What are Cultural Narratives? Exploring an Elusive Concept (Searching Panelists for MLA 2024)

Christian Baier's picture
Call for Papers
March 15, 2023
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, Humanities, Languages, Literature, Philosophy

Narratives are everywhere: politicians and the media are no longer influencing public opinion, but shaping the narrative; whether one considers Michael Jordan or LeBron James to be the greatest basketball player of all time does not only depend on titles and MVP awards, but also on the better narrative; and to stem the rise of populism, it is said, Western liberal democracies need convincing counter narratives: when not referring to textual structures, the term ‘narrative’ is applied indiscriminately to a broad variety of cultural or discursive phenomena. As a result, it is of questionable use as an analytic category.

Narratological scholarship has been slow to respond to this challenge: in the three decades since the “narrative turn” of the 1990s, the expanding scope of the discipline has come to include not only nonfictional texts like newspaper articles, but also legal, medical and historical narratives and even films and video games. All these objects of narratological inquiry, however, are still embodied in distinct semiotic artefacts and can be considered textual, if ‘text’ is understood to refer to any deliberate and structured use of signs. On the whole, narratologists have been wary of applying the term “narrative” ‘to phenomena that are not textually embodied’ (Ryan, 2017: 528) out of the legitimate fear of ‘stretching the concept too thin’ (ibid. 526). And while a number of attempts have been made to define the concept more precisely (see Koschorke 2018; Breithaupt 2022; Baier 2023), much conceptual and terminological work still needs to be done. 

This call for papers is looking for panelists to participate in a ‘Special Session’ at the MlA Annual Convention that will be held from 4 to 7 January 2024 in Philadelphia. The panel aims to provide a theoretical foundation for the category of “narrative” by exploring narrative phenomena not textually embedded, but manifesting as discursive constellations that shape perception, generate meaning and constitute reality. Contributions for a 20-minute presentation are invited from narratology, literary studies, philosophy, sociology, anthropology and any related discipline. Please send your abstract of no more than 300 words together with a short biographical note as well as any questions to Christian Baier (cbaier@snu.ac.kr). Submission deadline is March 15, 2023.



Baier, Christian. “Mechanisms of Post-Truth: Lyotard, Narrative and the Epistemic Fragmentation of Society.Theory, Culture and Society 40 (2023) [accepted for publication].

Breithaupt, Fritz. Das narrative Gehirn: was unsere Neuronen erzählen. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2022.

Koschorke, Albrecht. Fact and Fiction: Elements of a General Theory of Narrative. De Gruyter, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110349689.

Ryan, Marie-Laure. “Narrative.” In A Companion to Critical and Cultural Theory, edited by Imre Szeman, Sarah Blacker, and Justin Sully, 517–30. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017.

Contact Info: 

Christian Baier, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea

Contact Email: