PAL 154 Public Narrative

Identity, Agency, and Action

(HDS 2894)



Marshall Ganz

Hauser Center 238 (495-3937)     



Littauer 140

Tuesday and Thursday

1:10 – 2:30 PM


Faculty Assistant:

Sarah Staley, Hauser Center 237 (384-9637)



Office Hours: Thursday

4:00 – 6:00


Teaching Fellows:

Section #1

Rachel Anderson


Section #3

Esther Handy


Section #5

Alexis Watson


Section #2                                              

Karim Bardeesy                              


Section #4

Eli Nowersztern


Narrative Coach

Martha Parker

      The questions of what I am called to do, what my community is called to do, and what we are called to do now are at least as old as Moses’ conversation with God at the Burning Bush: Why me? asks Moses, when he is called to free his people. And, who – or what - is calling me? And, why these people? Why here, now, in this place? The intent of this course is to offer students an opportunity to prepare to lead by asking themselves these questions at a time in their lives when it really matters.


Public narrative is the art of translating values into action. It is a discursive process through which individuals, communities, and nations construct their identity, make choices, and inspire action. Because it engages both “head” and “heart”, narrative can instruct and inspire - teaching us not only how we should act, but moving us to act. Leaders use public narrative to interpret themselves to others, engage others in a sense of shared community, and inspire others to act on challenges that community must face. It is learning to tell a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now. 


In recent years, scholars have studied narrative in diverse disciplines including psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, philosophy, legal studies, cultural studies, and theology. Professions engaged in narrative practice include the military, the ministry, law, politics, business, and the arts. This course links narrative analysis across disciplines, narrative practice across professions, and the narrative we practice every day.


Our pedagogy is one of reflective practice. We model public narrative, engage students in reflection on their own narrative, facilitate student coaching of each other, and evaluate students on their practical and analytic understanding of narrative practice. This is not a course in public speaking, messaging or image making. As Jayanti Ravi, MPA/MC 07 put it; in this course students learn how to bring out their “glow” from within, not how to apply a “gloss” from without.


Class meets 12 times between September 13 and October 23, twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday. We discuss theory, reflect on readings, analyze videos, and coach students to develop their own public stories. At the second class, Tuesday, September 18, students submit a public narrative worksheet. On Saturday, October 20, an optional all day “clinic” offers coaching for the final. 


Students are evaluated on class participation, a video graphed public narrative of 5 minutes, and a theoretical analysis (5 pages) of why their story worked or didn’t that will be due November 1. Videography will be by the teaching team, who will coordinate scheduling. Students may invite whomever they wish as their “listeners.” There are three books required for this class that will be available at the Coop and on reserve in the Kennedy School Library:


1.     George Marcus, The Sentimental Citizen: Emotion in Democratic Politics, (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2002). 


2.     Richard Kearney, On Stories: Thinking in Action, (New York: Routledge, 2006).


3.     Jerome Bruner, Making Stories, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003).


Articles and book chapters will be available on-line or in the coursepack.


Week One: Introduction: What Is Public Narrative?


Thursday, September 13.


We get acquainted, set norms for our work together, identify key elements of public narrative, and analyze some examples. We begin with a parable on learning by Thich Naht Han, a Buddhist master. Arendt, a moral philosopher, argues narrative creates a bridge between private and public, thought and action. Bruner, a cultural psychologist, develops key concepts in understanding of how narrative works beyond literature. Kearney, a literary scholar, tells us why stories matter. Gamson, a sociologist, links narrative with social change. An optional reading by Polkinghorne, integrates what we have learned about narrative in a variety of social science disciplines. My account of “what is public narrative” explains the theoretical guide to our work together.




1.     Thich Nhat Hanh, "The Raft is Not the Shore" Thundering Silence: Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Catch a Snake, (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1994), p. 30-33.


2.     Hannah Arendt, “The Public and the Private Realm”, (p. 50 – 59), and “Action”, (p. 175-188), from The Human Condition, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).


3.     Jerome Bruner, “Two Modes of Thought”, Chapter 2 in Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), p.11 – 25.


4.     Jerome Bruner, “The Narrative Construction of Reality”, in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 18, No.1 (Autumn, 1991), p.1-21.


5.     Richard Kearney, “Narrative Matters”, Chapter 11 in On Stories: Thinking in Action (New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 125-156.


6.     William Gamson, “Political Consciousness”, Chapter 1 in Talking Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 1 – 12.


7.     Marshall Ganz, “What Is Public Narrative?” (Working Paper), 2007.

Available on PAL-154M Website


8.     OPTIONAL: Ronald E. Polkinghorne, “Narrative Expression”, Chapter 2 in Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences, State University of New York, 1988, p. 13 – 36.


Class Work:


1.     Introductions: Framing, Who’s Who, and Norms


2.     Lecture/Discussion: What is Public Narrative


3.     Debrief: Barack Obama, Keynote Address, “The Audacity of Hope”, Democratic National Convention, July 27, 2004, Boston, Massachusetts (7 min)


Assignment: On Tuesday, September 18, turn in a two page response to the Public Narrative Worksheet. Focus on section one, story of self, and identify some key choice points. For section two, story of us, describe the “us” with whom you will be speaking in one sentence. In section three, the story of now, describe choices you hope to encourage others to join with you in making in one sentence.


Week Two: How Narrative Works


Tuesday, September 18:

How Emotion Moves: Values, Motivation and Action


Since the work of narrative is primarily emotional, we learn how emotions shape our values, guide our choices, and transform our values into action. Marcus, a political scientist, links emotion to making effective public choices. Nussbaum, a moral philosopher, reflects on our emotions as “moral sources”, a theme Schulman, a psychologist, develops further. Fredrickson, a psychologist, describes the role of “positive emotions” in enhancing effectiveness. And Westen, also a psychologist, explains the role of emotion in making political judgments.




1.     George Marcus, The Sentimental Citizen: Emotion in Democratic Politics, (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2002). Skim the entire book. Read carefully the Introduction (p. 1-8), Chapter 4 (p. 49-78), and Chapter 8 (p.133-148) (50 pgs.)


2.     Martha Nussbaum, “Emotions and Judgments of Value”, Chapter 1 in Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 19-33.


3.     Barbara L. Fredrickson, “The Value of Positive Emotions” in American Scientist, Volume 91, 2003, p. 330 – 335.


4.     Drew Westen, Chapter 4, “The Emotions Behind the Curtain” (69-88), in The Political Brain: the Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation (Public Affairs: 2007).


5.     Michael Schulman, “How We Become Moral: the Sources of Moral Motivation”, Chapter 36 in the Handbook of Positive Psychology, New York: Oxford, 2005, p. 499-512.


Class Work:


1.     Lecture Discussion: How Emotion Moves


2.     Debrief: Dr. Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream”, Washington DC, August 28, 1963


Assignment: Turn in your response to the Public Narrative Worksheet. Save a copy for yourself.


Thursday, September 20:

Elements of Narrative: Plot, Character, and Moral.


How do we use narrative to shape our identities, engage with uncertainty, and inspire right action? McKee, a teacher of screenwriting, shares his “praxis” (theory of the practice) of story telling. Amsterdam, a legal scholar, joins Bruner in an exposition of narrative in the law. Westen focuses on political narrative. And Oatley, a psychologist, links narrative structure to emotion.




1.     Skim: Robert McKee, Chapter 2, “The Structure Spectrum”, (p. 31-42); Chapter 7, “The Substance of Story”, (p. 145 – 152); Chapter 8, “The Inciting Incident” (p. 189-197), and Chapter 13, “Crisis, Climax, Resolution” (p. 303 – 314), in Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting (Harper Collins, 1997).


2.     Anthony Amsterdam and Jerome Bruner, “On Narrative”, Chapter 4 in Minding the Law: How Courts Rely on Storytelling, and How Their Stories Change the Ways We Understand the Law – and Ourselves. (Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 110 – 142.


3.     Keith Oatley, “Emotions and the Story Worlds of Fiction”, In Narrative Impact: Social and Cognitive Foundations, edited by Melanie Green, Jeffrey Strange, and Timothy Brock (Erlbaum, New Jersey, 2002), p. 39 – 69.


Class Work:


1.     Lecture Discussion: Elements of Narrative


2.   Debrief: William Shakespeare, Henry V, “We Happy Few”.


Week Three: Stories of Public Self


Tuesday, September 25:

Telling Your “Self” Story


The first component of public narrative is a “story of self”. What stories can you tell about why you’re called to do what you do? The plot of our story is built from our choice points: challenges we’ve faced, choices we’ve made and values we learned as a result of the outcomes (the moral). Bruner, the Gergen's and McAdams explain how we shape our identity by telling our story – as does Eakin, a literary scholar.  Shamir, a political scientist, Eilam, a management scholar, and Gardner, a psychologist, focus specifically on the role of self-narrative in leadership.




1.     Jerome Bruner, “The Narrative Creation of Self”, in Making Stories, (Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 99 – 138.


2.     Kenneth J. Gergen and Mary M. Gergen, “Narratives of the Self” in Memory, Identity, and Community: the Idea of Narrative in the Human Sciences”, edited by Lewis P. Hinchman and Sandra K. Hinchman, (State University of New York, 2001), p. 161 – 184.


3.     Dan P. McAdams, “Prologue, A Life Story Made in America” (p.3-14); “Chapter 3, Life Stories”, (p.73 – 99), in The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By (Oxford, 2006).


4.     Paul John Eakin, “Storied Selves: Identity Through Self-Narration” in How Our Lives Become Stories (Cornell University Press, 1999), p. 99 – 141.


5.     Boas Shamir and Galit Eilam, “What’s Your Story?” A life-stories approach to authentic leadership development”, in The Leadership Quarterly 16 (2005), p. 395 – 417.


6.     OPTIONAL: Howard Gardner, “The Leaders’ Stories”, Chapter 3 in Leading Minds (New York: Basic Books, 1995), p. 41 - 65.


Class Work:


1.     Lecture Discussion: Story of Self


2.     Debrief: Stories of Self


Thursday, September 27:

Telling Your “Self” Story


Today we conduct our first story telling workshop. Students are assigned to one of four sections of 20 students whose work will be facilitated by a member of our teaching team. Each section subdivides into a 4 “coaching teams” of 5 people who will work together coaching one another on their public story telling for the rest of the course. Team selected examples will be posted on the web so that you can learn from each other’s progress beyond our team and section as well.


Week Four: Stories of “Us”


Tuesday, October 2:

Telling Your Story of “Us”.


Our story of self is interwoven with stories we share with others: stories of our family, community, faith tradition, school, profession, movements, organization, nation and, perhaps world. Shared stories define the identities (and express the values) of traditional communities in which we participate (religion, nation), of emergent communities we are forming (social movements) and even some transitory communities (fans at a ball game). It is an account of a challenge, a choice, and an outcome, experienced by a character (the "us") that makes a point that teaches, inspires, or enlightens the listeners. It is about moving a community to act together. The key is learning how to tell a "story of us" that expresses the experience the “us” in the room with each other, not only with the speaker. It may also require linking that “us” with a broader “us” with whom the storyteller hopes to create a bond. How did Obama tell his story of the United States of America? How did Henry V turn his "happy few” into “a band of brothers?" This sense of “us” makes the bridge to the next step: what we are being called upon to do.

Macintyre, a moral philosopher, argues shared stories are the foundations of our moral understanding, Brueggemann, a theologian, articulates the narrative structure of prophetic vision, illustrated in the story of Exodus, a classic liberation narrative, creating a new “us” in the journey from loss to redemption. Kearny offers examples of three national stories and Westen sketches the outline of two partisan stories.




1.     Alasdair Macintyre, “The Virtues, the Unity of a Human Life, and the Concept of a Tradition” in Memory, Identity, and Community: the Idea of Narrative in the Human Sciences”, edited by Lewis P. Hinchman and Sandra K. Hinchman, State University of New York, 2001, p. 241 – 263.


2.     Walter Brueggemann, “The Alternative Community of Moses”, Chapter 1 in The Prophetic Imagination, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), p. 1 – 19.


3.     Exodus, Chapter 2-6, The Bible, p. 82-89. A founding religious narrative of challenge and hope.


4.     Ronald N. Jacobs, “The Narrative Integration of Personal and Collective Identity in Social Movements”, in Narrative Impact: Social and Cognitive Foundations, edited by Melanie C. Green, Jeffrey J. Strange, and Timothy C. Brock (New Jersey: Erlbaum Associates, 2002), p. 205 – 228.


5.     Richard Kearney, “Part Three, National Narratives: Rome, Britain, and America” in On Stories: Thinking in Action (New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 79 – 117.


6.     Drew Westen, Chapter 7, “Writing An Emotional Constitution” (p. 145-169), The Political Brain: the Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation (Public Affairs, 2007).


Read one of the following that interests to you.


1.     Richard A. Cuoto, “Narrative, Free Space, and Political Leadership in Social Movements”, The Journal of Politics, Vol.55. No.1 (February, 1993), p. 57-79.  Narrative in the civil rights movement.


2.     Marshall Ganz, “The Power of Story in Social Movements”, American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, 2001, 16 pages.  Story of the emerging farm worker movement.


3.     Brown, A.D. “A Narrative Approach to Collective Identities” Journal of Management Studies, 43:4, June 2006, p. 731 – 753. This development of an organizational identity narrative.


4.     Margaret Somers, “Narrativity, Narrative Identity, and Social Action: Rethinking English Working Class Formation”, 1992, Social Science History 16, p. 591-629. Links collective identity to narrative.


Class Work:


1.     Lecture Discussion: Story of Us


2.     Debrief: Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address, 1981, Washington, DC; Amy Kober, American Rivers, 2007, Washington D.C.; Susan Christopher, Camp Obama, 2007, Los Angeles.


Thursday, October 4:

Telling the Story of “Us”


Today we conduct our second workshop in story telling. This time students focus on the “story of us” component of their public narrative.


Week Five: Stories of “Now”


Tuesday, October 9:

Telling Stories of Now


A public narrative concludes with a call for action – a story of “now”. The story of now grows out of the “story of self” and the “story of us” that created the ground for it. On the other hand, it may help shape the content of the “story of self” and “story of us” that preceded it. We become the “characters” in a story of “now.” We face the challenge now. We seek an outcome yet unknown, but hoped for. It depends on what we choose to do now. How is telling a future story different from recalling a story of the past? This week’s readings especially connect emotion and action.




1.     James W. Polichak and Richard J. Gerrig, “Get Up and Win!” Participatory Responses to Narrative” in Narrative Impact: Social and Cognitive Foundations, by Melanie Green, Jeffrey Strange, and Timothy Brock (Erlbaum, New Jersey, 2002), p. 71 – 95.


2.     James E. Maddux, “Self-Efficacy: The Power of Believing You Can”, Chapter 20 in the Handbook of Positive Psychology, edited by C.R. Snyder and Shane J. Lopez (New York: Oxford, 2005), p. 277 – 287.


Class Work:


1.     Lecture Discussion: Story of Now


3.     Debrief: Dr. Martin Luther King, “I’ve Been to the Mountain . . .” April 3, 1968, Memphis, TN; Robert Kennedy, “Remarks on the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King”, April 4, 1968, Indianapolis, IN.


Thursday, October 11:

Telling Stories of Now


Today we conduct our third workshop in story telling. This time students focus on the “story of now” component of their public narrative.


Week Six: Linking Self, Us and Now


Tuesday, October 16:

Telling Public Stories


In class, we will discuss ways to link one’s story of self, story of us, and story of now. A story that links all the elements may begin with a “challenge” drawn from the story of now, end with the “choice” called for in the story of now, with the story of self and us in between. A public narrative usually ends with the words, “So join me in . . . .”.


Class Work:


1.     Lecture/Discussion: Linking Self, Us and Now


2.     Debrief: Bono, Keynote Address at the 54th National Prayer Breakfast, 2005, Washington, D.C.


Thursday, October 18:

Telling Public Stories


In this workshop, we learn how to link one’s story of self, story of us, and story of now.


Week Seven: Conclusion


Tuesday, October 23:

New Stories for a New Era


In this final class, we reflect on the ground we have covered since we began. What have we learned about public narrative? Have we learned to tell our public story? What will be our narrative of the class? How can understanding public narrative equip us for challenges in our own lives – and in our own times?




1.     Jerome Bruner, “The Uses of Story” in Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life (New York: Ferrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002), p. 3-36.


Class Work:


1.     Retrospective on the Semester


2.     Evaluation


3.     What’s the Next Chapter?


A 5-minute Video of your Public Story and 5 page Analytic Paper are due 11/1/07. They can be submitted via e-mail to your CA.