reputation as a sophisticated and sensitive interpreter of how stories shape human experience, and Letting Stories Breathe will cement his legacy. Moving beyond his important earlier work on illness stories, Frank outlines both a general theory (socio-narratology) and a method (dialogic narrative analysis) for understanding and studying ‘how stories act’ in the lives of individuals and groups. His writing is consistently clear and concise as well as, at times, moving and deeply personal, conveying in its style and language the very ethical commitments that are central to the argument of the book. Frank is himself a good storyteller and he weaves argument and illustration together in just the right balance.”

Joseph E. Davis, University of Virginia

“Every chapter offers shrewd observations: on storytelling practice, on how to analyze narrative, on the ways in which narratives deal with the ‘biographical disruption’ that serious disease brings to the stories people tell themselves about their lives, and on the questions and ethical judgments embedded in stories.”


Table of Contents


Introduction: Six Stories about Stories                  

1  The Capacities of Stories                  

2  Stories at Work                  

3  Dialogical Narrative Analysis as a Method of Questioning               

4  Dialogical Interpretation and Stories’ Particular Truth                  

5  Exemplars of Dialogical Narrative Analyses                  

6  How Stories Can Be Good Companions                  




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