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 term narrative dynamics has its origins in literary theory (Richardson 2002, 2019), where it serves as a synonym for dramaturgy and is thus restricted to text-internal phenomena. The OPPORTUNITIES project has redefined the concept to analyze not the dynamics in narratives, but between narratives. Sommer (2023, 499) describes this extended notion of narrative dynamics, the systematic study of functions, roles, and effects of narratives, as “an emerging field of research that focuses on the connections and interdependencies between different kinds of stories, as well as old and new forms and practices of storytelling and storysharing.” Vital parameters include the relationships between emic and etic narratives, accumulative effects of repetition and resonance, and the role of digital technologies in amplifying and distributing narrative content. More specifically, analytical categories include narrative event modeling and management, narrative purpose and chaff, narrative aggregation and normalization, as well as narrative (re-)alignment and redirection (Sommer 2022, 499–503).

Narrative dynamics can unfold centripetal and centrifugal forces. This metaphorical distinction, which has found its way from physics into many fields of research, including political science and migration studies, allows us to gauge the effects of narrative dynamics, whether intended or unintended (Sommer 2023). This is best demonstrated by using the ethnographic concept of social drama (Turner 1980) which divides crises into four “acts”: a “breach” interrupts the status quo, to be followed by a “crisis,” “redress,” and a form of closure, which can either be “reintegration” (i.e., a return to the status quo ante) or the recognition of “schism” (149). Though originally focused on small-scale conflicts, the notion of social drama can be developed into a scalable model to account for crises involving multiple agents or interests on national and transnational levels. The metaphors of centripetal or centrifugal forces indicate opposing forces that move toward a center, or away from it. With respect to national conversations or international relations, these terms signify unification or disintegration: centripetal narratives seek to manage and contain a crisis; centrifugal narratives, in contrast, seek escalation and disruption. Brexit is an example of how social drama, fueled by toxic narratives, can lead to schism.

Narrative dynamics research is an umbrella term for an emerging interdisciplinary field which includes framing theory and linguistics (Lueg and Lundholt 2021), narrative studies and psychology (Meretoja and Freeman 2023), international relations and communication studies (Miskimmon et al. 2018), and theories of deliberative democracy and the public sphere (Habermas 2022). Important impulses also come from research on conspiracy theories (Butter and Knight 2020) and social media studies (Page 2018) as well as political economy (Fernandes 2017). Analyses focus on the roles and changing functions of narratives in specific historical and cultural contexts, political scenarios and media environments (see, e.g., Gebauer 2023; Sommer and Fábián 2023).

⇢ see also Counter-(master-)narrative dynamics, Crisis narration, Event modeling, Narrative, Narrative ecology, Narratives on migration, Stories of migration, Toxic narrative

References and further reading:

Butter, Michael, and Peter Knight, eds. 2020. Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories. London and New York, NY: Routledge.

Fernandes, Sujatha. 2017. Curated Stories. The Uses and Misuses of Storytelling. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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.]

Habermas, Jürgen. 2022. Ein neuer Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit und die deliberative Politik. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Lueg, Klarissa, and Marianne Wolff Lundholt, eds. 2021. Routledge Handbook of Counter-Narratives. London and New York, NY: Routledge.

Meretoja, Hanna, and Mark Freeman. 2023. The Use and Abuse of Stories: New Directions in Narrative Hermeneutics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Miskimmon, Alister, Ben O’Loughlin, and Laura Roselle, eds. 2018. Forging the World: Strategic Narratives and International Relations. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Page, Ruth. 2018. Narratives Online: Shared Stories in Social Media. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richardson, Brian, ed. 2002. Narrative Dynamics: Essays on Time, Plot, Closure, and Frame. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Press.

Sommer, Roy. 2023. “Migration and Narrative Dynamics.” In The Routledge Companion to Narrative Theory, edited by Paul Dawson and Maria Mäkelä, 498–511. New York, NY and London: Routledge.

Sommer, Roy, and Ida Fábián. 2023. “Hungary’s ‘Rebalanced’ Media Ecology: Toxic Narratives on Migration, Gender, and Europe.” University of Wuppertal. [Working paper of the OPPORTUNITIES project 101004945 – H2020.]

Turner, Victor. 1980. “Social Dramas and Stories About Them.” Critical Inquiry 7 (1): 141–168.

Category: B

Work Package: 2, 5