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Narrative Theory

Teacher Education Quarterly

The Rise of the Life Narrative

In the last sentence we can see how far public engagement has fallen—the idea of great masses of people debating great issues is inconceivable in a present world. In part this is closely related to the decline of narrative scope and aspiration.

We have witnessed in the twentieth century the collapse of grand narratives. Again Williams provides a valuable summary:

The idea of the grand narrative in the human sciences has fallen out of fashion. Christian providence, Freudian psychology, positivist sciences, Marxist class consciousness, nationalist autonomy, fascist will: all have attempted to supply narratives that shape the past. When it comes to practical politics, some of these narratives proved to involve repression and death.
The history of the twentieth century dissolved the connection between material and scientific progress and a better moral order. Technological advance was twice turned

to the business of mass slaughter in global war, as well as genocide and ethnic cleansing. Material progress was seen to mingle with moral regress. The model T Ford and the gas chamber were the inventions that defined the century. (Williams, 2005, p. 18)

We can then begin to see how grand narratives fell from grace, losing not only scope and aspiration but also our underpinning faith in their general capacity to guide or shape our destiny. Into the vortex left after the collapse of the grand narratives we see the emergence of another kind of narrative, infinitely smaller in scope, often individualised—the personal life story. It reflects a dramatic change in the scale of human belief and aspiration. Alongside these small narratives we also see a return to older, more fundamentalist precepts.

How has this transformation of the role and scope of narrative been worked? How is the new genre socially constructed?

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  • Date of publication: 08/08/2012
  • Publisher: Teacher Education Quarterly
  • Subject:
    Narrative Theory
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