MetaNarratives: 5 Influential Books on Narrative
by Ajit Maan, Ph.D.
I am a Philosopher with specialization in narrative and identity. I am Affiliate Scholar at George Mason University’s Center for Narrative Conflict Resolution, member of the Brain Trust of the Weaponized Narrative Initiative at Arizona State University, and author of the books Internarrative Identity: Placing the Self and Counter-Terrorism: Narrative Strategies, and numerous articles about narrative, personal and public identity, policy, and international affairs. I am also founder and CEO of Narrative Strategies www.narrative-strategies.com , an organization focused on the non-kinetic aspects of counter-terrorism, defense, and peace-building.
Top Five Most Professionally Influential Books
Alasdair MacIntyre, (1981) After Virtue. MacIntyre argues that a return to Aristotelian virtue ethics is in order for post-modern civilizations. His seminal work is foundational for much of ethics discourses that followed.
Paul Ricoeur, (1984). Time and Narrative, vol. 1–3. In these three volumes Ricoeur argues that organizing life experiences in relation to time (past, present, future) is essential to identity and is the central “work” of human cognition. I disagree. It has been central to Western canonical projections of self, and moreover, that approach to identity has become normalized (viewed as a reality separate from cognitive manipulation). There are other types of narrative structures that aren’t temporally ordered and yet have all the same identity functions. Nonetheless, Ricoeur’s is the most rigorously argued defense of his party’s position.
Michael White, (2007). Maps of Narrative Practice. The late Michael White was one of the pioneers of narrative therapy. He originally outlined techniques of narrative practice now familiar to anyone engaged: externalizing the conflict, re-authoring, re-membering, definitional ceremonies, projecting unique outcomes, and scaffolding conversations.
Scott Mann, (2015). Game Changers: Going Local to Defeat Violent Extremists. Mann is one of the architects of Village Stability Operations, a bottom-up strategy designed by U.S. Special Operations Forces to counter extremist support among local populations. And “telling a story that sticks” is a central part VSO.
Christopher Nash, ed. (1990). Narrative in Culture: The Uses of Storytelling In the Sciences, Philosophy, and Literature. Nash argues that narrative understanding underpins analytical thinking but has gone largely undetected in what were previously considered “objective” domains.
The One That Shaped Me The Most
Ricoeur’s three volumes of Time and Narrative has had a profound impact on my work because he demonstrated the ways in which Western narratives (and the identities they co-construct) rely on a particular type of structure (unified, linear, temporally oriented). I agree with him that they have (but that is not a necessity), and yet unlike him, I find that structure problematic. I have spent my career demonstrating how negative results can follow from that structural assumption and demonstrating alternative possibilities.