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...)

Narrative ecology is the study of narrative environments or ecosystems, i.e., the complex relationships between narratives, media, and audiences. It is inspired by Neil Postman’s (1970) notion of a media ecology and more recent work on strategic narratives (Miskimmon et al. 2013), counter-narratives (Lueg and Lundholt 2021), and narrative dynamics (Sommer 2023), as well as the role of narrative in educational research (Turvey 2013), psychology (McLean 2016, McLean and Breen 2015), and the social sciences (Gabriel 2017). The OPPORTUNITIES project conceptualizes the narrative ecology of migration as a complex discursive system with different levels that interact with each other in bidirectional ways (Caracciolo et al. 2023).

The most abstract level of the narrative ecology of migration is made up of what mobility scholar Tim Cresswell (2006, 55) would refer to as “metanarratives of mobility” – that is, ideas about migration that, while not stories in themselves, function as attractors or catalysts for storytelling (e.g., the notion of economic growth through transnational mobility). We then have cultural narratives on migration, which circulate widely and reach most members of a society or group. These are full-fledged stories with individuated protagonists and a clear progression, but they typically build on more schematic story “templates” such as the ‘rags-to-riches’ theme or notions of the ‘good migrant.’ Some of these cultural narratives express mainstream or dominant ideologies, others – known as counter-narratives (see the entry on “counter-(master-)narrative dynamics”) – challenge such views. Finally, we have stories told by individuals “on the ground.” Such narratives qualify as what researchers in qualitative psychology call “small stories” (Bamberg 2004; Georgakopoulou 2006): they are stories of migration that reflect personal experiences but also typically speak to metanarratives or culturally circulating narratives on migration.

The narrative ecology of migration is influenced by a number of agents, which include people but also political, legal, or cultural institutions. It is, moreover, structured in a relatively hierarchical way, reflecting the popularity and social or political prestige of meta- and cultural narratives on migration. These represent the top level of the ecology, while stories of the individual experience of migration are at the bottom; narratives in media or artistic practices occupy an intermediate position. Interactions are possible both within each level and across levels: If widespread narratives on migration influence a more local instance of storytelling, for example, they produce a top-down effect. In other cases, the influence goes in the opposite direction, with a bottom-up effect: individual stories leave a mark on the cultural level, shifting or complicating the understanding of a metanarrative. This is certainly less common than the top-down scenario, but far from impossible, for the narrative ecology is constantly evolving in response to both external events and interactions within the system.

⇢ see also Attitudes, beliefs, and values, Counter-(master-)narrative dynamics, Crisis narration, Narrative dynamics, Narratives on migration, Scale, Stories of migration

References and further reading:

Bamberg, Michael. 2004. “Talk, Small Stories, and Adolescent Identities.” Human Development 47: 366–69.

Caracciolo, Marco, Carolin Gebauer, and Roy Sommer. 2023. “Migration and Narrative Ecologies: Public and Media Discourse in the EU.” Ghent University and University of Wuppertal. [Working paper of the OPPORTUNITIES project 101004945 – H2020].

Cresswell, Tim. 2006. On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World. New York: Routledge.

Gabriel, Yannis. 2017. “Narrative Ecologies and the Role of Counter-Narratives: The Case of Nostalgic Stories and Conspiracy Theories.” In Counter-Narratives and Organization, edited by Sanne Frandsen, Timothy Kuhn, and Marianne Wolff Lundholt, 208–229. New York, NY and London: Routledge.

Georgakopoulou, Alexandra. 2006. Small Stories, Interaction and Identities. Amsterdam and Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.

McLean, Kate C. 2016. The Co-Authored Self: Family Stories and the Construction of Personal Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McLean, Kate C., and Andrea V. Breen. 2015. “Selves in a World of Stories During Emerging Adulthood.” In The Oxford Handbook of Emerging Adulthood, edited by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, 385–400. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Miskimmon, Alister, Ben O’Loughlin, and Laura Roselle. 2013. Strategic Narratives: Communication Power and the New World Order. New York, NY and London: Routledge.

Postman, Neil. 1970. “The Reformed English Curriculum.” In High School 1980: The Shape of the Future in American Secondary Education, edited by Alvin C. Eurich, 160-168. New York, NY et al.: Pitman Publishing Corporation.

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. DOI:

Turvey, Keith. 2013. Narrative Ecologies: Teachers as Pedagogical Toolmakers. London and New York, NY: Routledge.

Category: B, C

Work Package: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

[CG / MC / RS]