Engaging Narrative Theory: Critical Approaches to the Storytelling Boom
“Narratives are everywhere” was once the triumphant slogan of narrative scholars, but now we are starting to realize that this might in fact be a problem. In contemporary social media induced narrative environments, stories of personal change and disruptive experience often end up dominating over systematic data or scientific knowledge. As argued by researcher of social politics Sujatha Fernandes (2017), the contemporary storytelling boom is, in essence, inseparable from the neoliberal doctrine highlighting the upward mobility of an individual, while downplaying supra-individual societal structures and processes. Moreover, compelling stories are extremely difficult to challenge and falsify, regardless of their purpose and consequences. Narrative has, indeed, a unique capacity to capture and convey human experience – what it feels like to be this particular person living through these particular events. This doctrine is now being widely popularized across spheres of life; storytelling consultancy thrives, economists talk about “narrative economics” (Shiller 2019), and practices ranging from personal branding (see Salmon 2010) to socio-political activism (see Polletta 2006, Fernandes 2017) increasingly draw from a narrative repertoire. An insufficiently researched area are all the possible downsides of these engaging narratives that everyone should allegedly be crafting in today’s story economy. While Western literary and philosophical traditions have their own strong story-critical currents, contemporary practices of storytelling are permeated by a strong story-positivity that ought to be challenged by narratologists as well as philosophically, sociologically, and psychologically oriented narrative scholars.