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Contending Stories: Narrative in Social Movements Essay

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Updated: Jul 25th, 2020


A critical study of stories or storytelling is important in revealing the dynamics of education and social change. Narrative and story making in education and change will also be important in the understanding of how various facets of narrations become part of a story. Various changes are also made easier to comprehend such as the understanding of social movements and/or how they withstand setbacks, politics, and their impact on education and change. Narratives and stories are a representation of the happenings in the society. A well-crafted story is an image of the society itself. Development in education and changes in societal growth results from changes in literature. This paper analyses narrative and story making in education and change concerning the article by Francesca Polletta (1998) on the theory of narrative in social movements. Specifically, it presents the article’s ideas together with the narrative’s arguments about narrative construction history without neglecting the underlying major assumptions about narrative construction.

Review and analysis of the article’s key ideas

The article by Francesca Polletta constitutes a major work that details the effects of narrative and storytelling on education and change. It has the title Contending Stories: Narrative in Social Movements. The study is coherent and well organized, with several literary works being included in the review. The work presents some of the ideas about narratives and societal change. Some major theories and assumptions are also discussed, with scientific evidence being crafted to make meaning of the results of the several studies included in the literature. Pollensa begins by explaining to the audience about the title of the article and its relevance in the field of sociology. The methodology is also explained simply and understandably. This case is also taken into consideration in the reporting of the findings and the making of conclusions and recommendations. In general, the work presents ideas clearly by describing them in a well-organized manner. This makes the article relevant for consideration about the above topic of this essay.

The major areas of concentration in this study include collective identity, ideology, tradition, and rhetoric. These concepts have been accepted widely in language development, examination, and change. Change depends on the plot of the narrative. For example, this narrative technique is adapted in the development of a story from the beginning through the middle to the end narrative. Polletta (1998, p. 2) shows how the plot creates logic in a story. The events that are witnessed in the story gain logic due to the plot. Without a good plot, events will lose meaning. They will appear like separate incidences that lack coherence. Logic is developed through interweaving events to create a coherent plot. Every other subject has adopted the application of plot in education. Narratives do not rely on empirical references and science to prove the truth of events. However, it makes use of time and place. These two modalities are used to create connections between different events. It is out of change in time that the audience develops a sense of development in a story. Over the years, narratives have been used to provide answers to various worries that human beings face. Various people, communities, and societies have turned to narratives in seeking the interpretation of certain occurrences in life. Although narrative theorists have not come up with empirical evidence that human beings fear the reality, evidence is available that narratives are a reflection of what is happening or what will happen in the future.

According to Polletta (1998, p.3), narrative theorists also agree that human beings turn to narratives when they encounter events that they cannot interpret. Whenever humanity comes across an episode that it cannot comprehend, it is likely to develop stories in a bid to interpret the occurrence. Occasionally, human beings encounter disturbing occurrences. Narratives have also been used to create a sense of identity and belonging (Ewick & Silbey, 1995). However, narrative theorists strive to distinguish between various origins to which various societies subscribe. Narratives explain how individuals, communities, and even nations came into being. It is out of such narratives that human beings understand who they are. When people come across narratives that explain their common origin, they form a cordial bond to become united (Delgado, 1989). Social cohesion is also fostered through narratives since communities, nations, and even races develop a sense of oneness. Other narratives foster unity among communities through explanations of how previous generations conquered enemies through unity. A sense of liberation is also developed through narratives. Individuals who feel liberated therefore gain a touch of belonging to a group or a particular unit.

According to Polletta (1998, p.4), narratives have a perspective of the narrator, audience, and the protagonist. The narrator takes the audience through the story. The story is developed through the point of view of the narrator who is in touch with the society. The audience relies on the narrator to develop the story and to tell it in the best way possible. Trust is therefore developed between the narrator and the audience. The audience sees the narrator through the story as a stable source of information. As Polletta (1998) affirms, in various instances, the narrator makes use of collective pronouns like “we”. Such pronouns create a feeling of collectiveness between the narrator and the audience.

Narratives are also superior in the way they fledge movements. They create gaps in the way timeframes are related hence developing certain injustices. Polletta (1998) observes how the prominence of narratives in fledgling makes them perfect in analyzing injustices and developing ways of reacting to them. It is on the same note that protest is mounted most effectively. Since frames are aimed at persuading people to act in a certain way, the protest mounted through the narrative must be able to mobilize the audience towards a certain action. The audience must be made to believe that the suggested action will result in the intended action. The audience must understand why various events happen. For example, they may happen through divine connection, sublimation drive, or conscious intention of the character. The flow of the narrative keeps the audience reading or listening. The reader or listener should be actively engaged in interpreting the occurrence rather than having him or her have a direct answer to events and happenings. The narrator achieves this goal through being ambiguous. The ending of a narrative should also leave an open end for the reader or listener. Such an end provides educational continuity to the story. Narrative theorists differ widely on the number of plots that exist in the available literature. Polletta (1998) asserts that it is also clear that narrative theorists also differ on the uniqueness of narrative plots. Distinguishing between various plots is almost impossible since all narratives have various features that qualify them. However, if a narrative does not have the basic features, it cannot be viewed as one. For example, narratives that conform to the cultural stock cannot be classified as narratives.

Narrative construction history

The author of the article above makes several important assumptions to project ideas that are in the literary works. Although writers make assumptions in their works, several factors may be fulfilled before the assumptions can be accepted to be applicable in these works (Fine, 1995; Delgado, 1989). In the case of Polletta’s work, the major assumptions relate to the application of narratives in political and social change. Several evidences that are included in the article support these assumptions by meeting the required criteria. An example of a basic assumption in Polletta’s work is that the use of narratives is to allow people to express what they feel is strange and/or politically disturbing to them (1998, p. 6). A disambiguation of the statement is later provided after the text to allow readers to understand more reasons why narratives exist in the first place. The method of delivery and creativity in narratives varies widely (Kohl, 1995). Narratives should, therefore, embrace such changes naturally. Constraints are therefore likely to come up if narratives become one-sided. Polletta avoids this by ensuring that both sides of the assumptions are covered in the work (1998).


The essay provides a detailed account of the utility of storytelling in the dynamics of education and change. As established earlier in the essay, various facets of narrations exist. These facets have subsequently been discussed concerning the relevant literature. There are many uses of narratives in the traditional and contemporary change processes. These uses are explored in the essay. The major uses include the understanding of social movements, political changes, as well as social relations. Narratives have been discussed as one of the elements facilitating societal change. In the past, societies have derived cohesiveness from works of literature. As such, narratives have played a special role as found out in the essay. The main article reviewed is a good example of the impact of narratives and story making to societal change and education.


Delgado, R 1989, ‘Storytelling for oppositionists and others: A plea for narrative’, Michigan Law Review, vol. 87 no. 1, pp. 2411-2441.

Ewick, P & Silbey, S 1995, ‘Subversive stories and hegemonic tales: Toward a sociology of narrative’, Law and Society Review, vol. 29 no. 2, pp. 197-226.

Fine, G 1995, Public narration and group culture: Discerning discourse in social movements, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Kohl, H 1995, should we bum Babar? Essays on children’s literature and the power of stories, New Press, New York.

Polletta, F 1998, ‘Contending Stories: Narrative in Social Movements’, Qualitative Sociology, vol. 21 no. 4, pp. 1-7.

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