Storytelling: The Virtuous Circle of Narrative Contributing to Identity Building and Transmission

  • Abstract:

    My research deals with storytelling used by politicians. According to Jerome Bruner, storytelling has the power to influence, define, and create. As the medium shapes the message, the purpose of my work is to show that the tale shapes the identity, or that form and content deliver information about the individual. Here, action of speech and action caused by the speech contribute to shape the identities of the speaker and listener. As Martin Kreiswirth reminds us, storytelling is the inheritor of narratology and tells events happening in a precise and defined cultural environment, which fits into a historicity. Shaping identity, individual stories are steeped in collective narratives. Barack Obama during his first presidential campaign was a perfect illustration of efficient and well-handled storytelling, combining his own story, the citizens’ and the nation’s history. I will show, notably with the work of George Lakoff, that he succeeded in building a presidential ethos, making himself a new identity. His narrative gathered a majority of voters through myths and elements drawn on the Americans’ collective imagination. This imagination nourishes individual stories and participates in the building of individual identities. Hence, it seems obvious that collective narratives nourish individual stories, participating in the building of individual identities. I will emphasize that the individual shapes himself in relation to the other and to other people, relying on Ricoeur’s work. But at the same time, these different individuals constitute a same group and approve a common tale, constituted by elements that form the popular imagination. I will demonstrate that we are in a “narrative virtuous circle” at the disposal of the identity, both in its building and in its transmission. A virtuous circle formed by collective and individual narratives nourishing and building each other, to the benefit of collective and individual identity. Our question, concretely, how does story build individual identity?