Narratives of Professional Practice

Project: Research

Project Details


Ongoing prevention of major accidents in the Australian energy sector requires excellence in professional judgments made by industry personnel at all levels. Technical skills are critical but so too is a ‘safety imagination’ – an ability to link day-to-day work with the potential for disaster. Story-based learning is key to development of an effective safety imagination as several recent engineering sector developments in this area attest.

The purpose of this project is to investigate peer-to-peer storytelling practices in the pipeline industry. This will give context- and profession-specific insights that will be foundational to the development and evaluation of story-based learning tools scheduled for investigation as part of the Future Fuels CRC.

Research background

Studies of workers in diverse fields herald stories as ways to communicate norms, responsibilities and technical know-how. The method is useful to reveal the stories that professionals share with each other about the complexities of doing work in a given area.

There is sometimes cause for trepidation due to questions over narrative reliability. In hazardous industry, there is caution towards such methods on the grounds that decisions are distributed over long temporal scales and multiple places and decision makers, and experience (remembered as narrative) can normalize weak signals of trouble.

Recent research on narrative has argued that storytelling is about the telling and hearing of partial information. Ambiguity is seen as a strength, rather than a weakness. The extent to which this is applicable in the pipeline sector has not been investigated.

The narrative literature has also highlighted that stories are shaped by cultural conventions and so the process itself affects what is remembered and known. This means that it is important to investigate narrative style specifically within the pipeline sector as well as the methods through which narrative coherence is created and issues of power relating to the status of the speaker.

Research scope

This study will involve facilitating story-telling sessions as part of other pipeline sector events (for instance, the AGPA Convention, YPL events and industry dinners as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations).
Research questions:
 How does narrative style affect what is remembered and known?
 How are incomplete and ambiguous stories managed?
 What methods are used to achieve narrative coherence between teller and hearer (corrections, alternate stories, knowing what to emphasise and what to gloss over)?
 How does the status of the teller affect the significance assigned to a given story?
Effective start/end date1/07/1831/03/19


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