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interpretive anchors

December 8, 2014

Whether in settings of conflict, war, or stable liberal democracy, master narratives represent rhetorical devices by which groups vie for power, status, and legitimacy. In war and conflict, these master narratives are often perceived as compulsory for identification, particularly when the group perceives existential insecurity (Hammack, 2011a, 2011b). Master narratives represent ideology about the nature of truth, beauty, goodness, and efficiency (Shweder, 2003). They provide interpretive anchors on which individuals become motivated to engage in the intentional acts that form a “culture” (Bruner, 1990). In this way, narrative provides a window into the collective mentality of a group – its understanding of the nature of reality and the contours of imagined possibility.” ~ Phillip L Hammack, p.60

Phillip L Hammack also writes: “…identity politics is not simply a popular term in the academy; it is a behavioral phenomenon. Our identities guide our political behavior, whether that behavior is situated at the level of a private voting booth in South Carolina or Florida, a mass protest against a hegemonic government in Egypt or Syria, or the actions of a coordinated social movement like the US “Occupy” movement of 2012.” (p.55)

We interpret our interests in material or symbolic terms by using narrative – by crafting a story of who we are and why engaging in some political action (e.g., casting a vote for a particular candidate, joining a social movement, engaging in a protest, etc.) is consistent with our interests. This narrative is our identity, and it provides the lens through which we justify our actions, to both ourselves and others (McAdams, 1993, 1996).” (p.55)

“Identity …is not a neutral feature of individual psychological experience or development. Rather, it is a tool for collective action, a mechanism through which configurations of power are constructed, maintained, or resisted (see Polletta & Jasper, 2001). To the extent that we have an identity, we act upon the world in such a way as to coordinate with others so identified to advance our interests.” (p.56)

“Our identities are …not merely categorical labels that organize the world of social relations. Rather, we live our identities by constructing personal narratives that provide a vocabulary to the experience of inhabiting a particular social category. As we internalize the master narrative of belonging to a particular category – man, woman, gay, straight, Black, White, Israeli, Palestinian, Catholic, Protestant, to name a few in the realm of probablu inappropriate binaries – we construct an identity anchored in our rhetorical engagement with the world (Hammack, 2011b). Hence, to the extent that the politics of identity drives political behavior, motivating particular forms of political action, narrative is the vehicle through which individual actors come to identify with leaders and movements (Polletta, 2006).” (p.57)

“Narrative identity development does not occur in a political or cultural vacuum. Rather, the stories with which we engage as we develop coherent identities are normative scripts about not only how the world is but also how it might be. In other words, narratives are not just descriptive; they are prescriptive. These normative scripts represent ideologies in the neutral sense of that term – as broad systems of beliefs that cohere and form a particular worldview (van Dijk, 1998). They characterize a particular “mentality” about the world and its presumed ideal order. Just as my personal narrative of identity leads me to act a certain way in the political world because of the social category I inhabit, my [-p.58] mentality about the world and how it “ought” to be provides further narrative content that guides my political action.
Narrative, then, is not a concept relegated to individual psychological processes of identity formation or meaning making. Rather, group life operates through collective processes of storytelling that construct a coherent account of group mentality or ideology.” (pp.57-58)

“…narratives are not static storylines about groups or individuals but rather are political acts in themselves. We embody narratives through our own set of practices, and these practices themselves make our identities. In other words, consistent with cultural psychology’s thesis of “mutual constitution” (Schweder, 1990), minds and acts are co-constituted: How and what we think is shaped by what we do, but we act in ways that cohere with existing thoughts and sentiments.” (p.61)

“Concepts assumed to occur at the collective level – such as ideology, mentality, or collective memory – can be subsumed just as easily under the rubric of narrative as the personal narratives of identity psychologists have increasingly come to study. Thinking of these phenomena as narratives is useful because it specifies their location and a clear method for empirical study. Ideologies, mentalities, and collective memories are embodied in narratives that proliferate in societies – in anchoring texts, speeches of political leaders, media representations, and other cultural artifacts. Narrative is thus an empirical umbrella for a host of phenomena that scholars who emphasize collective or societal levels of analysis can call upon.” (p.58)

“Narratives are anchored in beliefs, which are “basic knowledge categories such as ideology, values, norms, decisions, inferences, goals, expectations, religious dogmas, or justifications” (Bar-Tal, 2000, p.xii). When beliefs form a coherent cluster in the form of a larger group or master narrative… they invoke a shared sociopsychological repertoire which provides a heuristic for individuals to interpret reality. Social reproduction depends upon cultural participants appropriating these shared beliefs by invoking master narratives to motivate their behavior and coordinate their activity, itself then providing a common “consciousness” rooted in experience of the material and practical world.
In other words, master narratives compel individuals to appropriate a particular “mentality” or worldview that will then guide collective behavior toward [-p.59] some political end. They contain within them an ideological setting intended to offer what Isaiah Berlin (1976) refers to as “views, goals, and pictures of the world” and provide us with an interpretive anchor for what we consider “true, beautiful, and efficient” (Schweder, 2003). Master narratives construct a form of reality as it “ought” to be, rather than what it may in fact be on the ground. In this way, narratives become tools to guide collective sentiment and action toward some imagined end.” (pp.58-59)

“…individuals interpret reality using clusters of beliefs that can be considered widely “distributed” among a populace to fulfill basic needs related to security and identity, and these are particularly evident in settings in which groups feel insecure (Pettigrew, 2003).
The emphasis on beliefs as central components of narrative somewhat de-emphasizes the role of affect in securing individual appropriation of the beliefs that comprise a master narrative. An overemphasis on rational cognition obscures the provocative nature of narrative. That is, the evaluative and prescriptive dimension of narrative is anchored in affect, and response to narratives is not always rational. Thus, there has been greater attention in recent literature in social and political psychology on the critical role of emotion in guiding actions. For example, studies have shown how emotions such as anger (e.g., Zarowsky, 200, 2004), humiliation (e.g., Fattah & Fierke, 2009), and hatred (e.g., Halperin, 2008) are fundamental to the collective narratives that intend to motivate individuals to either maintain or challenge the status quo.
Master narratives do not proliferate solely in settings of active intractable conflict, though. Narratives are constructed in stable liberal democracies in the same way to persuade members of a populace to engage in political acts.” (p.59)

“…narrative, by constructing subjectivity, motivates particular sets of actions on the world that we perceive as compulsory if we are to be “faithful” to our identities. These actions fundamentally concern acts of power and domination, or the quest thereof.” (p.62)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Phillip L Hammack (2015) Mind, Story, and Society: The Political Psychology of Narrative. pp. 51- 77 in Eds. Michael Hanne, Michael D Crano, and Jeffery Scott Mio Warring with Words: Narrative and Metaphor in Politics. Psychology Press: New York and London

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