Concepts of Time and Temporality in the Storytelling and Sensemaking Literatures: A Review and Critique

Patrick Dawson, Christopher Sykes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


A considerable body of literature exists on narratives and stories in explaining how individuals and groups make and give sense to their experiences in organizations. Classic Aristotelian narratives with a linear time structure (stories with a beginning, middle and end) are prominent in the storytelling literature, whereas retrospection, in drawing on the past in making sense of the present, is a temporal modality central to foundational concepts of sensemaking. In examining time and temporality in these related fields, the authors show how the conventional temporal sequence of a past, present and future dominates, with little consideration being given to time as a multiple rather than singular concept. The authors compare and contrast differences in the temporal aspects of mainstream theories and identify a growing interest in philosophical concepts of time. This review highlights how conventional explanations in these related fields of study are underpinned by linear conceptions of temporality (with an associated causality) and how there is growing recognition of fluidity in the way pasts and futures come together in temporal sensemaking of an emergent present. Although this movement towards explanations that engage with non‐linear modalities deepen insight, they do not explicitly address concepts of time. Time continues to receive scant attention, with temporal but ‘timeless’ theories taking precedence, ultimately constraining theoretical development. In building on this analysis, the authors characterize a range of temporal modalities from which they identify six pathways for charting out an agenda for future research in which multiple concepts of time and temporality are brought to the fore.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-114
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Management Reviews
Issue number1
Early online date6 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2019


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