Online ISSN : 1349-6964
Print ISSN : 0385-7417
ISSN-L : 0385-7417
Towards Interpretive Story Grammars as Possibilist World Models
Hayward R. Alker, Jr.
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1987 Volume 14 Issue 21 Pages 1-28


This paper starts from the premise that the phenomena we behavioral scientists wish to understand, to explain and to evaluate are historical. It responds to Immanuel Wallerstein's challenge that “using the heavily narrative accounts of most historical research seems not to lend itself... to quantification.... It is a major tragedy of twentieth century social science that so large a proportion of social scientists, facing this dilemma, have thrown in the sponge.” It accepts the thesis of Gallie, Ricoeur and others that “history is a species of the genus story.” Real, deep understanding of such stories and of their component narrative structures requires knowledge of their possible trajectories and outcomes, i.e., the grammar of their plot possibilities. Hence all genuine, realistic explanations of politically interesting historical episodes must be based on prior, quasi-causal understandings of them and their possible alternatives (Wittgenstein: “Essence is expressed by grammar.”)
It is toward the scientific construction of such explanatory, evaluative or emancipatory understandings of world histories, that this paper is directed. Since the scientific literature on story structure may be said to have had its first exemplary discoveries in the analysis of Russian fairy tales (Propp, 1928), we start there and continue through the cognitive science literature on story grammars to Berke's work on the structure of tragedies, and more recent work on philosophical hermeneutics. Given this preliminary, non-exhaustive, but highly suggestive set of qualitative historical narrative/measurement devices, we discuss theorists of world politics in terms of their presupposed, mythic narrative structures: Toynbee, Forrester, Wallerstein and others. To the extent that any one of these illustrations is persuasive, the reader/listener will have accepted the (Wittgensteinian) thesis that the social and behavioral sciences are essentially based on myth.

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