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Journal Article

Narrative Explanation and Its Malcontents

David Carr
History and Theory
Vol. 47, No. 1 (Feb., 2008), pp. 19-30
Published by: Wiley for Wesleyan University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25478721
Page Count: 12
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Narrative Explanation and Its Malcontents
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Abstract

In this paper I look at narrative as a mode of explanation and at various ways in which the explanatory value of narrative has been criticized. I begin with the roots of narrative explanation in everyday action, experience, and discourse, illustrating it with the help of a simple example. I try to show how narrative explanation is transformed and complicated by circumstances that take us beyond the everyday into such realms as jurisprudence, journalism, and history. I give an account of why narrative explanation normally satisfies us, and how or in what sense it actually explains. Then I consider how narrative is challenged and rejected as a mode of explanation in many scientific and other contexts and why attempts are made to replace it with something else. I try to evaluate the nature and sources of these challenges, and I describe this controversy over narrative against the historical background of its emergence. My paper ends with a pragmatic defense of narrative explanation against these challenges.

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