Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Narrative Theory as Cultural Theory

Narrative theory has a well-established place in the methodology of literary studies. Even the classic formulators of narrative theory found parallels between the analysis of literary texts and the examination of cultural semantics generally.

In a similar way, the research area “Narrative Theory as Cultural Theory” should build bridges across disciplinary boundaries. Narrative is not only an issue in literature but also in many other fields of knowledge where it plays an organizing role.

That spectrum extends from philosophy and history to the political, legal and social sciences, all the way to the history of science. The example of the narrative tests the resilience of literary studies categories beyond their field of origin.

Narratives are key elements of cultural integration and at the same time sites of symbolic struggle, in which collectives agree upon inclusionary and exclusionary criteria and structure belonging and hostility. At the same time, narratives permit meta-reflection on how boundary-crossings (open versus closed borders) are dealt with in general.

In a global society that observes itself through the mass media, narratives play a role that can hardly be overestimated. The indications are increasing that political action in the present is oriented more strongly toward mythical constructions than rational considerations—even (and precisely) in Western democracies where public opinion is a significant factor of power.

What distinguishes narrative vis-à-vis other forms of sequentialization and schematization of data and events?

Narratives generate evidence and facilitate the broader impact of narrative subject matter, which then finds its way into cultural memory. Fictionalization as a narrative option sanctions the working through of problems as a “thought experiment” or wish-fantasy—though fact and fiction influence and mutually constitute one another. At the same time, narratives create meaning by organizing narrative material in plot structures that enable affective participation and mobilize social energies. And finally, the ambiguity of narratives makes it possible to produce diverging and at times controversial links to the world being narrated on the basis of differing starting assumptions.