Narrative, Media and Nationalism

PS140O: Projecting Power

Prof Wasow



  • Slides
  • Quizzes
    • Four, Drop lowest one, Conducted in section
  • Presentations
    • randomly assigned teams of 2-3, about 30-40 minutes

Student Presentations

  • Texts:
    • Summarize and explain primary reading
    • Identify a few passages from text for close reading
  • Films:
    • Offer context for film, director, etc
    • Identify a few clips from film for “close reading”
  • Where possible, connect texts and clips
  • Prepare discussion questions, other participation
  • Have fun

Narrative in Political Science, Patterson & Monroe (1998)

What is Narrative?

  • A story
  • Human beings as actors, have agency
  • Often directed toward some goal
  • Some sequential ordering of events
  • A sense of what’s normative (e.g., good guys vs bad guys)
  • A narrator’s perspective

Why Narrative in Social Science?

  • Individual
    • How we make sense of reality
      • Facts require interpretation, always ambiguity
      • Example: “I did well on that test”
    • Story of our lives
      • Our place in the world
      • “Even as adults, we continue to imagine our futures, families, careers, retirements, and major transitions.” (Patterson & Monroe, 320)

Why Narrative in Social Science?

  • Society
    • We all inherit stories from family, school, culture, religion and so on that structure our thinking
    • Often those stories help to maintain a certain social order
    • Community counter-narratives can also challenge established narratives
    • Narrative as structure

What are some examples of collective narratives?

Somers & Gibson: Four Types of Narrative

  • “(a) Ontological narratives” or personal narratives
  • “(b) Public narratives”
  • “(c) Conceptual narratives”
  • “(d) Meta-narrative”

Narrative as Social Science Method

  • Close reading as constitutive of critical thinking
  • Ethnography, interviews, open-ended survey questions
  • Social science as a form of truth seeking and truth telling
  • Some research designs, writing styles, presentation formats, etc are more persuasive
  • Important to be cautious with narratives
    • unreliable, biased, selective, reproduce existing orders

Meta-, Master and Counter-Narratives

  • “Meta-narratives are the grand narratives of our time”
  • “They also include epic dualities, such as the individual vs society or order vs chaos/anarchy”
  • “Meta-narratives are so ingrained in our common understanding that they are difficult to recognize and are often uncritically adopted as the central organizing concepts of our theories.”
  • “They appear as abstractions and universals, erasing their own history and particularity.”
  • Counter-narratives challenge master narratives

What are some examples of master or counter-narratives?

Examples: Counter-Narrative in Civil Rights Movement

Examples: Counter-Narrative of Diane Nash

“Diane Nash was an amazing young woman, a college student in Nashville, about 20 years old in 1960, as they were beginning the sit-in demonstrations at lunch counters to demand integration. Her self-definition was this — we are people who are no longer willing to live with segregation; now, we understand you may kill us for that, but that’s your problem, not ours.”

—Thomas Ricks on NPR

Gloria Richardson, Protest and Media

“Not only does the photo capture a cinematic level of drama; it also displays Richardson’s courage and steely resolve. In a 2013 interview with Amy Goodman, Richardson describes the moment: ‘And then this guy started coming toward me. I thought he’s got to be crazy. And I don’t even know why I pushed the gun, but I know I was furious at that time.’”

— Barbara Smith, The ‘Creative Chaos’ of Gloria Richardson (1922–2021)

Gloria Richardson, Protest and Media

“The fact that we see a Black woman coolly facing off against a heavily armed white man in military uniform feels paradigm-shifting, especially when women were generally expected to be helpmates behind the scenes.”

— Barbara Smith, The ‘Creative Chaos’ of Gloria Richardson (1922–2021)

Counter-narrative in the Wedding Scene

What are some of the counter-narratives in the wedding scene?

Counter-narrative in the Wedding Scene

“Indigenous artists, musicians, painters, sculptors and writers also joined their compatriots in providing an anti-colonial ‘counter-discourse,’ reacting thereby to the popular culture of the urban pieds-noirs community, who tended to portray native men using five main stereotypes: ‘savage, poor, dirty, dishonest, and lascivious’ (Sivan 1979, p. 32). Similarly, native women were often depicted in their domestic space as prostitutes in alluring fantasist erotic settings.”
— Kahina Amal Djiar (2009) in “Symbolism and memory in architecture: Algerian anti-colonial resistance and the Algiers Casbah”

Counter-narrative in Art

“As a rebuke to French colonialist imagination in Algiers, Mohamed Racim, painted a series of works that revealed the power of indigenous cultural resistance. One of Racim’s favourite scenes described the faithfulness of the native population to their customs, as well as the strong sense of community that continued to characterise the lifestyle in the Casbah. It showed the urban ambience of the old medina area during a typical night of Ramadan. No sign at all of the French colonial presence in Algiers was depicted, as if the Casbah was a completely independent territory.”
— Kahina Amal Djiar (2009) in “Symbolism and memory in architecture: Algerian anti-colonial resistance and the Algiers Casbah”

Counter-narrative in Art

“The strength of this painting resides to a large extent in the socio-cultural specificities of the scene: terraces cornered by chatting women, streets inhabited at night by playing children and people socialising, with a series of illuminated minarets behind them, which symbolised the religious character of the celebration – and perhaps a deeper sense of persisting devotion to the Islamic faith.”
— Kahina Amal Djiar (2009) in “Symbolism and memory in architecture: Algerian anti-colonial resistance and the Algiers Casbah”

Counter-narrative in Art

“In another artwork, Racim painted a scene of a wedding party taking place in one of the Casbah’s courtyard houses (Figure 2). By placing the indigenous woman in the shape of the bride, he wanted to give her an intentionally ‘decent’ image.”
— Kahina Amal Djiar (2009) in “Symbolism and memory in architecture: Algerian anti-colonial resistance and the Algiers Casbah”

Always Contested

“Experience is at once always already an interpretation and something that needs to be interpreted. What counts as experience is neither self-evident nor straightforward; it is always contested, and always therefore political.”
— Scott (1991, 797) cited in Patterson & Monroe (329)

An Imperfect Witness

“This, in part, reflects the tendency of the human brain to be an imperfect witness, to distort facts and details, to remember partially or to forget altogether. But more importantly, it reflects the extent to which our experience is necessarily mediated by our understanding of the world.”

— Patterson & Monroe (329)

Questions and Stretch

Anderson, Imagined Communities

Puzzle of Nations and Nationalism

  • For most of human history, we did not have nations like modern nation-states
  • What explains rise of modern nation-states?
  • “Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist.”

Nations as “Imagined Communities”

  • “I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community — and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.”
  • “It is imagined because members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”
  • “All communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined.”

Nations as Limited

  • “The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind.”

Nations as Sovereign

  • “It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm. Coming to maturity at a stage of human history when even the most devout adherents of any universal religion were inescapably confronted with the living pluralism of such religions…”

What linked “fraternity, power & time”? Print-capitalism

  • “If manuscript knowledge was scarce and arcane lore, print knowledge lived by reproducibility and dissemination.”
  • “One of the earlier forms of capitalist enterprise, book-publishing felt all of capitalism’s restless search for markets.”
  • ‘We have here for the first time a truly mass readership and a popular literature within everybody’s reach.’

An Explosive Interaction

  • “What, in a positive sense, made the new communities imaginable was a half-fortuitous, but explosive, interaction between a system of production and productive relations (capitalism), a technology of communications (print), and the fatality of human linguistic diversity.”

What language do people speak in France?

Three Bases of National Consciousness

  • First, unified fields of exchange and communication below Latin and above the spoken vernaculars
  • Speakers gradually became aware of the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people in their particular language-field
  • These fellow-readers, to whom they were connected through print, formed, in their secular, particular, visible invisibility, the embryo of the nationally imagined community.

Second: A New Fixity to Language

  • Second, print-capitalism gave a new fixity to language, which in the long run helped to build that image of antiquity so central to the subjective idea of the nation.

  • “For three centuries now these stabilized print-languages have been gathering a darkening varnish; the words of our seventeenth-century forebears are accessible to us in a way that to Villon his twelfth-century ancestors were not.”

Example of Print and “Fixity”

Third: Languages-of-Power

  • Third, print-capitalism created languages-of-power of a kind different from the older administrative vernaculars. Certain dialects inevitably were ‘closer’ to each print-language and dominated their final forms.

  • “High German, the King’s English,and, later, Central Thai, were correspondingly elevated to a new politico-cultural eminence.”