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Analyzing Narratives in IR: The Case of Narratives about War in China and Japan

Open Panel

Abstract

The paper addresses the issue of how narratives about war matter in IR and presents a set of methodological tools through the use of which specific narratives can be analyzed. In studies dealing with representations of wars different types of narratives are often mentioned. These include victim narratives, victor narratives, aggressor narratives and so on. However, it is often unclear in the existing scholarship how the analyst recognizes a certain type of narrative when s/he sees one. Moreover, these studies are often preoccupied with one particular context. One consequence of this is that they do not provide a general framework that can be used in comparative studies of narratives across contexts. The paper aims to fill this gap by building on and developing existing scholarship. The paper presents a typology and proposes a method for the study of narratives about war. To illustrate the typology and method, examples are given from my research on Chinese and Japanese narratives about WWII at peace and war museums in both countries. The typology and method have been developed on the basis of fieldwork including visits to about twenty Chinese and more than thirty Japanese museums dealing with the war at which material has been collected. The method draws on Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and focuses on the way in which participants are depicted, how groups are discursively created and how interpretations of events are made in the form of ‘historical lessons’. The typology consists of three main types of narrative tropes, each of which emphasize the role and agency (or lack thereof) of one type of participant, – hero, victim and perpetrator tropes. The focus on the depiction of participants in narratives makes it possible to clarify how ‘self’ and ‘other’ are represented in specific narratives.