Successful collaboration begins with a shared language, hence the need for a glossary. This joint effort of contributors from several teams ensures, on the one hand, terminological and conceptual coherence across not only our theoretical approaches, but also the qualitative case studies and quantitative research conducted in OPPORTUNITIES. On the other hand, our glossary facilitates communication between the academic side of the project and the fieldwork conducted by NGOs, uniting our teams working from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Senegal.

For more information about the Structure and Objectives of the Glossary, click here...)

The OPPORTUNITIES project distinguishes between stories of migration (emic perspective), narratives on migration (etic perspective), and various hybrid forms which employ references to the migrant experience for rhetorical and political purposes. In order to account for this variety, Carolin Gebauer and Roy Sommer (2023) have introduced the concept of vicarious storytelling, which builds on previous research on the notion of “vicarious narrative” (Hatavara and Mildorf 2017a, 2017b; Norrick 2013), and allows narrative analysts to differentiate hybrid narratives with the help of functional criteria. The functional approach acknowledges that journalists, human rights groups, and representatives of NGOs supporting refugees and migrants at various stages of their journey (from transit and immigration to projects geared toward integration and inclusion) employ life stories for different reasons.

The term vicarious storytelling relates to the act of speaking on behalf of someone else which is typical of migrant advocacy and humanitarian narratives. Based on the different functions of vicarious storytelling, one can distinguish four dominant ways in which narratives on migration incorporate stories of migration: (1) case stories, (2) documentary storytelling, (3) ambassadorial storytelling, and (4) allied storytelling. The first two types – case stories and documentary storytelling – both draw on migrant testimony, often in anonymized form; yet each of these types of vicarious storytelling does so for a different purpose: Case stories, which are usually found in humanitarian campaigns by NGOs such as Pro-Asyl or Sea Watch, mainly serve to provide factual information, whereas documentary storytelling are frequently deployed in investigative journalism as a means to illustrate strategies, practices, networks, and relationships of trust between different groups of migrants and stakeholders. The third type of vicarious narrative – ambassadorial storytelling – refers to practices of retelling individual migrant life stories, for example in UNHCR narratives in social media and journalism. Calling for humanitarian, social, or political action, ambassadorial narratives usually draw on affective narrative strategies which focus on the individual with the aim of evoking empathy and fostering perspective taking. The fourth category, allied storytelling, is the only type of vicarious narrative which actively involves migrants themselves in the act of storytelling. Examples of allied storytelling include collaborative literary and artistic work between authors, artists, and migrants which seeks to provide access to the lived experience of migration in the hope of creating a welcome culture as well as promoting new ways of conviviality.

⇢ see also Conviviality, Empathy, Narratives on migration, Perspective taking, Stories of migration, Positioning

References and further reading:

Gebauer, Carolin, and Roy Sommer. 2023. “Beyond Vicarious Storytelling: How Level Telling Fields Help Create a Fair Narrative on Migration.” Open Research Europe 3.10: 3–14. URL: Accessed July 30, 2023.

Hatavara, Mari, and Jarmila Mildorf. 2017a. “Fictionality, Narrative Modes, and Vicarious Storytelling.” Style 51.3: 391–408.

Hatavara, Mari, and Jarmila Mildorf. 2017b. “Hybrid Fictionality and Vicarious Narrative Experience.” Narrative 25.1: 65–82.

Norrick, Neal R. 2013. “Narratives of Vicarious Experience in Conversation.” In Language in Society 42.2: 385–406.

Category: C

Work Package: 2, 4, 5, 6, 7

[CG / RS]