According to anthropologist Janet Roitman (2014, 3), the concept of crisis serves as “the noun-formation of contemporary historical narrative” which enables critics “to claim access to both history and knowledge of history.” Seen in this light, crisis functions as a form of mini-narration we resort to when trying to come to terms with situations that drastically disrupt social life, culture, or politics (Nünning and Sicks 2012; see also the entry on “Metaphorology”). Such situations represent “moments of truth” which “are often defined as turning points in history, when decisions are taken or events are decided” (Roitman 2014, 3). Crisis-claims consequently “evoke a moral demand for a difference between the past and the future” (8), and this difference has to be a turn for the better, given that crisis is always “posited as a protracted and potentially persistent state of ailment and demise” (16). More specifically, they seek to trace the reasons why events have led to a current status quo, searching for an answer to the question of “what went wrong?” (9; italics in the original).
Crisis situations can set in motion a complex narrative dynamics (Gebauer 2023; see also the entry on “Narrative Dynamics”), which can lead to the formation of two different scenarios: On the one hand, crisis narration can bring forth narrative clusters that align into a dominant mainstream narrative; on the other hand, they can elicit a narrative battle during which diverging (counter-)narrative compete for public attention and discursive hegemony. While the former scenario of narrative aggregation can develop centripetal forces, thus succeeding in containing the crisis, counter-narrative dynamics often have strong centrifugal effects which fail to do so.
⇢ see also Counter-(master-)narrative dynamics, Crisis, Metaphorology, Narrative dynamics, Narrative, Narrative ecology
References and further reading:
Gebauer, Carolin. 2023. “German Welcome Culture Then and Now: How Crisis Narration Can Foster (Contested) Solidarity with Refugees.” University of Wuppertal. [Working paper of the OPPORTUNITIES project 101004945 – H2020.]
Nünning, Ansgar, and Vera Nünning. 2020. “Krise als medialer Leitbegriff und kulturelles Erzählmuster: Merkmale und Funktionen von Krisennarrativen als Sinnstiftung über Zeiterfahrung und als literarische Laboratorien für alternative Welten.” In Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift. 70.3–4: 241–278.
Roitman, Janet. 2014. Anti-Crisis. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press.
Work Package: 2, 5