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Narrative construction of reality

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In 1991, Bruner published an article in Critical Inquiry entitled "The Narrative Construction of Reality." In this article, he argued that the mind structures its sense of reality through mediation through "cultural products, like language and other symbolic systems" (3). He specifically focuses on the idea of narrative as one of these cultural products. He defines narrative in terms of ten things:

  1. Narrative diachronicity: The notion that narratives take place over some sense of time.
  2. Particularity: The idea that narratives deal with particular events, although some events may be left vague and general.
  3. Intentional state entailment: The concept that characters within a narrative have "beliefs, desires, theories, values, and so on" (7).
  4. Hermeneutic composability: The theory that narratives are that which can be interpreted in terms of their role as a selected series of events that constitute a "story." See also Hermeneutics
  5. Canonicity and breach: The claim that stories are about something unusual happening that "breaches" the canonical (i.e. normal) state.
  6. Referentiality: The principle that a story in some way references reality, although not in a direct way that offers verisimilitude.
  7. Genericness: The flipside to particularity, this is the characteristic of narrative whereby the story can be classified as a genre.
  8. Normativeness: The observation that narrative in some way supposes a claim about how one ought to act. This follows from canonicity and breach.
  9. Context sensitivity and negotiability: Related to hermeneutic composability, this is the characteristic whereby narrative requires a negotiated role between author or text and reader, including the assigning of a context to the narrative, and ideas like suspension of disbelief.
  10. Narrative accrual: Finally, the idea that stories are cumulative, that is, that new stories follow from older ones.

Bruner observes that these ten characteristics at once describe narrative and the reality constructed and posited by narrative, which in turn teaches us about the nature of reality as constructed by the human mind via narrative.

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