Understanding extended narrative sensemaking: How police officers accomplish story work

Merlijn van Hulst, Haridimos Tsoukas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Extended narrative sensemaking consists of (a) agents generating actionable stories when faced with unexpected situations to which they need to respond in real time, and (b) emplotting actions that were undertaken and events that occurred during their response, in order to make deeper sense of them afterwards. When sensemakers revisit critical incidents in which there were involved, they join (a) and (b) through story work. In this article, through the
study of stories told by police officers in relation to unexpected, impactful incidents, we show how story work is accomplished. We argue that sensemakers simultaneously enact situations, emplot events, and renew identity. Specifically, we demonstrate that police officers strive to accomplish three different things: first, show how, as engaged responders, they were involved in the ongoing enactment of an actionable story (situated agency); secondly, seek to deeper
understand, after the event, what happened to them through emplotting their experiences (complexified sense); and thirdly, update their narrative identity by weaving their experience of the handling of the unexpected situation with the rest of their life story (identity renewal). Our account extends current understanding of ongoing narrative sensemaking by showing how agents construct agency, meaning, and identity at once, and how all three are part of an extended, ongoing sensemaking process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2021


  • Agency
  • emplotment
  • identity
  • narrative
  • narrative analysis
  • police
  • sense-making
  • storytelling


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