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Making Sense of Political Narratives

Course Dates and Times

Date: Monday 5 – Friday 9 February 2024
Duration: 3 hours of live teaching per day
Time: 15:00 – 18:00 CET

Molly Andrews

University College London

This course will provide you with a highly interactive teaching and learning environment. It is designed for a demanding audience (researchers, professional analysts, advanced students) and capped at a maximum of 12 participants so that the teaching team can cater to the specific needs of all.

Purpose of the course

By the end of this course, you will:

  • have a broad knowledge and understanding of the narrative tradition, and of political narratives in particular
  • be able to apply narrative analysis to individual life histories
  • learn to identify major theoretical and methodological issues for understanding political narratives
  • think more analytically about the storied nature of human identity
  • have a deeper appreciation of the relationship between individual lives and social structures.
ECTS Credits

3 credits - Engage fully in class activities.

Instructor Bio

Molly Andrews is an Honorary Professor of Political Psychology at the Social Research Institute, University College London, and co-director of the Association of Narrative Research and Practice (formerly the Centre for Narrative Research). She is currently a Writing Fellow at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Studies, and in 2019–2020, was the Jane and Aatos Professor in Studies on Contemporary Society at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.

Her monographs are Lifetimes of Commitment: Aging, Politics, Psychology and Shaping History: Narratives of Political Change (both Cambridge University Press), and Narrative Imagination and Everyday Life (Oxford University Press). She has co-edited Lines of Narrative (2000 Routledge Taylor & Francis), Considering Counter Narrative (2004 John Benjamins), Doing Narrative Research 2008/2013 Sage), What is Narrative Research (2014 Bloomsbury) and Routledge International Handbook on Narrative and Life History (2016 Routledge).

Molly serves on the Editorial Board of five journals which are published in four countries. Her publications have appeared in Chinese, German, Swedish, Spanish, French, Czech, German, Norwegian and Finnish. 

Key topics covered

By exploring the role of narratives in activating political processes, this course aims to strengthen your analytical capacity. You will explore the movement between levels of narrative analysis and the potential to integrate biographical, social and historical elements into the interpretive process.

Monday – Exploring political narratives

Narratives are not just the means by which individuals breathe public life into personal experience. They are a primary tool through which individuals recognise and affirm themselves as members of a group. Narratives thereby often act as a catalyst for raising political consciousness.

Thus, narratives can play a vital role in de-individualising that which is personal; rendering experience into narrative form can help individuals become more actively engaged in shaping the conditions of their lives.

In this session, you will use different kinds of political talk to explore the relationship between micro and macro narratives of political change. 

Tuesday – Counter-narratives and positionality

Counter-narratives only make sense in relation to something else: that which they are countering. The very name counter-narrative identifies it as a positional category, in tension with another category. But what is dominant and what is resistant are not, of course, static questions. Rather they are forever shifting position. Discussion of counter-narratives is ultimately a consideration of multiple layers of positioning.

You will be provided with opportunities to discuss master narratives, how to identify them and how they operate. You will then explore the complexity for narrative analysis when trying to consider the inter-relationships between stories of which you might not even be aware.

Wednesday – Traumatic narratives and the problem of limits

You will explore the limits and possibilities of narratives in which individuals turn to language to communicate the inexpressibility of experiences they have endured.

The central dilemma for many survivors of trauma is that they must tell their stories, and yet their stories cannot be told. Traumatic experiences often defy understanding; testimony of those who have survived can be marked by what is not there: coherence, structure, meaning, comprehensibility.

The actual emplotment of trauma testimony into conventional narrative configurations – contained in time – transforms them into something they are not: experiences which are endowed with a particular wholeness, which occurred in the past, and which have now ended.

You will also consider the relationship between language and silence in traumatic testimony.

Thursday – Narrative imagination

You will learn how imagination operates in the stories which people tell, hear, see and live in their everyday lives. You will be provided with the opportunity to discuss the role of imagination in helping us ‘see difference’, not only between ourselves and others, but between ourselves and who we might be, or might have been.

You will also explore the situated nature of ‘imagination’ and its critical role in everyday life.

Friday – Course recap

This session will aim to consolidate the week's learnings and discuss any issues arising during the week, with reference to your own data.

This class is open to anyone who wants to learn more about political narratives. It focuses on methodology, epistemology, and analysis. If you have your own data to bring to the class, please do, although beginners are also welcome. A couple of hours of reading will be set for each day.

For background information, watch Kesi Mahendran’s 16-minute film The Persuasive Power of Political Narratives.