Narratives are always embedded in power relations that enable some narratives to be produced, received, and perpetuated more frequently than others (Lueg et al. 2021, 4). Within this power constellation, master-narratives emerge from discourses which produce “cultural canonicity” (Hyvärinen 2021, 20); they “can be understood as a sequence of culturally expected events” (20) that “suffer from a kind of dullness” (21) and in most cases present nothing more than an abstract idea (21). Counter-narratives resist such powerful narratives, as they typically showcase marginalized positions and views that challenge or reject canonical expectations, thus displaying a high degree of tellability (Hyvärinen 2021, 21; see also Lueg et al. 2021, 4). The counter-(master-)narrative dynamics can therefore be best described as “narratives in contest” (Phelan 2008).
However, recent studies have cautioned against construing the distinction between master- and counter-narratives as a simplistic binary divide, advocating a narrative dynamics approach which accounts for the complexities of narrative framing and communication (Sommer 2023). Hanna Meretoja (2021, 38), for example, stresses the fact that counter-narratives do not necessarily have to be entirely “emancipatory, progressive, or liberating,” but may also reinforce some aspects of a given power structure. Matti Hyvärinen (2021, 27) likewise advises against taking counternarrativity to be “an essential, abstract, and totalizing feature of any narrative,” considering that individual narratives may well “counter a particular dominant discourse while at the same time drawing on some other cultural canonicity.” And according to Yannis Gabriel (2017, 211), counter-narratives even “can and often do turn into master narratives, once they have started to spawn counter-narratives of their own.” Counternarrativity consequently ought to be seen not as a binary but a contextual category.
⇢ see also Crisis narration, Narrative dynamics, Narrative, Narrative ecology
References and further reading:
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. Newy York, NY and London: Routledge.
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.]
Hyvärinen, Matti. 2021. “Toward a Theory of Counter-Narratives: Narrative Contestation, Cultural Canonicity, and Tellability.” In Routledge Handbook of Counter-Narratives, edited by Klarissa Lueg and Marianne Wolff Lundholt, 17–29. London and New York, NY: Routledge.
Lueg, Klarissa, Ann Starbœk Bager, and Marianne Wolff Lundholt. 2021. “What Counter-Narratives Are: Dimensions and Levels of a Theory of Middle Range.” In Routledge Handbook of Counter-Narratives, edited by Klarissa Lueg and Marianne Wolff Lundholt, 1–14. London and New York, NY: Routledge.
Meretoja, Hanna. 2021. “A Dialogics of Counter-Narratives.” In Routledge Handbook of Counter-Narratives, edited by Klarissa Lueg and Marianne Wolff Lundholt, 30–42. London and New York, NY: Routledge.
Phelan, James. 2008. “Narratives in Contest; or, Another Twist in the Narrative Turn.” PMLA 123.1: 166–175.
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.
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