Narrative (social sciences)

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As narrative a meaningful is since the 1990s story called, the influence is perceived in the way the environment. It transports values and emotions , is usually related to a nation state or a certain cultural area and is subject to change over time. In this sense, narratives are not just random stories, but established narratives that are provided with legitimacy .

Well-known examples are the myth of rags-to-riches and the call to the race to the moon , which combined strong forces in the USA and brought the nation together behind an idea. The determining element behind a narrative is less the truth content than a shared image with a strong radiance.

There is a widespread opinion that Narrative ge found and not he be found. The consensus is that narratives provide an opportunity for social orientation and can convey confidence.

With the increased interest in neuroscience and the role of emotions and the subconscious in decision-making processes , the importance of narratives in public discussion has also grown.

Word history

Narrative is a loan translation of the English word narrative (meaning "narrative or representation that is used to explain or justify a society or historical period"). The word was first used in its current meaning in a prominent place by the Israeli-German historian Dan Diner . In his volume of essays Circles. He wrote National Socialism and Memory in 1995: "The mass extermination of European Jews has a statistic, not a narrative."

The English term narrative was coined in the 1979 work La condition postmoderne ( The postmodern knowledge ) by the French postmodern philosopher Jean-François Lyotard (1924-1998). In it, Lyotard describes two master stories ( French : “méta récits”) with which modernity has so far obtained legitimation, namely Immanuel Kant's story of the increasing self-liberation of the individual through enlightenment and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's story of the gradual towards-oneself - coming of the spirit as the goal of the story. In the English translation, “méta récits” was translated as “meta-narrative” or “grand narrative”. As a result of the reception of these terms, the narrative , which was previously only used as an adjective, became a noun with the meaning described above.

Attempts at narrative theory

Although the concept of the narrative does not come from narratology , there have also been attempts at narrative theory to define it since the 2000s. The literary and cultural scientist Wolfgang Müller-Funk differentiates it from the related terms narrative and narration in his book Die Kultur und seine Narrative (2002). He understands narrative to be a “theoretically more strictly defined category that aims at the pattern”, narrative a “preliminary term in a formally unproblematic common sense” and narration a “term that includes the act and the processual and is more precise than that the story, which in German includes both the narrative and the narrative ”. The literary scholar Albrecht Koschorke systematically uses the term narrative in his book Truth and Invention: Basics of a General Narrative Theory (2012). Koschorke speaks of a narrative when a scheme of action has established itself as a "narrative form" that can be filled out by different narrators in a meaningful way. The “informal and in a certain way inviting openness” of narration is countered by the “gravitational force of culture-defining narratives”.

Criticism as a buzzword

Since the 2010s, the word narrative in feature and Humanities as a buzzword called. It is criticized that due to the ubiquitous use of the word every phenomenon can be described as a narrative and so the sharpness of distinction is lost. Tobias Kniebe argues that even if arts that are traditionally regarded as “non-narrative” such as architecture have narrative, the meaning of the word is difficult to determine. This criticism can be summarized under the term pan-narrativism . The word narrative is used in a similarly inflationary manner as the word discourse has been since the 1970s . The literary scholar Manfred Schneider compares the omnipresent use of the word narrative with the earlier use of the term dialectic . Wolfgang Müller-Funk defended the use of the word to emphasize the importance of storytelling in culture and politics.

Narratives in economic and sociological theories

Through transformation research it is known that new narratives are more likely to prevail in crises than in quiet times and that there are path dependencies , according to which a chosen path cannot be left at will, but only at the next "fork in the road", i.e. at a suitable opportunity.

It has been proven that success z. B. economic theories does not depend primarily on the scientific validity, but on the communicability of the underlying narrative.

Conversely, existing narratives can be relativized by new scientific findings. For example, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung conducts studies by the OECD , IMF and World Economic Forum to prove that sustainable growth depends on social cohesion and that narratives that propagate social inequality cannot be in the sense of sustainable growth.

Narratives in Political Communication and Election Research

In election campaign research, narratives are used as interpretative offers and analytical heuristics. Here, narratives are discursive patterns that offer voters opportunities to identify themselves and offer them definitions of political problems. In addition, the research looks at three core elements of narratives: metaphors , subjects and the linguistic organization of time . The interaction of these three elements creates narratives that shape the election campaign discourse. Well-known examples of election campaign narratives are Barack Obama's Hope campaign from the 2008 US presidential election and "Mutti Merkel", which shaped the 2013 federal election campaign.

Examples of narratives

middle Ages

Traditional narratives in the western world

Europe and the United States of America have developed many narratives in their history:

Old and new narratives about the European Union

European unification emerged against the background of experiences from two world wars and was primarily intended to ensure a “lasting peace order”.

For many Europeans, the meaning of the European Union derives from the fact that only a united Europe can act on an equal footing with the USA and many emerging regions. Others expect social progress and prosperity from Europe .

There is a broad-based call for a new European narrative. In 2012 there was the u. a. Appeal signed by Helmut Schmidt , Klaus Töpfer , Richard von Weizsäcker and Jürgen Habermas We are Europe! Manifesto for the re-establishment of the EU from below . This call should be used to actively address issues such as climate change , environmental degradation , refugee migration , racism and right-wing extremism , thereby creating a new spirit.

Those who primarily perceive an economic crisis in Europe are demanding that the new narrative should provide an answer. Not so France, which hopes to be able to find Europe back to its former size, which was lost with the independence of former colonies.

Guided by the striving for global justice, there is also the idea that Europe, as a continually growing part of the world that is not growing quantitatively, could prepare itself for new demands by intelligently shaping its future. Instead of trying to take part in the industrialization of hitherto poor countries, Europe could concentrate more on new challenges earlier than others. In international debates, new narratives would increasingly appear that propagate respect for planetary boundaries and a fair social and economic model.

The American and the European dream

In 2013, half of all Americans believed in the American dream that every person can get rich through hard work.

Many Europeans are proud that many non-Europeans also regard Europe as a place where a high level of social justice and economic efficiency has been achieved. This European dream is therefore not just the dream of Europeans.

The American economist Jeremy Rifkin considers the American dream, which stands for individual happiness and unlimited growth, to be out of date and praises the European dream, which is oriented towards sustainable development and cooperation between peoples.

The power of the United Nations

Dirk Messner of the German Development Institute designated by the United Nations proclaimed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as a success story of development cooperation , a global narrative had given into his hand.

The German Society for the United Nations is proud that the United Nations 2-degree target and the goals of sustainable development (SDG) had "used in an exemplary manner its power" to form a "narrative that now ... his Develop dynamism ”.

The United Nations is using "the power of the narrative".

Current economic narratives in Germany

Actions are often guided by stories and images, as the following formulations make clear:

Many of the supposedly sober Germans are drawn to the “seductive power of narratives”. The “story of the globalization boom” would have lured many investors to the stock market.

Worldwide, Germany has been viewed with a mixture of appreciation and envy since around 2006. Hardly anyone doubts Germany's economic performance.

Shortly before that, public perception would have been shaped by an image that allegedly threatened the end of work.

At the same time, there is a “stagnation narrative” that has the effect that little is invested and there are hardly any reforms.

Chinese narrative versus western narrative

In the western world, democracy, together with the market economy, is a widely accepted basis for living together . In contrast, the Chinese model seeks wise leadership and promises effective poverty reduction on a large scale, technical progress and political non-interference in the affairs of other countries. In the place of competition in the Western narrative, harmony takes place in the Chinese model.

While after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 the western narrative clearly seemed to have prevailed, the financial crisis from 2007 onwards set in a disillusionment that was understood by broad circles as a crisis of capitalism and thus of western values.

China was able to overcome the financial market crisis more quickly, which is why the Chinese narrative has gained sympathy in many parts of the world. Before that, the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 had already failed to organize foreign regions according to Western ideas.

Sustainability and the good life are proclaimed as the western answer to the financial crisis . The Western narrative could regain its radiance if the West managed to maintain social and international peace and, in dealing with conflicts and global problems, could largely find solutions that were perceived as just. A central strength of the western narrative is the evolutionary adaptation to new circumstances in order to renew its ability to correct. This path requires more, not less, integration within Europe and the ability to find compatible partners anywhere in the world.

Time prosperity and good life

Ulrich Grober is quoted in a paper by the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) with the opinion that a resource-saving lifestyle is not a question of choice in the medium term, but a necessity in order to do justice to the load limits of the planet and the growing world population . In order to increase acceptance among the population, it is recommended to communicate the “culture of sustainability” using the “attractive” narrative of time prosperity .

The narrative of time prosperity could be combined with the “dialogue about the good life”, for example by initiating a broad social discourse on the role of “time for the good life”.


  • Sebastian Jarzebski: Narrated politics. Political narratives in the federal election campaign. Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2020, ISBN 978-3-658-31013-4
  • Frank Gadinger, Sebastian Jarzebski, Taylan Yildiz (eds.): Political narratives. Concepts - Analysis - Research Practice. Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2014, ISBN 978-3-658-02580-9 .
  • Uta Fenske, Walburga Hülk , Gregor shoes (eds.): The crisis as a narrative. Transdisciplinary perspectives on a modern narrative. Transcript, Bielefeld 2013, ISBN 978-3-8376-1835-8 .
  • Kurt Hahn, Matthias Hausmann, Christian Wehr (eds.): ErzählMacht. Narrative Politics of the Imaginary. Königshausen u. Neumann, Würzburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-8260-4874-6 .
  • Wilhelm Hofmann, Judith Renner, Katja Teich (eds.): Narrative forms of politics. Springer, Wiesbaden 2014, ISBN 978-3-658-02743-8 .
  • Jean-François Lyotard: La condition postmoderne. Report sur le savoir. Edition de Minuit, Paris 1979, ISBN 978-2-7073-0276-2 .

Web links

Wiktionary: narrative  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ For enlightened progress - against pessimistic decline scenarios , by Wolfgang Schroeder, Berliner Republik, January 2016
  2. Hegemonic semantics and radical counter-narratives , by Wolfgang Seibel, Cluster of Excellence, University of Konstanz, 22. January 2009
  3. ^ Lectures , Cluster of Excellence, University of Konstanz, January 22, 2009
  4. a b c d Social change and political discourses , by Jan Turowski and Benjamin Mikfeld, Denkwerk Demokratie, September 2013, p. 14
  5. language Lust: No free rein for the narrative , by Daniel Goldstein, Info Sperber , May 9, 2015
  6. EU Europe as a visual narrative , Heidemarie Uhl, Democracy Center Vienna, 2/2004
  7. a b c d e Size makes you stupid , by Berthold Franke, Die Zeit, January 2, 2014
  8. ^ Social change and political discourses , by Jan Turowski and Benjamin Mikfeld, Denkwerk Demokratie, September 2013, p. 15
  9. ^ Social change and political discourses , by Jan Turowski and Benjamin Mikfeld, Denkwerk Demokratie, September 2013, p. 16
  10. a b Matthias Heine: buzzword: Hinz and Kunz ramble about the "narrative" these days . , November 13, 2016, accessed April 23, 2017.
  11. ^ Jean-François Lyotard: La condition postmoderne. Report sur le savoir . Les éditions de minuit, Paris 1979; German under the title Das postmoderne Wissen. A report . Impuls & Association, Bremen, 1982.
  12. Duden . The German spelling. 24th edition, Dudenverlag, Mannheim / Leipzig / Vienna / Zurich 2006, p. 719.
  13. Wolfgang Müller-Funk: The culture and its narratives. An introduction, Springer 2007 (2nd edition), p. 15.
  14. Albrecht Koschorke: Truth and Invention. Basics of a general narrative theory, S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2012, p. 38.
  15. Tobias Kniebe: Tell me! Retrieved April 15, 2020 .
  16. Matías Martínez (ed.): Telling. An interdisciplinary handbook, Stuttgart: Metzler, 2017, p. 88.
  17. ^ Word in fashion: What is a "narrative"? Retrieved April 15, 2020 (Swiss Standard German).
  18. Manfred Schneider: The foolish narrative. Retrieved April 15, 2020 .
  19. A term on everyone's lips: What is your narrative? - Retrieved April 15, 2020 (Austrian German).
  20. ^ Social change and political discourses , by Jan Turowski and Benjamin Mikfeld, Denkwerk Demokratie, September 2013, p. 32
  21. ^ Social change and political discourses , by Jan Turowski and Benjamin Mikfeld, Denkwerk Demokratie, September 2013, p. 31
  22. Business Journalism and the Growth Paradigm , by Ferdinand Knauß, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies Potsdam (IASS) eV (IASS), November 2015
  23. And Justice for all ...?, How much inequality can business, politics and society afford? , Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), June 23, 2016
  24. Sebastian Jarzebski: election campaign as a narrative . In: Karl-Rudolf Korte (Ed.): The Federal Parliament Election 2013 . Springer VS, Heidelberg 2014, ISBN 978-3-658-02914-2 , p. 368 .
  25. Sebastian Jarzebski: Told policy . Springer VS, Heidelberg, ISBN 978-3-658-31012-7 , pp. 90 .
  26. ^ Marshall Louis Ganz: Public Narrative, Collective Action, and Power . 2011, ISBN 978-0-8213-8505-0 ( [accessed July 31, 2020]).
  27. Sebastian Jarzebski: Narrated politics: Political narratives in the federal election campaign (=  studies of the NRW School of Governance ). Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden 2020, ISBN 978-3-658-31012-7 , p. 139 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-658-31013-4 ( [accessed July 31, 2020]).
  28. ↑ The fact that Europe struggles with immigrants also has to do with the fact that European thought patterns are outdated , by Michael Laczynski, Die Presse, May 26, 2015
  29. ^ Social change and political discourses , by Jan Turowski and Benjamin Mikfeld, Denkwerk Demokratie, September 2013, p. 13
  30. a b c Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the 60th Baden-Baden Business Talks , Federal Foreign Office, June 5, 2015
  31. ^ Treaties of Rome. European integration as a storytelling , by Petra Mayrhofer, Democracy Center Vienna
  32. Tell me about Europe. , by Johannes Hillje,
  33. We're losing the European narrative , by Jörg Philipp Terhechte, Leuphana University Lüneburg, July 27, 2015
  34. ^ European large construction sites - essay , by Ewald König, Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb), March 11, 2014
  35. A new narrative against skepticism , essay by Jürgen Habermas, taz, November 17, 2011
  36. ^ France's search for a European narrative , by Olivier Rozenberg, integration, April 2014
  37. The great transformation, Wanted: A new social model , by Stefan Rostock, Germanwatch,
  38. The American dream got dents , by Clemens Wergin, die Welt, January 20, 2015
  39. a b The American dream is over , interview with Jeremy Rifkin, FAZ, August 5, 2004
  40. Why I'm going to vote this time - essay , by Harald Welzer, Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb), March 11, 2014
  41. ^ New agenda for the time after 2015 , by Alexander Heinrich, Das Parlament, 2015
  42. a b The great power of the United Nations: the story of a better world , by Jonas Bedford-Strohm, German Society for the United Nations (DGVN), May 12, 2016
  43. a b c The German Illusion of Continuous Upswing , by Hendrik Müller, Manager Magazin, September 7, 2014
  44. ^ Economic crisis: Boom-Crash-Cash , by Henrik Müller, Der Spiegel, November 9, 2014
  45. a b c d e f g h i ideas and power, what defines the relative weight distribution in the world? , by Volker Perthes and Stefan Mair, Internationale Politik (IP), May / June 2011
  46. a b c Time for Sustainability - Times of Transformation: Elements of a time policy for social transformation to more sustainable lifestyles , by Lucia Reisch and Sabine Bietz, Research Center for Consumers, Market and Politics (CCMP), Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen, Ed .: Federal Environment Agency (UBA ), 2014