The Difference in between Story and Narrative

through editor | Mar 21, 2013 | Afghanistan, COMOPS Journal, Narrative

by Steven R. Corman

A presentation by man Hagel, Chairman the Deloitte, in ~ the current SXSW conference has actually been obtaining a many play in the blogosphere. In it, Hagel advocates differentiating story from narrative. While he is best to draw the distinction and gets few of the distinctions right, that misses some vital features of narratives that define why they deserve to be therefore persuasive.

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In his presentation, Hagel notes the power of story for engaging audiences, yet says lock have restricted power because of your closed-ended nature. They have actually a beginning, middle and end. Once a story resolves, it is much more or much less over. The is also an ext about the people in the story than about the listener. It have the right to be retold and serve as an example, but past that over there is limited opportunity for members of an audience to communicate it.

Narratives are different, Hagel says, for two reasons. First, they space open-ended—they execute not have a resolution. Second, they have actually an implicitly “invitation come participate,” which enables listeners come play a function in what the outcome is going come be. “There is something the is in the procedure of unfolding. The finish is yet to be determined. And…there is an invitation for every one of us to get involved in that narrative, to help determine what the outcome is going to be,” the says.

Hagel goes on to say the narratives operate at personal, institutional, and also social levels. Examples of social narratives he provides are Christianity and also the American narrative, which motivate “incredible action” over time. An instance of one institutional narrative, follow to Hagel, is Apple’s “Think Different” slogan, which encapsulates a much broader narrative of the potential of technology to help us break out of the conformity the mass society and express our individuality. Finally, an individual narratives are central who us are and also how we act. Opportunities and also threats presented in the bigger narratives, claims Hagel, motivates these actions.

Hagel is ideal to attract the story/narrative distinction, and is correct the narratives room open-ended. However, as he presents points a stare is simply a story the is open-ended, yet to it is in resolved. Stories have the right to indeed be open ended. The NATO-countries’ withdrawal from Afghanistan is one such story right now. Sooner or later, that will solve to a close up door story and become component of a larger, open-ended Afghanistan narrative.

This is one means in which Hagel misses the point. A narrative is not just an unresolved story, however a system of stories, some resolved and some not. This is a allude we have stressed in earlier articles in this blog (for example, here, here and here), and in our publication Master Narratives that Islamist Extremism. That is the “systemness” the a narrative that provides it open-ended because new stories can constantly develop the relate to various other stories in the system, thus giving an recurring basis for interpreting events and also motivating behavior. The “social narratives” Hagel identifies—Christianity and the American narrative—are exactly like this, and also are plainly more than simply unresolved stories.

Another thing Hagel it s okay right: over there is a relationship in between larger narratives and the individual narratives that guide our lives. But in mine opinion that misses a crucial step. That distinguishes in between social and also institutional narratives, but this is a distinction without a difference. Society is comprised of institutions, and also institutions are necessarily social. Take two examples he gives: The American narrative and also the individualism promoted by Apple’s slogan. The American rigid is in big part based on stories the individualism, and also individualism is chin strongly rooted in narratives that the Reformation and also Enlightenment. Apple’s slogan in reality invokes the American narrative, i beg your pardon is what renders it so efficient as a marketing tool.

So Hagel’s formulation has the vast social narratives at the greatest level—what we would label grasp narratives, which endure over time and also are extensively known by members the a culture—and personal narratives in ~ the shortest level. The action he is missing is what us have dubbed local narratives, solution of stories around events in the here-and-now. Local narratives ground understand narratives in modern-day events and define a place where individuals can cast themselves in roles, aligning their personal narratives. This create vertical integration, wherein all three levels are aligned, and it renders for an especially persuasive package.

Islamist extremists space brilliant in using vertical integration. They usage a number of master narratives (13 of which are characterized in understand Narratives of Islamist Extremism, despite there are more) to interpret modern-day events together threats, enticing your audience to cast themselves in functions as defenders that the faith. For example, together I controversy in a forthcoming book, the Taliban make use of a narrative vacuum in Afghanistan come portray NATO’s worldwide Security Assistance pressure (ISAF) as modern-day Crusaders, there to subjugate and exploit Muslims. The Taliban current themselves together champions who room there to withstand the Crusader forces and they encourage simple Afghans to take up their reason (i.e., align their personal narratives). With each other they will repel the intruders as Afghans have actually done so countless times prior to (e.g., the Brits in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 1980s) and also establish one Islamic Emirate together the rightful government of the country.

Likewise, Apple’s “Think Different” project draws ~ above the American grasp narrative to frame contemporary events together a system that works to submerge people in a sea of social conformity. They encourage your target audience to withstand by drawing on the strength of an innovation (Apple’s, that course) to reclaim your individualism and also fight the pressures of sameness. Therefore they accomplish vertical integration in between the American grasp narrative, modern social events, and an individual narratives of their target audience.

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If we treat narratives just as unfinished stories, we lose the perspective that originates from systems thinking. The actual power of narrative lies in the connections in between stories. In ~ levels, these connections produce open-endedness that allows a broad selection of occasions to come under a narrative’s scope. Between levels, the connections can develop a powerful persuasive package that relates occasions at wide social and social scales, to what is keep going now, and in turn to exactly how we need to think and also behave.