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Anecdotal Evidence in Clifford Shaw's The Jack-Roller: A Delinquent Boy's Own Story
Unformatted Document Text:  story, a story-teller’s intentions, and his/her perception of listeners’ or readers’ interests. “These important realizations, in particular, that narratives are more than, less than, or other than ‘what really happened,’ set our work apart from that of some who regarded narratives as ‘truths’ about individuals’ lives” (Gergen 2004: 270). In scientific literature references to anecdotal evidence are usually made in an apologetic manner because anecdotes tend to be opposed to sound data and theory (Gallop 2002: 02). I will try to make the opposite argument. Anecdotes are found in all types of social occasions and societies. They are windows onto the dynamics of broad social phenomena and should not be dismissed as unreliable and irrelevant. The fact that anecdotes are memorable and spread quickly may indicate that a minor literary genre and social ritual is more significant than one might think. A Type of Micro-Narrative. The word “anecdote” is difficult to define because it is often used incorrectly as a term for any kind of brief story. The English word “anecdote” comes from the Greek “anecdota,” which means “things unpublished” – or perhaps unpublishable. Anecdotes are very brief narratives, often set in one location and involving a single episode. Characters and reported dialogues are reduced to the functional minimum as a preparation for the more or less surprising point the storyteller makes and which carries the load of explicit information. Humor is a common characteristic, but anecdotes need not be funny. Anecdotes are supposed to be factual or at least plausible events which happened to the storyteller or to another real person. They are exemplary statements in that they reveal what is perceived as essential about a group, person or situation and thus imply broader inferences. From this standpoint, anecdotes can be related to other short forms of speech: jokes, proverbs, parables, exempla in medieval sermons, and “kickers” in news stories. 2

Authors: Riggins, Stephen.
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story, a story-teller’s intentions, and his/her perception of listeners’ or readers’ interests.
“These important realizations, in particular, that narratives are more than, less than, or
other than ‘what really happened,’ set our work apart from that of some who regarded
narratives as ‘truths’ about individuals’ lives” (Gergen 2004: 270).
In scientific literature references to anecdotal evidence are usually made in an
apologetic manner because anecdotes tend to be opposed to sound data and theory
(Gallop 2002: 02). I will try to make the opposite argument. Anecdotes are found in all
types of social occasions and societies. They are windows onto the dynamics of broad
social phenomena and should not be dismissed as unreliable and irrelevant. The fact that
anecdotes are memorable and spread quickly may indicate that a minor literary genre and
social ritual is more significant than one might think.
A Type of Micro-Narrative. The word “anecdote” is difficult to define because it
is often used incorrectly as a term for any kind of brief story. The English word
“anecdote” comes from the Greek “anecdota,” which means “things unpublished” – or
perhaps unpublishable. Anecdotes are very brief narratives, often set in one location and
involving a single episode. Characters and reported dialogues are reduced to the
functional minimum as a preparation for the more or less surprising point the storyteller
makes and which carries the load of explicit information. Humor is a common
characteristic, but anecdotes need not be funny. Anecdotes are supposed to be factual or
at least plausible events which happened to the storyteller or to another real person. They
are exemplary statements in that they reveal what is perceived as essential about a group,
person or situation and thus imply broader inferences. From this standpoint, anecdotes
can be related to other short forms of speech: jokes, proverbs, parables, exempla in
medieval sermons, and “kickers” in news stories.
2


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