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The Place of Narrative and its Importance

Introduction

I have always claimed that how we “see” things is not an independent act but one that is mediated through structures of meaning learnt over time in the milieu of society. From this it follows that the way we “see” something shapes our response to it. What we “see” however is a representation and for that reason its place in the economy of “truth” and “fact” is dependent on how accurate it is. But representations have a power to affect the represented in a way that enhances the perception of its accuracy. The advantage to understanding social reality in this way is threefold. Firstly, the emphasis is placed on the modes of representation-production and those who control these over and above the politicians and policy makers. Secondly, it opens up the possibility of affecting peoples responses and generating social change discursively. Thirdly, it makes human beings into social beings for whom society is central in transforming “raw” sensations into perceptions.

These are the broad threads that this essay and the next will follow. The mooring for both essays however will be the explanation of the role of narratives and narrativity in society and social change. This is because my starting point is the transformation mentioned above, which, I contend, happens through three connected but individual modes of thought: Ideologies, Narratives, and Discourses. Ideologies help give rise to narratives, which in turn shape the everyday discourses that form the immediate framework mediating human behaviour, attitudes, and comprehensibility.

The first of the essays explores the nature of narratives in relation to ideologies and discourses. It posits the idea that all three share taxonomical relations and that together they form a structure of meaning that deliver views, opinions, and ideas about various issues and through which decisions are taken and actions enacted. The essay builds a picture of the world in which intellectual impulses move us to act in certain ways similar to biological urges that create an imperative towards action. While our biology presses us to act, intellectual impulses guide us on how to act. This, if you like, is my hypothesis and the extrapolation of this “how” the task at hand.

[The second essay will build on the theoretical description of how these modes of thought guide our behaviour to explain how narrativity can promote social change.]

Positioning ideology in relation to narratives

Ideologies have come to be located almost exclusively in the political domain and in the process have gained considerable notoriety. The history of this has been well documented and, recently, most succinctly by Michael Freeden in his short introduction, Ideology (2003). There are a number of culprits, of whom Marx is perhaps the forerunner but amongst whom Freeden too is guilty. Though Freeden sets out to show that ideology is a necessary if not positive concept, his discussion limits it to the political domain. He says,

…political facts never speak for themselves. Through our diverse ideologies, we provide competing interpretations of what the facts might mean. Every interpretation, each ideology, is one such instance of imposing a pattern…on how we read (or misread) political facts, events, occurrences, [and] actions…1

In fact, ideology has to be more than this, since politics itself is a contingent arena of human activity and thought. Politics is related to our beliefs and values; it is related to society’s norms and conventions, all of which in turn is informed by our sense of ethics and by the history of a society, not to mention the way in which one understands History and Ethics. Ideology then has to encompass the political and not be encompassed by it. It is not that Freeden does not appreciate this but he feels ‘political studies have assigned ideology centrality and have appropriated the term in a particularly revealing manner’.2 Be that as it may, ideologies are necessary components of social reality; they are (a) a way of comprehending the world which is not merely reducible to politics and (b) the necessary outcomes of mythemes.

“Mytheme” was a neologism coined by Levi-Strauss for the elementary units used in the structural analysis of myths3. The distant and far removed source from which I borrow this term should not negate or devalue its applicability. Indeed, it is not in its specifics that I am interested but as a functionary unit that helps elucidate the more concrete. Like Kant’s a priori concepts and Jung’s archetypes, “mytheme” is an intellectual abstraction that helps account for what we face more immediately – that is, ideologies and narratives. {quotes}Ideologies exist in many shades because they serve a need in humans for explanation and understanding of the natural and social realities they face.{/quotes}

This is one of the first points of commonality amidst the divergent ideologies. Another point of commonality is that all ideologies in one way or another speak to basic societal needs, which, being essentially the same across all societies, can be categorised as mythemes. These include, among others, the need for identity and stability as well as reproduction over time. It should be stressed, however, that mythemes exist on the level of the unconscious and are, in Kantian terms, noumena available only through the discursively expressed ideologies, which may be seen as their phenomena.

One may well wonder why it is necessary to obfuscate the notion of ideology in such a way? It is necessary so as to change the way in which we understand them presently as mere units of politics. In fact, framing the concept of ideology in this way opens them up to being seen as ahistorical in a way that does not contradict their essential temporality. Defining them as so many instances of reconfigured responses to mythemes, shifts them into an intellectual space of contiguity that helps account for why human societies organise themselves in broadly the same way. It also helps us build a sounder basis for the synchronicity between historical events and their echoes across centuries. Like hidden impulses, or evolved patterns of behaviour, ideologies (considered as a response to eternal mythemes) help transpose patterns of social perception across time and space providing ideologies with a considerably large life span.

Two things ought to be borne in mind at this point. Firstly, what I am not positing is an ideological determinism. Ideologies are to be regarded as providing such compelling purpose that as social beings, men will acquiesce an ideology. Secondly, ideologies have a predisposition to carry the effects of temporally fixed events across time but this does not mean that they will always manifest themselves.4 We must also address the question of whether ideologies fade out, and if so how?

As ideational products, ideologies exhibit themselves in people through the institutions a society establishes or the relations that emerge within it. Ideologies “die out” through competing ideologies and through physical conquering of another people. In both cases it is a change that occurs within the intellectual space and is an ideational battle. This battle can take a less discursive and more material appearance through the destruction of institutions that are ordered by and in turn reinforce ideological outlooks. However, if another ideology is not mentally adopted, those same destroyed institutions can be rebuilt. Two examples are readily available. When Islam diffused through Arabia it destroyed, sometimes by force and sometimes by consensus, institutions that upheld another older ideology amongst the Arabs. Since this occurred few backward movements have taken place. Contrast this with the coming of Christianity to the South Americans through the Spanish conquests. Though the older institutions were almost all destroyed and the religion of the coloniser imposed, the native population almost immediately began to interpolate their older traditions and practices into the fabric of Christianity. This is evidenced through the re-emergence of older institutions like the thriving “magic markets” in certain South American countries. {quotes}Ideologies therefore are to do with ideas, and their destruction is not as easy as the toppling of a building or even a government.{/quotes}

But the battle of ideologies does not occur bare faced and overtly. In fact the arena wherein the struggle takes place is the narratives that shape and localise the worldviews encompassed by ideologies. Narratives therefore are ways of describing historical events and cultural propensities as well as identifying institutions and cultural conventions with value and pride. Narratives also provide certain terms and words with positive and negative associations, while practicing a mental regime of definition through exclusion and a process of “othering”. In this way narratives help cover a society’s prejudices and attitudes against what they perceive as “not-themselves”.
While Marx and Engel’s were right that ‘the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas’5, these “ideas” (or ideology) are located in the narratives a society relates and propagates about itself. In this way the cultural machinery of a given society is engaged in the reproduction, reinforcement and ratification of the dominant ideology. The place of narrative in relation to ideology then is to help locate the individual within its parameters, and thereby mask the fact that his or her (“raw”) sensations are converted into perceptions through the prism fashioned by the given ideology of his or her society.

The counterbalance to this type of determinism is, however, generated by ideologies themselves. Even where an alternative ideology does not exist, a narrative by its very functioning practices a regime of definition and evaluation, which, needless to say, differentiates people in society. Those on the margins of society’s dominant culture produce their own narratives and this is how a society can have a number of divergent narratives. Ideology and narrative share an intimate relationship because the former is expressed in different ways by the latter. In this schema, ideologies are worldviews that are laden with beliefs and notions of how the world really is and what it means, and as such, no society is without its ideology and no individual is entirely independent of them. Having said this, ideologies are so well embedded in the fabric of society so as to be almost invisible. Freeden provides us an insightful example:

If I acted as an individual who, say, desired to marry and have a fulfilling and lucrative career, I was putting my life-purposes at the centre of my world, and others were recognising my right to do that. But at the same time, I was the product of an ideology that caused me to think of myself as a free agent whose fulfilment would be in a long term, formalised relationship with another individual designated as “spouse”, and in a profitable activity that would secure the means of purchasing the labour and products of others.6

Hence, what I consider to be an act of love and tradition may in fact be an ideological imperative, suggesting that every human being is an ideologically driven subject and that ideology is something deep-rooted. While this alludes to the fact that ideologies are something that are in us as well as being something that work on us, it is narratives that we consume and through which our behaviour and view are ideologically directed. Keeping with the example of marriage, the dominant narrative of marriage until as late as the 1950’s was a narrative of legitimacy, religiosity, and tradition – a princess narrative with the full frills. This was evoked in a vivid manner in the marriage of Lady Diana to Prince Charles. However, even as their wedding expressed that narrative in its fullness, a different narrative was also emerging. This time, marriage was seen less as a practice of legitimacy and even less so as a religious act, moving to the periphery of necessity and more close to the notion of individual love and its expression. Why this change occurred is not our concern here, save to say that though the narrative was changing the ideological premise was not. Individuality and agency were still as central as before, but this time they were being expressed in the negation of marriage: the right to live together and to consider marriage merely an act of expressing one’s love.

If today this narrative seems more familiar it is because it has come to ascendancy, not so much in the wake of the older narrative but through its marginalisation. {quotes}Narratives then are consumable products of ideologies and profuse all levels of social space.{/quotes}

A closer analysis of this point will be undertaken in the second essay when I assess the significance of narrativity. For now it is important to appreciate the interconnectedness of narratives and ideology as species of “perception formation”. Ideologies and narratives, to reframe a point Freeden makes, are ‘[broader categories] of thought through which specific meaning is conferred’7 upon the diverse phenomena that face social beings. They are in effect part of the mental maps through which we comprehend the world.

George Lakoff explores this notion in depth when he wonders about the relationship between the stances conservatives take on different issues. ‘If you’re a conservative what does your position on abortion have to do with your position on taxation?’ Lakoff also notes that conservative talk a lot about family values. ‘Why,’ he asks, ‘ would anyone in a presidential campaign, congressional campaigns, and so on, when the future of the world was being threatened by nuclear proliferation and global warming, constantly talk about family values?’8 He explains that the conservative worldview contains (like all other worldviews) some basic assumptions:

The world is a dangerous place, and it always will be, because there is evil out there in the world. The world is also difficult because it is competitive. There will always be winners and losers. There is also an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Children are born bad in the sense that they only want to do what feels good, not what is right… What is needed in this world is a strict father who can protect his family in this dangerous world; support the family in the difficult world; and teach his children right from wrong.9

It should be pointed out that while the ideology being presented by Lakoff is conservative-free-market-capitalism, any attempt to express it leads to a narrative. It is not the case that this is wrong but a point that highlight the way in which narrative is concomitant with ideologies, and a tool that helps make the ideology “observable”. The point Lakoff draws out is that this particular view of the world and its metaphoric familial frame, directs the actions, views and values of those who hold it. Take the present American foreign policy. The United States, a world superpower, assumes the position of the strict father figure – the moral authority. Under this mental map, America needs to be strong (a strong military); America needs to be in a position of economic health so as to fulfil the function of support (strong markets, opening up markets, maintaining monopolies, guarding interests with force); America needs to teach “children” (developing nations/“rogue” states) right from wrong. In the UN, where the vast majority of nations are developing or underdeveloped countries, the father figure carries absolute power. Any challenge to that upsets the hidden ideological mind map. {quotes}Should America have sought UN approval for the invasion of Iraq? Bush’s reply to such a point in the 2004 State of Union address was, ‘America will never seek a permission slip’10.{/quotes}

Of course not, the parent does not need permission slips, why would the “father” figure ask permission of a body (UN) made up of “children”.

There is no doubt that this is intricate and feels somewhat shadowy. It is clearly a far cry from the much more empirical and material analysis of everyday newsreels. I do hold, none the less, that this is the nature of a deeper level of social activity. On this level people are bound by an otherwise obscure and shadowy realm of ideas and thoughts, motivated by impulses and mind maps that are ideological and consumed through narratives. But while the workings of these two are somewhat hidden and a step removed from consciousness, discourses are a little more familiar. The expression a discourse takes however is dependent on the narrative that shapes it, and in so far as narratives are part of the backdrop to discourses, ideology is the overall matrix within which discourses are formed.

Positioning Narrative in relation to Discourses

When you see me, what is it you see? You see a person/human being; you see a man; you see a man with a beard; you see a man with a beard dressed in casual dress/jeans and a t-shirt; you see a man with a beard dressed in casual dress/jeans and a t-shirt who – if you know my name – is called Syed. In the midst of all of this, what you “see” is mediated by a number of word associations and that is what discourse is: word association. In essence, language is the basic unit of human consciousness and discourses are culturally loaded units of speech and understanding that mediate our responses to the world. We can say that there is a discourse of advertising or sexuality, and what this really means is that there is, within these areas, specific ways of word associations or, more precisely, discourse formation.But discourses are heterogeneous zone in which a diversity of phrases, metaphors and imagery coexist and even collude and coalesce into an independent system of meaning. Edward Said presents this in his reading of the way in which the status of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) as an impostor is both part of the discourse on Islam in the Orientalist tradition, and endowed with an independent normativeness. Therefore in the statement “Muhammed is an impostor” it is ‘enough to use the simple copula is… [thus] the very phrase canonised by d’Herbelot’s Bibliotheque oreintale and dramatised in a sense by Dante…[needs] no background…the evidence necessary to convict Muhammed is contained in the “is”’.11 The status of the Prophet is built within the Orientalist discourse on Islam but over successive centuries of ratification has become normative.

Discourses in this schema are phrases, words and, to extend the boundary a little more, images and symbols that are connoted with certain ideas. In this way language can be charged. The connoting involves associations that are built between these discursive units and the overarching idea. Thus, borders, immigration, public services, can evoke ideas of being “swamped” and “overridden”; of being too lenient; of being taken for a ride. The pervasiveness of this needs little elaboration, but a striking example of the power of discourses on the imagination is seen when former immigrants say things that would have been said about them by many Britons in the 70’s and 80’s. This is not to confine former immigrants to a singular vision, but the incongruity is stunning.

While this may account for the inner dynamics of discourses, it does not explain why and how discursive units gain the connotations they do. It can be argued after all that words like borders, immigration, and public services could well be recharged to imply: Britain is a safe haven; has a culture imbued with humanity; and is enriched by arriving immigrants. Indeed this particular version of immigration does exist. The answer lies in the relationship discourses share with narratives. A narrative that encompasses a view of British history as one involving fair play, unanimity, debts (to the world because of Imperial exploitation) would configure the associations in such a way so as to produce a discourse well attuned to the narrative that generates it. The hand of ideology in this set up is not hard to spot. Narratives and discourses form the framework through which we (a) discern the world and the multiplicity of social activities that occur in it and, (b) through which we make decisions and engage in actions that make sense.

In the years following 1363, a series of laws were passed in England that confined certain textiles and furs to certain people based on their status and rank in society. Purple silk was only to be worn by noblemen while labourers and servants were instructed to only wear cloth that had cost less than two schillings a yard.12 The impossibility of enforcing such a bizarre law is clear from the fact that no prosecutions were made. Yet this fact makes it even more curious. If the law was not practical, or taken seriously (the other possibility) how on earth were laws such as these successively passed. To understand this it is important to understand the emphasis medieval England placed on hierarchy. The ideological outlook was one where God was the force behind the world and hence the concomitant narrative mapped the metaphysical realities of heaven – ordered, hierarchical, and harmonious – on to the physical world of men. This narrative charged certain words like “rank” and “degree” with associations to duty, function, and a sense of naturalness. Thus the discourse on social difference and hierarchy permeated every area of human activity. So while the law may have been more symbolic than practical, it was comprehensible within the ideological, narrative, and discursive framework prevalent at the time. There is little doubt that such a framework favoured the ruling class (in Marxist vocabulary) and thus was sustained by them. But that is not my concern here. The point isn’t why that ideology existed or whether it was a “good” ideology or a “bad” ideology; the point is, that it existed in relation to the narratives it produced and the discursive framework that narrative privileged.

In the case of immigration, immigrants are constructed within a dominant narrative that represents them as leeching on the system and blurs the boundary between an economic migrant, an asylum seeker, and an illegal immigrant. In this narrative what become discursive units are foreign sounding names, odd accents, distinctive appearances. These elements are processed into discursive units by being linked to notions of “scroungers”, “criminal gangs and prostitution”, “human trafficking” and so on. Once these links emerge a discourse materializes of “foreign migrant as problem”. In this regard, those who “see” Magda13 (a Polish immigrant working in Britain as a cleaner, for instance) do not interact with her so much as with the construction of Magda as “migrant”. This is how her neighbours and landlord think of her; this explains the look she gets when she speaks at the shop counter. The assistant – to stretch the example – may not be entirely aware of the narrative representation of a Polish migrant; all he or she has immediately before them is the discursive framework that shapes his or her response.

The move from ideology to narrative, and from narrative to discourse is one that is always growing more concrete with each shift. Our immediate verbal phrases and words are outcomes of discourse; our attempt to locate what is accounted for discursively within a pattern endowed with value and meaning, takes us to narrative. To account for those values and views one moves toward articulating the Weltanschauung (an all-encompassing view of the world) enclosed in an ideology. The synergistic relationship between these three modes of thought help account for how social change may occur, and how an ideology may adapt to remain alive and influential over long periods of time.

Susan Brownmiller writes of the staggering effect pro-abortion campaigns had in changing the perception of abortion from a “crime”, as it was defined by law, to “a woman’s constitutional right” in her book, In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution. Before the 1970s abortion was illegal across America ‘unless a committee of hospital physicians concurred that the pregnancy endangered the woman’s life.’14 The majority of the committee of physicians were male and the topic was almost entirely dominated by professionals. On February 13 1969, a group of six legislators held a public hearing in Manhattan on some proposed liberalising amendments to the New York law. ‘Typical of the time,’ say Brownmiller, ‘the six legislators were all men, and the speakers invited to present expert testimony were fourteen men and one nun’.15 The emphasis in Brownmiller’s prose on “one nun” works on two levels. First of all, the nun, a woman by default, is immediately outnumbered by fourteen men, and the fact that therefore the only woman present happens to be a nun, underscores the absurdity even more. But this makes vividly clear that the protagonist in the narrative prevalent up until the late 60s was not the woman. All of this was about to change. The public hearing was disturbed by young feminist protesters who shouted out sentences like, ‘lets hear from the real experts – women!’ and, ‘Men don’t get pregnant, men don’t bear children. Men just make laws!’ When a naïve legislator tried to calm the crowd down his words, as Brownmiller put it, raised ‘the temperature a notch higher’. ‘“Don’t call us girls,” came the unified response, “we are women!”’16 Quite apart from the impact this heated exchange made in headlines, it demonstrates that words and phrases were understood in radically different ways and that the discursive units being produced, came from two varying narratives which, producing a different discourse each, made the mediation between the key participants volatile. Brownmiller asserts that the activists had ‘successively dramatised the need for “woman as expert” in the abortion debate’.17 This change was made discursively as the very phrase “woman as expert” resonated with the new narrative which the feminist cause was producing. So when in Washington activists won their call for a popular referendum, they were acutely aware of the need to frame the terms of the referendum in line with the narrative they were promoting. The focus of the referendum therefore was shifted from health care reform, as the medical professional hoped to frame it, to “Abortion is a woman’s right”. This was not just discursive unit expressing the flavour of their particular take on the abortion discourse but the broader narrative the activists were constructing.

The methodology that feminists chose to construct an alternative narrative was individual accounts that brought a ‘personal voice to the abortion debate’. ‘The idea,’ says Irene Peslikis, ‘was to get examples of different kinds of experiences – women who’d had their babies taken away, women who went to hospital for a therapeutic abortion, the women who’d gone the illegal route, the different kinds of illegal routes’.18 Such a narrative placed the woman centre stage and gave her a voice. Through this narrativisation a change was made to the discourse on abortion changing in turn the mind of people in whom the new discursive framework became internalised. When one thought about abortion post-70s, a new discursive framework was evoked in which words like “right” and “choice” found key positions, and phrases like “a woman’s right” made the woman change in position from criminal to a citizen demanding her constitutional right. The eighties and nineties would see a backlash from more conservative quarters, whose narrative had been marginalised, and they too would reassert through narrativity the efficacy of their discursive framework. This latter narrative would cast the unborn foetus as protagonist and charge its discursive units with the notion of pro-life thus recasting the woman seeking abortion as an antagonist. The strategy therefore was relatively the same – affect the discourse through narrative and generate a discursive framework of words, phrases, imagery and symbols.

In the struggle for the legalisation of abortion, the wire hanger became an unlikely symbol of pro-choice in America. In relation to the narrative and the discursive framework it produced, however, the hanger made perfect sense. It evoked the lurid image of back-alley abortions and the dangers that involved. Soon, the hanger was printed on all pro-choice posters and became part of the discursive framework.In the end, I hold that there is a close relationship between narrative, discourse, social perception and social change. This is because narratives and discourse form part of a “response mechanism” through which we can move to action – this can be voluntary, as in marching for pro-choice and chanting pro-choice slogans, or involuntary “looks” at a shop counter.

.

 

Notes:
1. Michael Freeden, Ideology, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p3.
2. ibid, p123.
3. For example, the the wise old man reoccurs in many different myths around the world and serves the purpose of identifying (and personifying) wisdom and truth, and a stabilisers in the midst of uncertainty, this is the mytheme it serves. Similarly, in Native American myths the role of the trickster can be taken by the raven, the coyote or the mink but the underlying mytheme remains constant.
4. The finer details of the nature and operation of ideology need to be theorised more finely. For now, a broad understanding of the propensities of ideologies will help elucidate the place of Narrative in the socio-cultural space.
5. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, (New York: Prometheus Publishers, 1998), p94.
6. Michael Freeden, Ideology, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p29.
7. Ibid, p11.
8. George Lakoff, Don’t think of an elephant!, (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Pub. Co., 2004), p5.
9. Ibid, p7.
10. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/transcripts/bushtext_012004.html
11. Edward Said, Orientalism, (London: Penguin, 2003), p72.
12. Lawrence James, The Middles Class: A History, (London: Little, Brown, 2006), p10.
13. I borrow this example from David Oswell, Culture and Society, (London: SAGE Publications, 2006).
14. Susan Brownmiller, In Our Time: Memoirs of a Revolution, (London: Aurum Press, 2000), p103.
15. ibid, p107.
16. ibid, p107.
17. ibid, p107.
18. Quoted in, ibid, p108.

Bibliography
Brownmiller, Susan, In Our Time: Memoirs of a Revolution, (London: Aurum Press, 2000)
Freeden, Michael, Ideology, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
Gutting, Gary, Foucault, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)
James, Lawrence, The Middle Class: A History, (London: Little, Brown, 2006)
Lakoff, George, Don’t Think of an Elephant!, (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Pub. Co., 2004)
Marx, Karl, and, Engles, Friedrich, German Ideology, (New York: Prometheus Publishers, 1998)
Oswell, David, Culture and Society, (London: SAGE Publications, 2006)
Said, Edward, Orientalism, (London: Penguin, 2003)
Stevens, Anthony, Jung, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)

About Syed Haider

A PhD candidate at SOAS and English teacher.

5 comments

  1. A reply to Gordon
    Will a change in narrativity positively affect the Muslim population?

    Yes I think it will. The second part of this essay (will be published soon) does address some of these points. Simply put:

    [If (1)] Narrative helps establish a Weltanschauung.

    [And (2)] In order for Muslims to consolidate their sense of self (“Asians”, “Black”, “Solicitors”, “Doctors”) with a broader Islamic/Muslim identity, they need to internalise an Islamic Weltanschauung (which would, presumably, include things like the centrality of tawheed, the hereafter, a real sense of the metaphysical, the absolute importance of being ethical and upright etc.)

    [Then (3)] Narrative can positively affect the Muslim population.

    Also,
    1)If narratives help generate discursive frameworks as I have suggested:
    2)By becoming more active in narrativising, Muslims may be in a better position to determine how certain topic are viewed or spoken about.

    Remember also that present efforts in terms of Islamic classes and lectures ought not to be downgraded (we must adopt the metaphor of a jigsaw when we think of da’wah). All that is being said here is that narratives are an important mode of thought through which we can affect change (in the long term) and that narrativity is a methodology which can prove liberating for Muslims who are currently being framed through narratives that are constructed by others.

    I acknowledge that there are real challenges to fully actualise this view, and indeed it may be impractical or a dead end, but the job here (as I have understood it) is to formulate different ideas and possible avenues towards generating change. The next paper that I am working on is to understand what role Muslim media can play in possibly transmitting narratives and what problems may lie in pursuing that particular course.

    Do keep reading and do keep thinking. Only by posing questions and challenges can we refine our way of “seeing” something and move forward in a way that is more likely to be successful. And in the end we concede that success is with Allah, our job is only to strive.

  2. Change??
    But will the change in narrativity actually positively affect the Muslim population?

    Muslims seem to live in their own microcrosms, and anything beyond seems to be a no-go area. Can we depend on a minute proportion of Muslims who want change, and is that enough. One thing that affects us the policy of the MCB and the fact that the government has chosen them as representatives of the Muslim populace. As well as that, you actually find a large amount of mosques who follow these clowns – however, where are their scholars, Ibrahim Mogra? I have nothing against him but he’s not exactly the Ibn Taymiyyah type. I really crave for a revolution amongst Muslims, but who’s going to actually kick start it?

    As you can see, I quite distressed about the whole affair, but when Syed says “narrativity is something Muslims should be more engaged in”, the word ‘should’ is key. Muslims ‘should’ pray 5 times a day, ‘should’ observe shari’ah, ‘should’ care about their Islamic spirituality and identity, but unfortunately the vast majority don’t. Thus I believe the next step (perhaps for Syed to elucidate) is to discuss HOW we can entice Muslims to actually BE Muslims instead of being ‘Asians’ or ‘Blacks’ or ‘solicitors’ or ‘doctors’ first.

  3. Reponse to Jamima
    Definitely not ‘propaganda’ in the 1940’s Germany-Goebbels sense! In fact I wouldn’t use that word precisely because of the negative historic narrative that provides it it’s meaning/comprehensibility. What’s being detailed here instead is that one should understand that speech acts are not simply a straightforwardly semantic issue. If this is understood than to struggle for minority rights, or nuclear disarmament, or to give dawah about the hereafter must be transmitted narrativistically (not exclusively at the expense of other modes of course – eg. Lectures), and that in order to do this the Muslims (though of course as a methodology anyone can employ it) should be more engaged in cultural production since it is in the cultural domain that narratives are by and large constructed. This becomes clearer in the second part of the essay (same title annoyingly!) which move closer to articulate what all of this means for Muslims and why narrativity is something Muslims should be more engaged in. Please do read the second essay when it gets published (soon).

  4. Should Muslims get involved in propaganda too?

  5. Islamist (so they call me!)

    A very good essay. As Bush said – it has become a battle of ideas (probably from realising his war couldn’t be won!), and it certainly has – But what they haven’t figured is that Islam is the most supreme ‘idea/thought’.

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