Update (22.03.2023): The Open Peer Review for this submission has been completed. Based on the Open Peer Review, the article has been approved for publication in the Journal for Media Linguistics and is available at: https://doi.org/10.21248/jfml.2019.10.
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This submission is a contribution to the special issue “Public, private, and anonymous mobile media practices”.
Narratives 2.0. A multi-dimensional approach to semi-public storytelling in WhatsApp voice messages
von Katharina König
Storytelling has become an almost indispensable part of social media communication. Linguistic practices of storytelling are both afforded and shaped by the design of social media platforms, the choice of different posting formats and the variety of semiotic resources users have at their disposal. While the growing number of studies of social media storytelling reflects the prominence of narrative formats in computer-mediated discourse (De Fina/Perrino 2017; Hoffmann 2010; Georgakopoulou 2017b; Page 2018), the full range of reconstructive genres of everyday mediatised communication has not been covered, yet.
First, many of these studies deal with public storytelling, that is, stories which can be accessed by larger and oftentimes anonymous publics. However, there are only few accounts of how users relate personal experiences in smaller groups or dyadic constellations in which participants know each other well and engage in various social activities in their offline lives. Second, most studies look at narrative formats which do not form part of an ongoing dialogic exchange. Although these stories can trigger comments and other reactions, they are often posted on platforms or sites which are not predominantly designed for continuous, conversational messaging. Narratives which are embedded in sequentially organised quasi-synchronous dialogues (in messengers like WhatsApp, WeChat, Signal and the like) still have to be researched. Third, even though it is generally acknowledged that social media narratives are multimodal in nature, research has mainly focussed on “visual narratives”, that is, aggregates of images or videos with written or text-based postings or posting components. Digital narratives in which both visual and audible postings are integrated in one continuous string of discourse have yet to be analysed.
The aim of the present paper is to expand the emerging field of digital narratology by presenting a study of narratives in voice messages in WhatsApp group chats. It contributes to research on social media storytelling in that it focusses on stories of personal experience which are
- narrated to well-defined non-anonymous publics in mobile messaging,
- embedded in a communication platform which favours a continuous dialogic exchange,
- multimodal (comprised of visual and audible posting types).
The study develops a multidimensional perspective that can capture the various facets of social media storytelling. It shows that Ochs and Capps’ (2001) account of everyday oral storytelling, with its dimensions of tellability, tellership, embeddedness, linearity and moral stance, are applicable to the analysis of digitised narratives in multimodal messenger dialogues. However, the analysis also shows that a focus on these five dimensions does not cover all the aspects which are relevant for characterising and distinguishing the different narrative configurations in social media storytelling. It is argued that the model should be expanded to include the additional dimensions of publicness (range of users who have access to the story, modes of audience participation), multimodality (choice of different semiotic resources used for telling the story) and sequencing (expansion and sequential design of the story posting(s)) to work out the characteristics of social media storytelling more adequately. The analyses show that the prototype of storytelling in WhatsApp group chats is based on recent personal experiences; it is related by a single teller as an initial, sequentially non-embedded and linearly organised “big package” story (in a single voice message sometimes introduced by a text message containing an abstract); other group members routinely document their evaluative stances in rather conventionalised text message responses in the semi-public group space.