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Narrative as an organizing process: identity and story in a new nonprofit

Andrew F. Herrmann (Department of Communication, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tennessee, USA)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Article publication date: 15 November 2011



The purpose of this paper is to explore narratives in a new nonprofit arts center. It includes the macro‐, meso‐, and personal narratives that keep the center organized in the midst of the chaotic everyday activities. It advocates the explanatory force of narrative as an alternative to organizational life cycle theory for understanding organizational startups.


This narrative ethnography involved participant observation, full participation, and narrative interviews over a three‐year period. Using grounded theory, narratives were examined to discover how they engendered and maintained order.


This paper contributes to the understanding narratives as a constitutional organizing and sensemaking process, including the narratives of “do it yourself,” and economic production, family and home, and personal narratives that constitute community, community boundaries, and identity, adding to our knowledge of organizing.

Research limitations/implications

The research examined only one local nonprofit arts center, therefore the findings are specific to this site and the same types of narratives may not necessarily be found in other nonprofits.


This paper examines a nonprofit during start‐up. It validates support for the examination of organizations through narrative ethnography and narrative interviewing. It purports that narratives constitute social identity, rather than being the evidence of social identity.



Herrmann, A.F. (2011), "Narrative as an organizing process: identity and story in a new nonprofit", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp. 246-264.



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