Narratives and their Impact

by debate dehate

Narratives have a great influence in a long term. they provide connections and offer legitimisation for everyones view of the world.

Many fairy tales begin with the phrase, “Once upon a time….” When talking about narratives, we often have this in mind. Others think of school literature or mythology, or about stories and narratives that not only describe a set of actions or series of events, but also convey a deeper meaning or lesson.

But other narratives exist too, which may not be written down, but are nevertheless potent forces within our lives and the society at large. These are the narratives that we use to order, explain and describe the world, and which define the perspective from which we contemplate society. Philosopher Jean-François Lyotard justifiably calls such explanations of the world “grand narratives.” These accounts function like any other stories, evoking emotions and providing us with motivations. But what if this form of narrative primarily evokes fear, rejection or even hate?

Stories of this kind have served as the basis for the violence directed against refugees and their supporters. As the number of asylum seekers rose, more than 300 Facebook sites were created across Germany with the title “Nein zum Heim” (“No shelter here”) or something similar, protesting against local refugee housing and seeking to inflame the public mood against the new arrivals. With their strongly local references and unprofessional appearance, they gave every impression of being organizational platforms for ordinary “worried citizens”; as a consequence, some of the sites reached tens of thousands of people with their racist propaganda. No direct relationship between violent attacks and these groups can generally be proven; however, their contribution to an overall increasingly tense and aggressive anti-refugee sentiment is obvious.

Narratives have long-term potency, create apparent connections between disparate events, and provide legitimacy for personal worldviews.

For good reason, online hate and agitation have been the focus of much discussion since that time. However, considerably less attention has been paid to the narratives underlying these forms of hate speech.

In most cases, the condemnation of a certain group of people is not an isolated phenomenon. Rather, it is accompanied by stories that “explain” and reinforce the negative valuation. These accounts are crafted to sound true and correct to the specific target audience, and thus provide additional motivation and legitimation. Narratives have long-term potency, create apparent connections between disparate events, and – as in the cases to be examined here – can be classified as toxic for the social environment. Such toxic narratives can be found in far-right, right-wing-populist and conspiracy-theory contexts. This does not mean that all such narratives are automatically of right-wing extremist or right-wing populist origin; however, they complement each other well. Toxic narratives are very adaptable and can be found in other parts of society.

Should a person deem one such toxic narrative to be true, he or she doesn’t necessarily have to believe all other linked narratives. However, there is a strong probability that this will happen sooner or later.

For this reason, it is necessary to process such narratives – decoding them, examining their core content and classifying them – in order to respond to them cogently and successfully. The present report is intended to make a contribution to this effort.

Why do we use the term “toxic narrative”?

The concept of “toxic communication” has been established in the English-speaking world since the 1960s. The term has also been borrowed in Germany to refer to linguistic behavior that has a negative influence on its environment. When we speak of toxic narratives, we are referring to accounts of the world that supply the pertinent “events” and interpretations for such communication.

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