What are narratives and how are they impacting social justice? Narratives, with their positive or negative portrayal of social groups, can contribute significantly to their participation or exclusion. Three partners of the Foundation are reflecting on how polarizing narratives divide society in their countries. An intersectional narrative that acknowledges the different realities and identities of the entire society is what they call for; to create an inclusive and just space with stories that represent all and allow for a constructive public discourse.
Read recent examples from Mexico, India, and the United Kingdom, as well as a brief introduction by inequality activist Buse Çetin on the importance of narratives for societies and systems.
The role of narratives in social systems
Buse Çetin, an inequality activist and artificial intelligence researcher, works in the Foundation's Program on Reducing Inequalities and explains the role narratives can play in social systems.
Narratives are stories that tell us more about people, societies and systems. They are a way of communal sense making. We exist, remember, communicate and create through telling stories. Narratives create patterns and serve as tools for navigating unknown, uncertain and new situations. Narratives can spark emotion and empathy; influence, mobilize, and also exert power and dominance.
For as much as it can create change, narratives are also the glue that upholds oppressive and unequal systems, the status-quo. Who holds power and how they use it is both embedded in and supported by dominant narratives. When dominant narratives are repeated over and over, they create systems and significantly influence rights, privileges, economic resources and opportunities, and policies.
However, we are not only the listeners, the receivers of narratives; we are increasingly creating, curating and sharing them on a daily basis through social media. In the age of increasing demands for justice and equality, narratives are invaluable ways of shifting power and making the multiple realities of diverse communities heard for systemic change.
Who forms the British working class? A polarizing narrative that invisibilizes the multi-ethnic population needs to be changed through new inclusive narratives. Artist Kruthika N.S. (@theworkplacedoodler) has captured the complexities of this issue in her illustration.