Ethnostatistics and Ontological Storytelling
David M. Boje, Feb 5 2012; Revised Feb 16 2012
The purpose of this essay is to explore the relationship between ethnostatistics and ontological storytelling. Most of the work on ethnostatistics has focused on the process of objectifying the subjective, or on the ways in which academic and business writing makes rhetorical moves to justify and legitimate the statistics. The contribution intended his is to look at how the ontological is ante to these epistemic and ontical issues. Specifically the case is made for an ontological approach to ethnostatistics.
Ethnostatistics is defined by Robert Gephart Jr.. (1988) as the study of people and institutions using statistics. My purpose here is to look at ethnostatistics in relationship to ontological storytelling. Antecedently there is something degraded in the use of statistics in management and organization studies, a way that Being-in-the-world ontolologically becomes substituted by what Gephart calls the three moments of ethnostatistics, creating and substituting numbers, their computation, and the rhetorics of their interpretation. After the three moments, Being-in-the-world is degraded, no longer means what it meant. Ethnostatistics conceals and at the same time reveals the process of degrading. For example AACSB has statistics and a way of generating numbers for 'assurance of learning' (AOL). The ways of 'measuring' AOL combines with the use of management change theories to define "Where We are and Where are We going" says the Valentine's Day add from AACSB received in today's Feb 14 2012 email. There is something degrading to the pedagogy about the use of calculations, measurements, and the entire methodology of AOL. The consummation of the AOL measures, calculations, ways of assessment are meant to change the Business College pedagogy. What goes unnoticed is the "economical," "political," "sociological,l" "technological," and "scientific" associations with AOL measures and calculations (Heidegger QCT, 1977: p. 111). There is a "hidden underlying meaning" and that for me is something ontological that needs to be explored about ethnostatistics, the use of statistics by AACSB for AOL.
Ontology is even the basis for developing object-based computer languages to assess and integrate ontologies. It is not at all what Deleuzian or Heideggerian ontology had envisioned as their alternative to the quantification of discourse. Noy and Musen (2000), for example, say, "Researchers in the ontology-design field have developed the content for ontologies in many domain areas. Recently, ontologies have become increasingly common on the World- Wide Web where they provide semantics for annotations in Web pages." They participate in in the "ontology-alignment effort within DARPA's High-Performance Knowledge-Bases project (Cohen et al. 1999)".
Recent publications on DARPA's ontology use of "Agent Markup Ontology Language" (Bechhofer, Van Harmelen, Hendler, Horrocks, McGuinness, Patel-Schneider, & Stein, 2010: 31): "OWL distinguishes between two main categories of properties that an ontology
builder may want to define:
● Object properties link individuals to individuals.
● Datatype properties link individuals to data values."
and from p. 41:
"One could imagine this axiom to be part of a European sports ontology. The two classes are treated here as individuals, in this case as instances of the class owl:Class. This allows us to state that the class FootballTeam in some
European sports ontology denotes the same concept as the class SoccerTeam in some American sports ontology. Note the difference with the statement: <footballTeam owl:equivalentClass us:soccerTeam /> which states that the two classes have the same class extension, but are not (necessarily) the same concepts."
Burton-Jones, Storey, Sugumaran, and Ahluvalia (2005: 84) attempt to validate the DARPA ontology Markup language: " A suite of metrics is proposed to assess the quality of an ontology. Drawing upon semiotic theory, the metrics assess the syntactic, semantic, pragmatic, and social aspects of ontology quality."
Certainly we can say that storytelling is involved in the three moments of ethnostatistics: in the selection of numbers, the presumptions about how statistical packages apply, and the rhetoric moves of interpreting the meaning of the statistics included in a journal article or in a company report. And this is also part of AOL in the Business College. Yet, ethnostatistics is involved in a wider sense of storytelling, such as the use of narrative that simplifies, and 'yes' it also degrades storytelling itself. For example, a promo for a 'best-selling' statistics book, Making Sense of Statistics:A Conceptual Overview (Fifth Edition) by Fred Pyrczak (2010), reads as follows:
"By providing an overview of descriptive and inferential statistics without formulas and computations, this text helps students who are struggling with statistical concepts. With its clear and to-the-point narrative and easy-to-digest layout, this short text is perfect for all courses where statistics are discussed."
Storytelling, however is more than just the 'clear and to-the-point narrative'. Storytelling is the threefoldness of narrative, living story, and antenarrative (Boje, 2001, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012). Narrative enfolds living story, and yet antecedently to them is the antenarrative fold.
Antenarrative is a term I invented in the 2001 book, and after a decade of theory and empirical work, colleagues and I produced an edited book on the topic that was released in 2011. Antenarrative has a double-meaning of 'ante', the 'before' narrative solidifies its clear-cohesion, and 'bet' on the future. We have been studying four types of antenarratives: linear-, cyclic-, spiral-, and rhizomatic-antenarratives. The linear- and cyclic-antenarratives appear to bridge narratives of the past with objectified living stories of the immediate present. The past is presumed to imprint the patter than replicates in the future. In statistics, there is a forecast, a prediction of how past events recur in the future.
The spiral- and rhizomatic-antenarratives, on the other hand, are hypothesized to be a 'before' and a 'bet' that is ontolologically antecedent to the retrospective-narrative and the objectified-living-story-immediate-present-at-hand. This ontological storytelling is a different temporal ordering than the ordinary beginning-middle-end (BME) narrative, or its linear-sequence of past-present-future.
If we ponder how Being-in-the-world mostly suspends us in nonlinear and noncyclical processes, then it becomes important to understand the spiral- and rhizomatic-antenarrative processes that remain concealed by all the linear-cyclical ways of statistics.
Moving Beyond the General Linear Model of Narrative
While just about every management and organization text stresses the movement of the disciple from linear models, to nonlinear approaches that require by default, nonlinear statistics, in the main, the general linear model, and its coupling to a linear antenarrative 'bet on the future' being a recurrence (more of less) of the past, continues to hold center stage. Therefore the first and second moment of ethnostatistics (creating numbers & and chomping them through an often 'linear' statistical package) is still holding fast to the general linear model (Abbott, 1984, 1988, 1990, 2001). Then in the third moment, a linear rhetoric can get tacked whether or not, the first two moments engaged in linear pursuits. In short the assumptions of a linear temporal sequence in narrative matters as a master plot. There are certainly nonlinear narrative in literature, but not so much in management and organization studies where the stress is on the beginning-middle-end emplotment.
Abbott's (1988) General Linear Reality (GLR) assumptions:
- That the social world consists of fixed entities with variable attributes.
- That cause cannot flow from “small” to “large” attributes/events.
- That causal attributes have only one causal pattern at once.
- That the sequence of events does not influence their outcome.
- That the “careers” of entities are largely independent.
- That causal attributes are generally independent of each other.
With the turn from Postmodern to Post-Postmodern and now to the Quantum Age, each of the six assumptions is being problemetized in storytelling: In the Quantum Age, the waves are nonlinear, and noncyclical, and two waves can collide and collapse each other, and a small wave can set off a Tsunami. Quantum physics has redefined our Being-in-the-world.
- That the social world consists of fixed entities with variable attributes. In quantum physics the world of living things consists of particles and waves.
- That cause cannot flow from “small” to “large” attributes/events. A small antenarrative trajectory can make some large events unfold.
- That causal attributes have only one causal pattern at once. In antenarratives there are multiple simultaneous paths, as in 'Tamara-land' (Boje, 1995).
- That the sequence of events does not influence their outcome. Sequence matters, since the antenarrative trajectories are influenced by sequence.
- That the “careers” of entities are largely independent. In Tamara-land, the careers of the antenarratives are interdependent.
- That causal attributes are generally independent of each other. Attributes are interdependent, even to the extend that discourse and materiality are intra-penetrating and intra-active (Barad, 2003, 2007). Since storytelling is a domain of discourse, storytelling and materiality are intra-penetrating and intra-active (Boje, 2011, 2012).
There is a threefoldness to storytelling: narrative folds in the living stories, and ante to this are the spiral- and rhizomatic-antenarratives. Each has folded in its favorite mode of enquiry. For narrative it is the epistemic, for living stories it is the ontic, and for spiral- and rhizomatic antenarratives it is the the ontological mode of inquiry.
Figure 1 - Three Folds of Storytelling Inquiry
We can take the epistemic route of semi-structured interviews to fashion retrospective narratives of past experiences. Epistemic sensemaking is assumed to be the stuff of retrospective narratives (Weick, 1995). Narrative tends to empty out the living story content in order to fashion abstract concept schemas. In sum the epistemic narrative is all about thematizing subjectivity, cognitive (thinking & feeling), judging, representational, and abstract historicity (past) (Heidegger, OHF 1999). It takes a deeper inquiry into historicality to move beyond the historicity-narrative that covers over lots of little-wow-moments of exception to that narrative abstraction. Narrative is an epistemic, schemata, a generality that in the end is uncaring about Being-in-the-world. Here are several definitions of epistemic narrative:
- Narrative requires story to be “… a whole … a whole is that which has beginning, middle, and end” (Aristotle, 350 BCE: 1450b: 25, p. 233).
- Narrative genres are always enclosed in a solid and unshakable monological framework” (Bakhtin, 1973; 12).
- Retrospective-Narrative-Sensemaking is “typically searching for a causal chain”, “the plot follows - either the sequence beginning-middle-end or the sequence situation-transformation-situation. But sequence is the source of sense” (Weick, 1995: 128).
- Narrative, or “a story consists of a plot comprising causally related episodes that culminate in a solution to a problem” - (Czarniawska, 1997: 78). PETRIFIED narratives that do not change are basis of strong corporate cultures (Czarniawska, 2004).
These definitions of narrative make it easy to form linear- and cyclical-antenarrative connections. The antenarratives are ante (before & bet on the future-that-represents-the-past). The relevance to ethnostatistics is in the use of probabilistic recurrence statistics and rhetoric about the recurrence of the past patterns in the future. Delphi process, for example, where a group of experts projects the future scenario based on provided texts, and followed by intertextual activity among the Delphi participants is embeds an epistemic-narrative framework (Boje & Murningham, 1982).
Ontic Living Story Objectification
Ontic is a "positivistic substitute for the metaphysical" (Heidegger QCT 1977: 71). Heidegger (1962/1996 BT) defines ontic as the present-at-hand, the calculable, the objectifying of the subjective. The ontic (positivistic) approach to living story, focuses on tabulating, counting, and otherwise measuring those living stories. An ontic ethnostatistics tells a living story with numbers, assembling the what-is that just is presenting as somehow removed from the future. It’s deadening, fossilizing. Living stories are collected as so many empirical data points using either semi-structured interviews or open ended questions in a survey design. Both modes objectify stories. Sometimes stories are read out while rates use subjective scales of traits and concepts to reduce them even further. The result is the ontic, present-at-hand objectification and reification of living stories. What begins as living story relationships gets reified, as well as objectified. I follow Bakhtin and Derrida, in looking at how narrative empties out living story, objectifies it.
Some definitions of living stories
- It begins with the dialogical manner of story is “The plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousness and the genuine polyphony of full-valued voices” (Bakhtin, 1973: 4).
- “Each story is at once larger and smaller than itself, includes itself without including (or comprehending) itself, identifies with itself even as it remains utterly different…” (Derrida, 1979: 82). Living stories morph into something highly abstract and linear as narratives go.
I agree also with Gabriel (2000), that story is something more than just a narrative plot. Where we disagree is over the role of terse-telling. Gabriel prefers the fully developed story, one that is has a bit of dramatic flair. For me, the 'you know the story' and the tersely told tale is also story to those in the know (Boje, 1991). In the end, the ontic mode of inquiry objectifies living stories by thematizing objectivity, factual actuality of 'what is', measuring, calculating, such that 'they-self' is more important than the 'Self' and is set in the 'monstrous' Now (Heidegger, BT 1962). As Nietzsche (WTP 1888 Aph. # 710) puts it "Value stands in intimate relation to a so-much, to quantity adn number. Hence values are related to a 'numerical and measured scale'" (as cited in Heidegger, QCT 1977: 71). The ontic ways of statistics 'guides the path of sight" (ibid, p. 71).
“The [monstrous] ‘now’ is not pregnant with the ‘not-yet-now,’ but the Present arises from the future in the primordial ecstatial unity of the temporality of temporality” (Heidegger, BT 1962: 479, bracketed additions, mine). Henri Bergson focused on the Duree, the idea that past-nows swell into the present-Now. Weick (1995) focuses on retrospective sensemaking, in ways similar to Bergson. Ekert Tolle (1997, 2005) looks at The Power of Now, as a way to get out of the past and future, by Awakening to the Now. All three do not abide any telos where the future is somehow destining the past or present. Ontically, we could also turn to physics, to the materiality of oral or textuality of the text, in actor-network-theory (Latour, 2005) where‘actors’ (living beings) and ‘actants’ (living things) are co-tellers in an actor-actant-network manner of living story relationality.
Sooner or later we come to the third paradigm: ontological storytelling. And it transforms ethnostatistics into something quite different from epistemic-narrative or ontico-objectification and reification of living stories. Heidegger (1962/1996 BT; FS 2003; OHF 1999; HCT, 1992) has an ontological approach different from that of Deleuze (1994; Deleuze & Guattari, 1967). Both, however, move our inquiry beyond linear and cyclic-antenarratives, into the spiral- and rhizomatic-antenarratives. Both have a role for things and materiality that is different from the ontic-positivistic approaches, or epistemic social constructionism that would just exclude materiality or reduce it to one more subjectification. For Gilles Deleuze (1968/1994: 39), a ‘radical materialist’ philosopher,’ says, “It is being which is Difference… Moreover, it is not we who are univocal in a Being which is not; it is we and our individuality which remains equivocal in and for a univocal Being.” Storytelling is an always-differentiating process, in a folding, unfolding, and refolding holographic (origami) cosmos. Both Deleuze and Heidegger posit ontological approaches to time, where the future has some role in the past and present. A storytelling echo wave ascends to virtual-possibility field of the future (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987: 160). “Many people have trees growing in their heads” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987: 17). Having trees in the head means thinking in linear branching ways. . One mental structure (trees in the head) is all about linear, progressive ordered antenarratives (Linstead & Pullen, 2006: 1290).
Spiral-Antenarratives A spiral is not cycle, or once was a cycle but its repetition [compulsion] went astray, veered inward or outward (Deleuze, 1994). Deleuze (1994: 21), for example, addresses “spirals whose principle is a variable curve and the trajectory of which has dissymmetrical aspects as though it had a right and a left.” Spirals can be thought of as having left and right trajectory forces. "If the stories of past business cycles could predict the future there would be no surprises, and by that fact no business cycles" (McCloskey, 1990: 96). Heidegger does not use the term spiral, however for Heidegger (1962 BT) there is direcitonality (ascending and plunging downward, and there is draft (up and down, centering and from the entire sphere) (1971 PLT).
Rhizomatic (assemblage)-antenarratives - The term ‘rhizome’ is used by Deleuze and Guattari (1987) to define social and material assemblages. Bruno Latour (1999, 2005) calls assemblage of actors and actants by the name of ‘actor-network-theory’ (ACT).
Ontological antenarratives are all about interpreting and understanding '♥-of-Care' which in Heidegger (1962 BT) in the primordial (birth to death) finite lifetime, the potentiality-for-Being-a-whole-Self, out of the future (ahead-of-itself) and out of the past (in total historicality). In being-in-the-world, there is factically something presencing (in-place in-world, ‘there’ environmentally): worlds of work, suppliers, equipment, Nature, welfare – in involvement-context: whither, hither, and tither. "The interpretation is grounded in a foresight that 'approaches' what has been taken in fore-having with a definite interpretation in view. What is held in the fore-having and understood in a 'fore-seeing' view becomes comprehensible through the interpretation” Heidegger (BT, 1996: 141 # 151). Heidegger distinguishes between an abstract space (a schemata) or the ‘map’ in social constructivism terms, and the Primordial-place, dwelling-in place, a familiarity with place.
The meshworks allow for a different sort of causality, that is nonlinear, what Barad (2003: 824) calls in quantum physics, “causal intra-actions.” At each moment of Being-Becoming there are simultaneous positions in the waves of the spiral, in its turns, that are in causal intra-activity, and each of these is making marks on bodies, on our bodies, on spiral bodies. Deleuze and Guattari (1967) call ‘grass in the heads’ it is doable, rhizomatically. Grass, in particular crab grass, grows rhizomatically, by the subterranean root networks.
Living story networks can connect to what Latour calls assemblages. An assemblage is also a sort of rhizome. An assemblage (Latour, 2005) is five sorts of materialities: 1) actants (material or matter of entities), 2) heterogeneous agencies (conduits for connecting matter), 3) different optics (perspectives of those involved in the process of presencing matter), 4) different times (matter made at different times), and 5) different places (matter coming from lots of places). For example, a typical classroom involves all five materialities: 1) the matter of desks, projectors, computers, wires, etc. 2) waves of light and energy connecting the computer to projector and onto the screen and bounced back to the somewhat sleepy gaze of the student. 3) the optics of projector, students, faculty, administration, and textbook makers. 4) wood used to make a desk, stored in a lumber yard for years, then in a warehouse of a fabricator, shipped to the university some time ago, and presencing this day. We can say the same about ideas coming into books from other writers of other books and articles so very long ago in an string of intertextual referencing. 5) Material in the classrooms comes from many places on the planet.
Rhizomatic-assemblage-antenarrative has many lines of flight (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987) but they are not centered, or symmetrical, and without the up and down drafts of spiral-antenarratives.
Will to Power and spiral-antenarrative
The cyclic in Nietzsche is the 'eternal return' (Boje, 2007). Heidegger (1997, QCT: 82) refers to it as "eternal returning of the same" .... "that which presences as fixed and constant" of the "encircling sphere" (p. 83). Deleuze (1994: 21) differentiates between repetitions of sameness in the cyclic and the the repetitions of difference of “spirals whose principle is a variable curve and the trajectory of which has dissymmetrical aspects as though it had a right and a left.” The tightly orbiting spiral of difference repetition can become a repetition of sameness, the kind of cyclic-antenarrative of "constant reserve" (Heidegger, 1977 QCT, p. 82) that becomes a "standing in place" or "brought to a stand through a setting in place" (ibid, p. 84) that has the character of a cyclic-antenarrative, and no longer a spiral-antenarrative amplifying difference-repetitions. The spiraling-antenarrative can regain its ventures into difference in "willing-out-beyond-itself" of a "superabundant life" (p. 81). of the "saving power" as the spiral opens into the outer orbit, and upwards (ibid, p. 28). "The penetrating forward look that belongs to the essence of the will to power... directed toward possibilities .... the world as a work of art gives birth to itself" (Nietzsche 1885-6 as cited in Heidegger, 1977 QCT p. 85).
For example, a downdraft spiral-antenarrative drafting left and right twirls, closer and closer to the draft, repeats sameness, yet slips closer to the edge of the abyss. Dangers lurks, and with it a glimpse of paths ways from the downdraft. But the venturing away form the downdraft, from its familiar orbit, requires a venture into unshieldness, along a path uncharted, yet one that has the possibilities of locating an updraft, one that is a 'saving power' and possibly a '♥-of-Care'.
How does the will to power, become a will for caring for life? "The will must cast its gaze into a field of vision and first open it up so that, from out of this, possibilities may first of all become apparent that will point the way to an enhancement of power" (Heidegger, QCT 1977: p. 80).
Asking Ontological Questions
There must be something different about ontological storytelling inquiry, something that it not the way one asks questions in an epistemic or ontic interview. Heidegger (OFH, 1999: p. 72) provides some ontological questions:
- What is it?
- What is it for?
- What are we supposed to do with it?
- Who is it for?
- What is it supposed to be?
- Who made it?
Ethnostatistics is the study of how people and organizations create, massage, and interpret statistics. In deploying statistics there is something concealed, the nonlinear and the noncyclical processes that are degraded in statistics used in the general linear modeling of the world. As the battle continues to subjectify the objective (epistemic) and objectify the subjective (ontic), what gets unnoticed or concealed is the third paradigm, an ontological approach to ethnostatistics.
In this Quantum Age, that has succeeded the Post-Postmodern Turn, there are statistics and experiments that model the particle and wave patterns thought to connect all living thing across the world, and across the universe. Sometimes the fog of concealment of the spiraling- and rhizomatic-antenarrative movement is lifted., and there is a glimpse of how the future is destining. We can also glimpse the geneology of the ways changes in calculaitng and measuring the 'real' have degraded it. Each breakthrough in statistics rehistoricizes the past, and this way of statistics, arrives ahead of the retrospective narrative. Each breakthrough in statitistics changes the Present, objectifying the living stories unfolding into stackable, countable, measureable object-stories, and into relational webs captured in network statistics algorithms.
Sooner or later, the ontological storytelling makes the possiblity of an ontological statistics apparent. Yet, we are suspicious that the nonlinear Markov chains, and the String theories are also degrading Being-in-the-world.
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Storytelling is the threefoldness of narrative, living story, and antenarrative. Narrative has the most privileged position in storytelling. Narrative emties out living story content in-order-to have form and structure. Narrative is most often about the past, and is backward looking. Living stories have no beginning or end, and are in the middle, happening in the immediate present. Linear- and cyclical-antenarratives link the narrative back to the living story content. There are two other antenarratives that are more ontological: spiral- and rhizomatic-antenarrative.
Ontological storytelling inquiry is different from epistemic narrative inquiry and living story relationality inquiry. Ontological storytelling inquiry is a study of the meaning of Being-in-the-world. World has environmental realms: work, supplies, equipment, welfare, and Nature. Click for more info