‘Fitting in’ small narratives in Madrid multilingual schools

Ana Maria Relaño Pastor

Department of Linguistics. Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Spain


Narrative research distinguishes between canonical narratives or those narratives of past personal experiences elicited in interviews (Labov, 1972), and small stories (Georgakopolou, 2006; Bamberg and Georgakopolou, 2005; Bamberg, 2004) or non-canonical narratives commonly found in everyday conversational activity. The latter have been approached following the dimensional narrative perspective proposed by Ochs and Capps (2001), which covers a range of possibilities having to do with “tellership, tellability, embeddeness, linearity and moral stance” (p. 18) to highlight the cognitive and discursive complexity involved in narrative activity. This paper analyzes a group of small ‘fitting in’ narratives among immigrant background adolescents in Madrid multilingual schools. Narrative data is part of a critical sociolinguistic ethnography conducted at four schools in Madrid by Martín Rojo’s research team during 2003-2006. Two focus group discussions with students from Morocco, China, Rumania, Colombia, Byelorussia, Equatorial Guinea, Brazil and Colombia were carried out to know about how these students are ‘fitting in’ within the Spanish educational system. Despite the range of Spanish proficiency (from low to intermediate-advanced conversational Spanish) these students presented, the analysis of small stories in focus groups indicate shared experiences of adaptation and transformation as newcomers in Madrid schools. These students co-narrate these experiences with their peers and the two researchers who conducted the focus groups in unpredictable interactional terms (from one active teller to co-tellership; from low to high tellability; from less to more embedded narrative events; and from linear to circular temporal and causal organization-following Ochs and Capps’ explanation of narrative dimensions-). Results indicate that, despite the “chaotic” order displayed in their narratives, the moral stance dimension of these ‘fitting in’ small narratives provide coherence to their personal experiences of schooling, and position themselves as moral agents of this process (De Fina 2003; Relaño Pastor & De Fina, 2005). ‘Fitting in’ small narratives open a window of understanding to the challenges faced by immigrant youth in the Spanish educational system.


Bamberg, M. (2004) ‘Talk, Small Stories, and Adolescent Identities’, Human Development 47: pp. 331–353.

Bamberg, M. and Georgakopoulou, A. (2005) ‘Small is Beautiful: Small Stories as a New Perspective in Narrative Analysis’ Paper presented to the 9th International Pragmatics Association Conference, 10–15 July 2005, Riva del Garda, Italy.

De Fina, A. (2003). Identity in Narrative: A study of Immigrant Discourse. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Georgakopolou, A. (2006) ‘The other side of the story: towards a narrative analysis of narratives-in-interaction’. Discourse Studies 8(2): pp. 235-257.

Labov, W. (1972) Language in the Inner City. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Martín Rojo, L. (ed.). Constructing Inequality in Multilingual Classrooms. Berlin: Mouton.

Ochs, E. and Capps, L. (2001) Living Narrative. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Relaño Pastor, A. & De Fina, A. (2005). Contesting Social Place: Narratives of Language Conflict. In M. Baynham & A. De Fina (Eds.). Dislocations/Relocations: Narratives of Displacement (pp. 36-60). Manchester, U.K.: St. Jerome Publishing.

Session: Paper session
Narratives 3
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 13