Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2008

The Comparative Study of Narratives/Events

Lecturer: Professor Roberto Franzosi,
Department of Sociology,
Emory University, USA

Main disciplines: Sociology, Political Science, Media Studies

Dates: 21 - 25 July 2008
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 20 participants

Aims and Objectives
The course aims to provide a brief introduction to the comparative study of narratives and events. Moving away from traditional approaches to the study of events, based on event counts, the course will focus on event characteristics – actors and their inter-actions – as provided in narrative. The course will illustrate two types of social science approaches to text and narrative: traditional content analysis – in its thematic and referential variants – and narrative analysis (both qualitative and quantitative). The course also aims to show students what they can do with these types of data, beyond traditional statistical analyses (in particular, network models and Geographic Information System analyses).


Course Description
The quantitative study of social and historical events has been typically based on event counts (e.g., number of strikes, number of riots, number of lynchings, or number of terrorist attacks). These counts have been studied in time-series, cross-sectional, or pooled regression models, as a function of various demographic, economic, or political variables. Paradoxically, this approach to social scientific explanation ends up hiding the role of social actors behind variables and coefficients. To bring the focus back on social actors, the course will look at those same events in term of their characteristics, rather than counts, as described in narrative (namely, actors, their actions, and the attributes of both actors and actions, such as the number and the organization of actors, and time and space of action).

The course introduces students to two different approaches to the analysis of narrative (or, more generally, texts): content analysis and narrative analysis, with a specific focus on quantitative narrative analysis. Content analysis is the technique traditionally applied in the social sciences for the quantitative analysis of textual material. The advantage of content analysis is that it can be applied generally to any kind of texts; its disadvantage is that the “coding categories” that provide the basic building blocks for extracting numbers from words are defined by investigators on the basis of their substantive and/or theoretical questions – different investigators typically applying different coding schemes to the same material. Quantitative narrative analysis has been recently (and specifically) developed for the quantitative analysis of the information provided in narrative texts (i.e., texts that tell a story). The advantage of narrative analysis is that coding categories are based on the linguistic invariant properties of narrative texts (namely, agent, process, agent – or Subject, Action, Object – and their respective modifiers, a structure also known as “story grammar”). Its disadvantage is that it works well for narrative texts only. But narrative includes a broad class of texts of interests to social scientists, from life histories to newspaper articles on protest events (e.g., strikes, demonstrations). Students will be introduced to the basic language and issues of the techniques of quantitative textual analysis (coding categories, coding schemes, coders, inter-coder reliability, themes, references, frames, story grammars, sampling). The course will briefly show students what to do with the numbers obtained from words. While a large range of statistical techniques can be used on these numbers, the course will show how network models and Geographic Information System models provide particularly useful models for the quantitative analysis of narrative information. Two final labs will introduce students to a software package (PC-ACE, Program for Computer-Assisted Coding of Events) specifically designed for quantitative narrative analysis.

The course does not require any specific knowledge of either linguistics, content analysis, network models or GIS systems. Although such knowledge would no doubt enhance the learning experience, everything needed will be taught in the course. Students, however, will find the course easier if they do some of the suggested readings before taking the course and they are strongly encouraged to do so.


Essential book (please obtain and read in advance of course)


The Comparative Study of Narratives/Events - Outline


Basic Readings

On Content Analysis


On Narrative Analysis


On (Quantitative) Narrative Analysis

Variable versus Narrative Explanations

The Lecturer
ROBERTO P. FRANZOSI (Literature BA, University of Genoa, 1975; Sociology Ph.D., Johns Hopkins, 1981; postdoc, University of Michigan 1982) is a professor of Sociology at Emory University in the US (after having previously taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Oxford, and Reading).

Franzosi’s long-standing interest has been in the area of protest events and violence. His book, The Puzzle of Strikes: Class and State Strategies in Postwar Italy (Cambridge University Press, 1995) is an econometric, historical, and ethnographic analysis of the temporal dynamics of Italian strikes and their relationship to economic, organizational, institutional, and political factors. The poverty of information content of traditional strike statistics (based on event counts, or number of strikes) led Franzosi to search for alternative ways of studying protest events, ways that would focus on events characteristics, rather than event counts. He has developed a technique, based on the concept of “story grammar” and relational database systems, for quantifying narrative information for socio-historical research (e.g., narratives of conflict as reported in newspaper articles on strikes, riots, or violent events). He has published several articles and books on the issue (From Words to Numbers: Narrative, Data, and Social Science, 2004, Cambridge University Press; Content Analysis. Benchmarks in Social Research Methods series (Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences). 4 vols. Sage, 2008; Quantitative Narrative Analysis, Sage, 2008; “Narrative Analysis – Why (And How) Sociologists Should Be Interested in Narrative.” 1998, Annual Review of Sociology).

Franzosi has developed a software, PC-ACE (Program for Computer-Assisted Coding of Events), for quantifying narrative information. Using PC-ACE, Franzosi has carried out a huge data-collection project on the rise of Italian fascism (1919-22), collecting some two-hundred thousand skeleton narrative sentences from three different Italian newspapers. He (still me, talking in the third person) is looking forward to start analyzing these hard-won data. Franzosi has also been fascinated by the rhetorical aspects of scientific work. Whether there is or there isn’t a “reality out there”, whether science can or cannot attain an objective knowledge of that reality, scientific writing underscores science’s “noble dream” of objectivity via an array of specifically linguistic devices. Franzosi is approaching these issues in a book titled A Trilogy of Rhetoric: The Rhetorical Foundations of Social Science Quantitative Work (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press). In Trilogy of Rhetoric Franzosi takes three once-popular strands of social science quantitative literature–strike, union growth, and wage inflation–and analyzes both the statistical and linguistic conventions behind the argumentations adopted.

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