John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Sun, 25 Jun 1995 10:02:32 JST

Vance Geiger writes,

"I have become acutely aware, through teaching, of the power of
the individual narrative of having gone out to a place that is
very different from here and lived with people who are different
from my students. If I tell stories in the course of teaching an
anthropology class, students will include on their evaluations
that they wished I had told more stories from my personal
experience. I have come to realize to what myth this is playing
and have come to question the practice. It is a good way to get
students attention, but do they get the points I am trying to
make or does it come across as just another frontier story?"

I want to second Vance's remarks. After worked for more than a decade
in the advertising industry, the one generalization I am ready to make
is "Stories sell." On the other side of the coin, I have never once
seen any idea sold by facts and logic alone.

What, then, are we to do? Could it be that while we are trained to
evaluate fact-and-logic arguments, we are much less comfortable turning
critical eyes on stories (and their building blocks: metaphors). We take
stories to be either so personal that, we say, without the same
experience we feel unable to comment or, alternatively, so mythic ("the
frontier story") that we have to treat them as cultural givens?

In either case we seem to face the dilemma of wholesale acceptance or
wholesale rejection, neither of which seems palatable. For those in
search of alternatives, I recommend Donald McCloskey's _Rhetoric of
Economics_, which is rooted in the idea that a critical grasp of
stories and metaphors is everybit as important to understanding economics as thefacts and logic usually taught. For a more developed version of my own
thoughts on the matter, I suggest "Malinowski, Magic and Advertising" in
John Sherry, ed., Consumer Marketing and Consumer Behavior: An Anthropological
Source Book, just out from Sage.

To Vance I'd say, you are right to worry about how your students respond to
your stories. The only way to find out is to ask them and talk as seriously
about their responses as you do about the stories themselves. In terms of
how anthro affects their lives, this may be the most important discussion
you have.

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)