Power of Narrative and Identity

The Berkman workshops today have paid considerable attention to the role of narrative and group identity. I was happy to have read Castells, “Power of Identity” and Benford’s work on Framing Processes and Social Movements. Every commentator shared and reinforced views on importance of these and other movement processes. Although there were many variations, here are some of the key “explanatory factors”.

In general, there was some attention to the possibility that the various social movements, especially in the middle east might be connected. Though there were many elements of commonality or diffusion, many spent the time to identify distinctions rather than a common organizing factor that explicitly linked protests in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and the Yemen. The common theme was one of public “indignation.”  Indeed, the term was commonly used by most participation.

Indeed, some time and attention was given to a theme that social movements were somehow leftist oriented. Indeed, this notion was combined with the observation that movements at least in the Middle East appeared to be motivated more by political objectives than economic circumstances. Authoritarian vs. totalitarian regimes were discussed. Finally, one media expert thought that it — the media — had a tendency to gentrify the movements and their adherents in out of ignorance or some conscious intent to diminish its importance.

Some discussion concerned issues of authenticity. Apparently, many participants knew of or had experienced those who use movements open communication channels as a way to spread false information.

A common element of that ran though most discussions concerned framing. Indeed, several speakers had identified at least three frame elements that appeared to apply to many or most movements. A key distinguishing factor concerns underlying narratives and/or motivating examples that motivate or inspire collective action. Without these themes or stories, movements appear to loose energy. Indeed, one speaker thought that examining groups that had not been able to survive and eventually died or did not persist outside of their locale. Indeed some thought that the absence/presence of stories might be motivating and even tactical.

Some discussion on emerging technologies surfaced both in the technical tools arenas as well as in the social interaction sense. Some thought that young participants preferred to text rather than meet in person — something I’ve noted within my own family. Along different lines, there was encouragement to look and compare old vs. new technologies. For example, physical vs. electronic, media dominance — trans media mobilization — and differences between media types.

The notion of culture, while indirectly addressed, was not a common element. Moreover, the common use of English in foreign language environments was noted.

Two overall comments: global injustice — i.e., act-up — and notions of “success” and failure. How we distill a sense of progress was important.


The future depends on the internet.

Democracy is an endless meeting

This was a very long meeting that seemed to cover most of the key issues that are common to movements here and abroad. One item that did not seem to surface is how governments have used movements, unwittingly, to manipulate the “message”. It was part of the authenticity discussion, but not addressed directly since no one had that direct experience.

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About dpales

MIT Graduate Fellow. Research interest in cognitive studies, focused on mapping group and linguistic relationships in a causal environment -- i.e., does lingustic expression (i.e., language processing) permit a causal inference in real time.

One thought on “Power of Narrative and Identity

  1. Pingback: MegaPost on #21M Berkman Workshop | Networked Social Movements

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