ON NARRATIVE

Ken Plummer

Some Resources For:
Sociology Department, Goldsmiths College, Annual Methods Lab Lecture: Thursday 17th October 2011

 ‘How different things would be … if the social sciences at the time of their systematic formation in the nineteenth century had taken the arts in the same degree they took the physical science as models’

Robert Nisbet, Sociology as an Art Form, 1976, p. 16).


‘ There is no best way to tell a story about society. Many genres, many methods, many formats – they can all do the trick. Instead of ideal ways to do it, the world gives us possibilities among which we choose. Every way of telling the story of a society does some of the job superbly but other parts not so well’

                  Howard S Becker      Telling About Society  2007 : 285

 

 

Abstract

Human beings are narrating animals and the societies we create are homes for our stories. We create, appreciate and live stories all our lives; they become our companions.  We need stories in order to live.  But we better be careful which stories we tell for stories have consequences. Yet although stories and narrative are often neglected in the orthodoxies of social analysis, they are usually critical to every stage of the human social research process. In the broadest terms we study the stories that people tell; we connect these stories to the wider stories of the world; and ultimately we represent them as our ‘social science stories’ – in theses, articles & books (and sometimes more startlingly in films, photos, media, conferences, exhibitions). Narrative and story telling also crucially places a critical role in shaping personal lives, political change and ethical choices.

In this presentation, I will ponder a number of story images that enable us to think more clearly about the role of stories in our research and lives drawing from my own researches and experiences as a gay man, a transplant person  and a critical humanist.

Overview:

 

  1. 1.     Introduction: The story-narrating animal
  2. 2.     Stories as my companions: from symbolic interactionist to critical humanist
  3. 3.     Narratology and the Narrative Flood: a need for simplicity? Key sensitizing concepts; basic story forms; key questions
  4. 4.     A simple model of key questions:  Creating stories? Appreciating stories? Living stories?
    1. 5.     A Short Story of A Transplanted Life
    2. 6.     Narrative Hope – Stories of Hope

SOME RESOURCES


1. We dwell in story telling worlds……..Capturing  stories through epigrams

 

Narratives and stories are among the most powerful instruments for
ordering human experience. Narrative can be expressed in oral or
written language, still or moving pictures, or a mixture of these media.
It is present in myths, legends, fables, tales, short stories, epics,
history, tragedy, drama, comedy, pantomime, paintings, stained glass
windows, movies, local news, and conversation. In its almost infinite
variety of forms, it is present at all times, in all places, and in all
societies. Indeed, narrative starts with the very history of mankind….”
(Barthes, 1975).

 

We tell ourselves stories in order to live

Joan Didion, title of her collected stories.

 

Stories animate human life: that is their work.  Arthur W.Frank   Letting Stories Breathe

 

Narrative makes the earth habitable for human beings” Frank, again: p46

 

We have each of us, a life story, an inner narrative – whose continuity, whose sense is our lives…. A man needs such a narrative, a continuous inner narrative to maintain his identity…

Oliver Sachs  opening to The man who mistook his wife for a hat

 

This is what fools people: a man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his life as if he were  (recounting it) telling a story.   Jean Paul Sartre Nausea

 

Our society has become a recited society, in three senses: it is defined by stories (Recits, the fables constituted by our advertising and informational media) by citations of stories, and by the interminable recitation of stories. 

Michel de Certeau The Practice of Everyday Life, 1984 p186

A small sample of the many worlds of story telling

Artistic  Life ‘Documents of Life’ ‘Visuals of Life’ Digital-Cyber life
Literature Autobiography Artefacts Websites
Drama Life stories Art Blogs
Poetics Auto/ethnography Photographs You tubes
The Novel Oral histories Film Social network websites
Music Family histories TV/DVD Second life
Film Self analysis You Tube Twitter
Art Diaries Screen cultures Video-cam
Pottery Letters Dress Etc etc
Architecture Web sites /Blogs Documentary
New journalism Everyday life

And much more beside: including the artefacts of academic life  etc

 

 

 

2. My critical humanist journey. From symbolic interactionist to pragmatic critical humanist: some conceptual imagery

 

Narrative Meaning: Stories as the search for social meaning

Narrative Flow: Stories as process, emergence and change

Narrative Dialogue: Stories as Others: dialogues, reflexivity and interactional relations

Narrative Embodiment: Stories as grounded embodiments and feeling worlds

Narrative Pluralism: Stories as multiplicities – in forms and contents

Narrative Wisdom: Stories as the bridge between experience and imagination, science and humanities

Narrative Politics: Stories as Political-ethical & therapeutic

Narrative Pragmatism: Stories as Practical – stories have consequences

ON THE MULTIPLICITIES OF NARRATIVES: A CRITICAL HUMANIST

SENSITISING NARRATIVE GLOSSARY  (and see bold captions throughout)

 

The Double face of Narrative: Inside the text/ Outside the text

  1. Narrative Meaning  – which may lead to:

Narrative story, Narrative Plot, Narrative Character, Narrative Archetypes, Narrative Themes, Narrative Stages, Narrative Epiphanies & Turning Points, Narrative Memory, Narrative Hermeneutics

 

  1. Narrative Others – which may lead to:

Narrative Monologue and Dialogue, Narrative Recognition, Narrative Reflexivity, Narrative Role Taking, Narrative Empathy, Narrative Sympathy, Narrative Self & Narrative Identity, Narrative Generosity

 

  1. Narrative Flow – which may lead to:

Narrative Time, Narrative Emergence and Narrative Entropy, Narrative Moments, Narrative Contingency, Narrative Inertia

 

  1. Narrative Multiplicity (or Narrative Pluralism)

Narrative Differences, Narrative Inequalities, Narrative Exclusion

 

  1. Narrative Embodiment – which may lead to

Narrative Performance, Narrative Emotions, Narrative Mood

 

  1. Narrative Agency – which may lead to:

Narrative Creativity, Narrative Habits, Narrative Subjectivities, Narrative Positionality. Narrative Habitus

 

  1. Narrative Power – which may lead to:

Narrative Privilege, Narrative Inequality, Narrative Voice, Narrative Resources(Narrative Capital: economic, social, cultural etc)

  1. Narrative Understanding– which leads to

Narrative Science & Rationality, Narrative Aesthetics, Narrative Sympathy, Narrative Pragmatics, Narrative Imagination, Narrative Horizons, Narrative Wisdom, Narrative Spirtuality

  1. Narrative Pragmatics – which leads

Narrative Companionship – Narrative Crisis and Disruption – Narrative Coherence – Narrative Memory – Narrative Truth – Narrative Amusement – Narrative Healing

Narrative Values – Narrative ethics – Grounded Moralities – Narrative Politics – Social  Movement Narratives – Narrative Hope – Narrative Flourishing
i

  1. And much more: Narrative Limits – Narrative Competencies – Mediated Narratives – Global Narratives

 

3: Asking Questions about the Flow of Stories and Narratives

(a)           Creating Narratives:                        how do we construct our tales?

(b)           Appreciating narratives:               how do we make sense of our stories ?

(c)            Living stories:                                         how do we live the stories and what personal, political and ethical role do they play?

A. Creating Narratives/Stories

How do narratives come into being?  Why some stories rather than others?  What are the contingencies which shape story telling?

 

1. The contingencies of stories – The Pentad Reworked:  When, where, what, who, why?
2. Four levels of answer-

  1. Socio-historical: structures, history, technologies
  2. Cultural: cultural frames and ‘domain assumptions’ (Gouldner); artefacts and props; habitus; memories
  3. Contextual: situations & encounters; dialogic others, significant others & generalized (imagined) communities; performance; organizational features
  4. Personal: reflexivities, creativities, habits, embodiments, psychic

3. From personal to public narratives

4. The life history of stories: from narrative emergence (& imagination), through habitual narrative to entropic narrative. From imagination and creativity to  putatively ‘dead stories’

 

B. Appreciating Narratives/Stories

 

How do we make sense of stories?

Often called the Analysis of Stories.  We could use images of archaeology (layers of depth) or theatre (drawing back curtains) or dress (unveiling). The move is from simple, surface or common-sense observations to complex, deeper, wider analysis. Might this ultimately help us towards narrative wisdom ?

To start with, it might be helpful to distinguish: narrative stories and their analysis (which is usually focused on texts, forms and literary analysis) and narrative realities which links the story to a much wider social functioning (and hence more sociological and historical). It is also useful to be clear about the differences between narrative form and narrative content (often story). And finally, we can approach stories as topics to be investigated or as resources which help is understand the social world.

 

CONTENT 1 Describing it (common sense as a starting point) 4 rich account: maybe narrative wisdom?
FORM 2 Literary –semiotic – philosophical analysis 3 Sociological – historical – cultural analysis
  NARRATIVE TEXT NARRATIVE REALITY

 

APPRECIATING THE NARRATIVES WE RESEARCH AND LIVE

The tasks and challenges:

 

1      Narrative description of content: what is this all about? Opening with ‘Common sense descriptions’ to get the analysis going.

2      Narrative analysis:  how to analyse the narrative in itself?  e.g semiotics, structures and morphology, metaphors and tropes, deconstruction. Some familiarity with so called literary theory is needed here as it has much to say on the formal analysis of texts and with philosophy as it has much to say on hermeneutics… For example:

e.g Form: locate the story as a kind of genre – comedy, tragedy, romance?- a type?
Structure: locate the story through its morphology – a pattern of story;
Thematic analysis: what are key story lines, plots and characters. Who what where when why?

And many, many more

3      Sociological analysis of narratives realities and their stories:  What is the social reality of  the narrative and how does it work?  What are the social conditions and processes which organize such narrative work? How can we appraise their truths? Familiarity with sociological theory needed (sociology of knowledge) For example:
e.g. Links to social structures
Links to culture
Links to history and time
Links to the material world eg Inequalities (cf Plummer, 2010)

4      Final ‘Rich’ ‘Dense’ Narrative Analysis which incorporates discussion of the three earlier stages and bridges into  pragmatic analysis, hermeneutic and dialogic analysis; political & moral issues etc in order to provide a thick, dense account of social life

All this needs theorizing and locating in a cycle of telling and linking to an epistemological connection to ‘the truth’.

 

For example:

Migrant Mother

Dorothea Lange  Dorothea Lange (2001) Phaedra
Nardo, Don                              Migrant Mother: How a photograph defined the great depression (2011) Capstone
Linda Gordon                         Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits 2009 WW

 

 

 

 

 

 

For example: NARRATING LIVES IN AN UNEQUAL WORLD: The Narrative Contexts of Inequalities

Narrative and stories are always embedded in culture; they are the social reality of narratives. Cultures themselves are always stuffed full of multiplicities, contradictions and differences. Central to these differences are those patterned into inequalities. Whatever narrative concerns you, it pays to ask how they bridge into some or all of the following main patterns of inequalities.

 

    SOCIAL CONTEXTS
(STRUCTURES AND CULTURES) which shape narrative tellings

Stories and narratives which display….

 

  1 Class  Order Classism and class consciousness
  2 Gender Order  (& patriarchy) Sexism and gender identity
INTERSECTING CULTURES AND STRUCTURES OF SOCIAL INEQUALITIES IN WHICH NARRATIVES AND STORIES ARE EMBEDDED 3 Racial Formation

(ethnicity and race)

 

Racialization, racism & ethnic identity
  4 Age stratification and generational orders Ageism and generational self
  5 Nations Nationalism and national identity
  6 The sexual order Heterosexism, homophobia & heteronormativity: sexual identity
  7 The disability and health order Sickness and ‘disablement’ ideologies: health/ability identity

 

 

C. Living Narratives/ Stories

 

[There is].. a powerful argument for the efficacy of storytelling in advancing the ongoing And constantly transforming pursuit of social justice….’ Schaffer and Smith, Human Rights and Narrated Lives.  Conclusion page 233.

How do we live our lives through stories? Linking stories to the personal,  cultural, ethical/moral and political life. What is the work that stories do for us?  (Narrative Pragmatism).

  1. Personal: unifying & connecting; identity shaping; trauma and repair; therapeutic narratives. How do stories animate our lives?
  2. Cultural: boundary making, educational, issue raising, change, reproduction of conservative values, hegemonic narratives?
  3. Political: stories of difference and other voices (empathy and dialogue); stories of flourishing (and not) (narratives of wasted lives, good enough lives, flourishing lives etc)
  4. Moral: stories of the bad and the good life: grounded narratives & grounded moral tales.

Narrative Hope: Telling stories for a Better World: Careful the tales you tell.

If there is anything distinctive about pragmatism, it is that it substitutes the notion of a better human future for the notions of ‘reality’, ‘reason’ and ‘nature’. Richard Rorty: Philosophy and Social Hope
……”In the Pragmatic Attitude, traditional dualisms are undercut wholesale and wholly bypassed “ John Stuhr: 100 Years of Radical Pragmatism 2010 p198

 

Linking stories to our research and politics.

One aim of research is to be concerned with the bettering of social worlds and with facilitating flourishing lives for all (to use my two favourite clichés!).

We look at: Stories of Damaged Lives:Wasted Lives/Good Enough Lives/Flourishing Lives?


Narrative Hope
in a Troubled World

1. Narratives of Cosmopolitan Hope: Dialogic, communicative, cosmopolitan : enhancing mutual understanding through our stories – Common Grounds?

2. Narratives of Dark Hope:  The continuing struggle for Equalities, Social Justice & Human Rights

3. Ameliorative Hope: Good Lives and Human Flourishing for all

 

For example: A Transplanted Life:

Coherence- Closure – Contradiction- Change – Celebration

Ken Plummer                              ‘ My Multiple Sick Bodies:  Symbolic Interactionism, Auto/ethnography and Embodiment’ in Bryan S Turner ed. The Handbook of the Body. 2012. In press.

Paul Robinson                          ‘My afterlife’ in his Opera, Sex and Other Vital Matters Chicago (2002)

Reg Green                                   The Gift that heals: Stories of hope, renewal and transformation through organ and tissue donation (2007) United Network for Organ Sharing. Bloomington, Author House

See also: Social ‘ Classics of Narrative Medicine

Julius Roth                                 Timetables: Structuring the passage of time in hospital treatments and other careers Bobbs Merrill (1963)

Arthur W.Frank                       At the will of the body: Reflections on illness Houghton Mifflin 2002

 

I am against a world riddled with the values of the market place
I need Cosmopolitan Hope – a dreaming forward-

in a world of often unbearable darkness.

I need Wisdom – experience and science and art-

in a world of chaotic complexity.
I need Empathy- my bridge to the others –

 in a world of monologic terrorism.

I need a Human Flourishing  – a potential developed for all-

in a world of wasted lives.

I need Social Justice for all- a fairness and freedom and equality-

in a world ruled without justice.
I need Meliorism – an urgency of practical actions

in a world of indifference and carelessness.

Above all: recall the golden rule:
Treat others as you would be done by.

And Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.

 

 

AFTERWORD:

Careful the tale you tell, children will listen….

You move just a finger, say the slightest word,
Something’s bound to linger, be heard
No one is alone.
Stephen Sondheim, 1986, Into the Woods

ON SEVEN SIGNIFICANT (AND INTER-RELATED) SOCIAL STORIES: UNFINISHED AND IN PROCESS   

There is a possible bridge here – yet to be explored – to Simmel’s forms of social life

THE STORIES SOME EXAMPLES SOME LIVES
1.SEARCH FOR MEANINGS / Dominant, subterranean, imaginative Remembrance of Things Past The Narrated Life
“ We arrive and try to make sense of it….. e.g.Weber; Interpretive sociologies;stories; discourse, symbols, language, culture Code of the Street
2. GOING ON JOURNEYS/ Transformations The Illiad; The Contingent Life
Origins/ Quests

“ We move on. Our lives are  journeys – we are always changing… we might get there, we might not ….)

e.g.Macro: Social Change
Micro: Careers; contingencies; turning points.

‘Alternate realities’ &

alternate histories

Moral careers of the mental patient
Polish Peasant
The Jack Roller
3.BEING DIFFERENT/ Inequalities Invisible Man; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Stranger The Multiple Life

The Unequal Life

The Outsider Life

“I am what I am but why are you not like me?” e.g.Theories of inequalities, marginality, strangers, social exclusion etc.Muliplicities
William James  & The Pluriverse
Outsiders; Becoming Deviant;

The Politics of Difference

4. EXPERIENCING SUFFERINGS /Troubles The Grapes of Wrath; King Lear; Oedipus; The Scream’ ;Salagana The Wasted Life
The Flourishing Life
“Things go wrong & we are troubled- sometimes very, very troubled” e.g. the troubles of the body, relationships and the environment

Understanding violence,  poverty, the degradation of work, genocide & war:

The Wounded Story Teller; sickness stories;
5. FACING CONTESTS / Conflicts

“We disagree and  struggle with the others”

Moby Dick; Animal Farm; Lord of the Flies The Contested Life
e.g. Power, copnflicts, explitauons; Marx, Simmel, Dahrendorf Feminism; anti –racism; homonormativity; theories of hegemony, power, war, conflict Tilly? Dahrendorf; Feminism…. Patriarchy…Genocide
6. LIVING RELATIONSHIPS/ Others

  We live with ourselves – and the  others”

Middlemarch; To the Lighthouse; The Dialogic Life
e.g.Mead, Freud etc. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life; The Managed Heart
7. ACHIEVING CONSUMMATION

“ We have a dream: We look for  utopia, a better world  – or not- and maybe find it….?

The Transcendent Life
e.g. theories of hope, justice, rights, care, empathy, compassion & kindness

8. NOW ADD YOUR OWN….. See Umberto Eco: The Infinity of Lists……….

 

 

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY: NARRATIVE REALITY AND THE NARRATIVE TURN IN SOCIETY

 

Introductory
Howard S Becker                                    Telling about Society (2007) Chicago

C.Wright Mills                                          The Sociological Imagination: esp Appendix (1962) Oxford
Les Back                                                      The Art of Listening (2007) Berg

Ken Plummer                                           Documents of Life -2: an invitation to a critical humanism (2001) Sage

Symbolic Interactionism and Critical Humanism

Robert Nisbet                                            Sociology as an Art Form 1976   Oxford

Richard Rorty                                           ‘The Humanist Intellectual: Eleven Theses’  In Richard Rorty Philosophy and Social Hope (1999) Penguin

Herbert Blumer                                        Symbolic Interaction (1969) Prentice Hall Ch 1

John M Stuhr  ed                                                       100 Years of Pragmatism: William James’s Revolutionary Philosophy. 2010 Indiana

Richard J. Bernstein                              The Pragmatic Turn ( 2010) Polity
Malachowski, Alan                                The New Pragmatism  2010 Acumen


Narrative Analysis

Jane Elliott                                                 Using  Narrative in Social Research (2005) Sage
Catherine Kohler Reisman                Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences (2007) Sage

Jaber Gubrium &

James Holstein                                         Analyzing narrative reality (2008) Oxford.

Bruner, Jerome                                        ‘ Life as narrative’ Social Research, (1987) 54 (1): 11-32.

McAdams, D. (1993)                           The Stories We Live By  (1993). New York: Guildford Press

Sidonie Smith & Julia Watson          Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives 2001 Minnesota

Molly Andrews and

Corrine Squires                                       Doing narrative Research (2008) Sage

Christopher Booker                              The Seven Basic Plots: why we tell stories (2004) Continuum


Developing a wider frame

Arthur Frank                                            Letting Stories Breathe (2010) Chicago

Jerome Bruner                                         Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life (2002) Harvard

Julie McLeod &

Rachel Thompson                                  Researching Social Change  (2009) Sage

June Edmunds and

G.J.Ashworth et al                                   Pluralising Pasts: Heritage, Identity and Place in Multicultural Societies. (2007) Pluto

Jose van Dijck                                           Mediated Memories in the Digital Age (2007) Stanford

H.Porter Abbott                                        The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative (2nd edition 2008)

Marianne Horsdal                                 Telling Lives: Exploring dimensions of narratives (2012) Routledge
Paul Ricoeur                                             Memory, History, Forgetting

 

The Therapeutic Role of Narratives

Arthur Frank                                            The Wounded Story Teller  (1997) Chicago

Arthur Kleinman                                    The Illness Narratives (1989) Basic

Rita Charon                                               Narrative Medicine : Honoring the Stories of Illness (2006) Oxford

Hilde Lindemann Nelson                                    Damaged identities: Narrative repair (2001) Cornell

John McLeod (1997)                           Narrative and Psychotherapy Sage

Faye Ginsburg                                          Disrupted Lives: how people create meaning out of chaotic lives (1999) California

D. Spence                                                   Narrative truth and historical truth: meaning and interpretation in psychoanalysis (1982) Norton

Oliver Sachs                                              The man who mistook his wife for a hat ((1985) Duckworth

Michael White                                         Maps of Narrative Practice (2007) Norton


The Social  & Political Roles Of Narratives And Stories

Kay Schafer & Sidonie Smith            Human Rights and Narrated Lives (2004) Palgrave

Ken Plummer                                           Intimate Citizenship (2003)  esp Ch 7 University of Washington

———–                                                        Telling Sexual Stories (1995) Routledge

Molly Andrews                                        Shaping history: Narratives of  political change (2007) Cambridge
Charles Tilly                                             Stories, identities and political change ( (2002) Rowman & Littlefield

Michael Jackson                                      The Politics of storytelling (2002) Museum Tusculanum Press
Francesca  Poletta                                  It was like a fever: storytyelling in protest and politics (2006) Chicago

Rickie Sollinger et al                             Telling stories to change the world  (2008) Routledge

Joseph Davis                                             Stories of Change: Narrative and social movements  (2002) SUNY

Nick Couldry                                            Why Voice Matters: Culture & Politics after Neoliberalism (2010) Sage


Narratives and Stories as Moral Imagination: Narrative Ethics and Grounded Moralities

Plummer, Ken (2003)                         Intimate Citizenship (2003) Ch 7: “Stories and the Grounded Moralities of Everyday Life”.

Coles, Robert (1989)                            The Call of Stories : Teaching and the Moral Imagination. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

———– (2010)                                       Handing One Another Along: Literature and Social Reflection. NY: Random House

Frank, Arthur W. (2004)                    The Renewal of Generosity: Illness, Medicine and How to Live. Chicago

Lara, Maria P (1998)                           Moral Textures: Feminist Narratives in the Public Sphere. Cambridge: Polity

MacIntyre, Alastair (1984)                 After Virtue: A Study in Moral Reasoning. Oxford

Noblit, George W. & Van O Dempsey The social construction of virtue: the moral life of schools (1996) SUNY.
Nelson, Hilde Lindemann ed (1997) Stories and their limits: Narrative approaches to bioethics. Routledge

Nussbaum, Martha  (1997)              Cultivating Humanity.  (1997) Harvard

Rorty, Richard (1989)                         Contingency, Irony, Solidarity. Cambridge

Witherell, C. & N.Noddings eds. (1991) Stories Lives Tell: Narrative and Dialogue in Education. New York: Teacher’s College, Columbia University.


Tales of a Better World: Samples of Debates On Social Justice, Human Flourishing and Dialogues

Ken Plummer                                           Intimate Citizenship  (2003) University of Washington Press
Martha Nussbaum                                 Creating Capabilities:  Human Development Approach  (2011) Harvard

Amartya Sen                                             The Idea of Justice (2009) Allen Lane.

Vincent Grapanzano                            Imaginative Horizons  (2004) Chicago

Sznaider, Nathan                                   The Compassionate Temperament: Care and Cruelty in Modern Society ( 2001) Rowman & Littlefield
Kay Schafer & Sidonie Smith            Human Rights and Narrated Lives (2004) Palgrave

Molly Andrews                                        Shaping history: Narratives of  political change (2007) Cambridge
Frank, Arthur W. (2004)                    The Renewal of Generosity: Illness, Medicine and How to Live. Chicago

Arnett, Ronald C. et al                          Communication Ethics, Literacy: Dialogue & Difference (2009) Sage

Rifkin, Jeremy                                          The Empathic Civilization: The race to global consciousness in a world of crisis (2009) Polity

LECTURER


Ken Plummer
taught at the University of Essex from 1975-2006 and ran the introductory first year sociology course for 18 years. He has written some ten books and over 100 articles on gay life, human rights, symbolic interactionism, life stories, intimacies, global inequalities, critical humanism, queer theory, studies of sexualities, masculinity and the body. Most recently he has been writing about the experiences of transplant surgery – which saved his life in 2007. His manifesto of critical humanism can be found in  Documents of Life: An Invitation to a Critical Humanism (2001, 2nd ed).  He was the founder and editor of the journal Sexualities. He was on the editorial board of the Sage Encyclopedia of Social Science Methods  (4 volumes (2004) and the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology (11 Volumes, 2007) His key books in this field are Documents of Life (1983, 2001), Telling Sexual Stories (1995), Intimate Citizenship (2003) and Sociology: the Basics (2010). Some of Ken’s other methodology writings in articles include:
‘On Narrative Pluralism’ Preface to Phillip L. Hammack & Bertram J.Cohler eds The Story of Sexual Identity: Narrative Perspectives on the Gay and Lesbian Life Course (2009)

Critical Humanism and Queer Theory: Living with the Tensions’’ for 3rd  & 4th edition of Handbook of Qualitative Research edited by Norman K Denzin and Yvonne Lincoln     (Sage: 2005/2011), London..
‘Humanistic Research and the Polish Peasant’.  Preface to Spanish Edition of  ‘The Polish Peasant in Europe and America’ translated by Juan Zarco.
‘Critical Humanism in a Post-Modern World’ Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Volume 25, 2001 p291-301.
‘Queering the Interview’, with Travis Kong and Dan Mahoney in Jaber Gubrium et al eds The Handbook of Interviewing, London, Sage ( 2001)p239-58.
‘The Call of Life Stories in Ethnographic Research’  Paul Atkinson et al eds The Handbook of Ethnography, London: Sage (2001)p395-406.
‘The ‘Ethnographic Society’ at Century’s End: Clarifying the Role of Public Ethnography’ Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Vol 28, No 6 December 1999.
“Herbert Blumer and the Life History Tradition” Symbolic Interaction Vol. 13, No 2 Fall 1990  p125-44 (Together with : Norman K. Denzin, “The Spaces of Postmodernism: Reading Plummer on Blumer”, and Ken Plummer, “Staying in the empirical World : Symbolic Interactionism and Postmodernism”, Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 13 p155-60.)
‘Life Story Research’ in Rethinking Methods in Psychology eds Jonathan A. Smith, Rome Harre & Luk Van Langehove, 1995: London: Sage p 50-64.
‘Doing Life Histories’, (with A. Faraday) Sociological Review, Vol. 27, 773-92, November l979.