Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 1–26 | Cite as

Reasoning Together Through Telling Stories: How People Talk about Social Controversies

  • Penny EdgellEmail author
  • Kathleen E. Hull
  • Kyle Green
  • Daniel Winchester


We use focus groups of ordinary citizens talking about social controversies to analyze the role of storytelling in collective reasoning. Prior research has emphasized storytelling and abstract reasoning as distinct rhetorical forms, and elaborated on how they function differently in group deliberation. But we find that people often combine the telling of stories and the articulation of abstract principles as they reason together about controversial issues. We extend prior research by showing how storytelling can foster collective reasoning and how people combine telling stories and stating abstract principles to create morally complex understandings of concrete courses of action. We complicate earlier research by showing that, in some group settings, stories are treated as legitimate justifications for the speaker’s preferences and are not used disproportionately by more marginal group members. Our research emphasizes the constitutive role that storytelling can play in collective reasoning by highlighting the interplay of stories and abstract principles and the way that stories themselves can function as a form of reason-giving.


Storytelling Collective reasoning Social controversies Focus groups Vignettes 



This research was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation (award #1059748).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Penny Edgell
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kathleen E. Hull
    • 1
  • Kyle Green
    • 2
  • Daniel Winchester
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology/AnthropologyUtica CollegeUticaUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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