Narrative theory made easy By Dr. Iram Rizvi
Narrative theory gives us an insight how human communication has evolved. The theory helps us to understand the meaning of human communication. This theory is widely used to study Film, News and Group Communication
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Narrative theory made easy By Dr. Iram Rizvi
By Dr. Iram Rizvi
Narrative is somebody telling somebody else, on some
occasion, and for some purposes, that something
happened to someone or something.
Narratives organize the meaning for current experaince.
They act as active agents in shaping collective meanings
Actively piece together concepts, characters, values and
motives, themes, plots to create coherent frames for
interpreting and speaking about lived experience (Ricoeur,
Act as agent in shaping collective meanings with others.
It enables us to grasp temporarily the events in a given
Narratives develop a link while we live in absolute
now, our conceptions about lived past and its
relationship to our unlived future.
Narratives enable us to continuously experience and
then interpreting the experience.
Narrative sense making is not just about attending
what is told, but also about considering what lies in
the fragments of the world.
Significance of narratives:
Narrative extends beyond structure or sequencing of
moments in time and into the realm of values or
According to Ricoeur (1990); his configurational
meaning of narratives, narratives combine events
together to eliminate key points, moral values and
Characters, motives, actions and outcomes are
assigned relational significance to order and explain
both, the how and why of experience.
Application of Narrative theory
Narrative theory has been studied in such fields as:
Rhetoric, literary theory, philosophy, history (see for
example: White, 1980), psychology, political
communication, journalism, studies of
folklore, persuasion theory, and media studies
In communication, scholars have studied narrative’s
role in politics and their use in news media.
Theorists of Narrative Theory
Vladimir Propp, was a Russian critic and literary
He analysed over 100 Russian fairytales in the 1920s &
proposed that it was possible to classify the
characters and their actions into clearly defined roles
The model is useful, however as it highlights the
similarities between seemingly quite different stories.
Tzvetan Todorov a Bulgarian literary theorist
He suggested most narratives start with a state of
equilibrium in which life is ‘normal’ and protagonists
This state of normality is disrupted by an outside
force, which has to be fought against in order to return
to a state of equilibrium.
This model can easily be applied to a wide range of
Roland Barthes, French
He suggested that narrative works with five different
codes which activate the reader to make sense of it.
Barthes’ Codes are:
Action – a narrative device by which a resolution is
produced through action, e.g. a shoot-out.
Enigma – a narrative device that teases the audience by
presenting a puzzle or riddle to be solved. Works to
delay the story’s ending pleasurably.
Symbolic – (connotation)
Semic – (denotation)
Cultural – a narrative device which the audience can
recognise as being part of a culture e.g. a “made man”
in a gangster film is part of the mafia culture.
Studied myths of tribal cultures.
Examined how stories unconsciously reflect the
values, beliefs and myths of a culture.
These are usually expressed in the form of binary
His research has been adapted by media theorists to
reveal underlying themes and symbolic oppositions in
The "stories" people tell are evaluated based on if they
relate to an "audience's" own personal values.
Fisher explains how we as humans communicate by
taking complicated information and tranforming it
into narrative stories.
Appel, M. & Richter, T. (2007). Persuasive effects of fictional narratives
increase over time. Media Psychology. 10, 113-134.
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Burgchardt, C.R. (1995). Narrative criticism. In C.R. Burgchardt
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Fisher, W.R. (1984). Narration as a human communication paradigm:
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Fisher, W.R. (1985). The narrative paradigm: an
elaboration. Communication Monographs. 52, 347-367.
Fisher, W.R. (1989). Clarifying the narrative paradigm. Communication
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Gans, H. (1979). The organization of story selection. Story
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Green, M.C. & Brock, T.C. (2000). The role of transportation in the
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Jahn, M. (2005). Narratology: a guide to the theory of narrative. English
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Lewis, W.F. (1987). Telling America’s story: narrative form and the
Reagan presidency. Quarterly Journal of Speech. 73(3), 280-303.
Lule, J. (2001). Seven master myths in the news. The other world: Haiti
and international news values. Daily news, eternal stories. NY: Guilford.
Moyer-Gusé, E. (2008). Toward a theory of entertainment persuasion:
explaining the persuasive effects of entertainment-education
messages. Communication Theory. 18, 407-425.
Narration. (n.d.) In Oxford English Dictionary online. Retrieved
Narrative. (n.d.) In Oxford English Dictionary online. Retrieved
Scott, R.L. (1984). Narrative theory and communication
research. Quarterly Journal of Speech. 70, 197-221.
Selby, G.S. (2008). Martin Luther King and the rhetoric of freedom: the
Exodus narrative in America’s struggle for civil rights. Waco, TX: Baylor
Todorov, T. (1971). The 2 principles of narrative. Diacritics. 1(1), 37-44.
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White, H. (1980). The value of narrativity in the representation of
reality. Critical Inquiry. 7(1), 5-27.