An Anthropologist on Narrative & Community
From Ochs & Capps’s “Narrating the Self,” Annu. Rev. Anthr opol. 1996. 25:19–43
Adherence to a dominant narrative is also community-building in that it presumes that each member ascribes to a common story. Reliance solely on a dominant narrative, however, may lead to oversimplification, stasis, and irreconcilable discrepancies between the story one has inculcated and one’s encounters in the world. As noted earlier, psychological disorders such as posttraumatic stress, depression, and anxiety involve silencing would-be narratives that deviate from the dominant story by which one lives (42, 43, 112, 115, 186, 215). Silencing is a product of internal and interactional forces in that a person may repress and suppress emotions and events, but these processes are linked to external circumstances, including others’ expectations and evaluations. Silencing takes many forms, most of which do not lead to severe psychopathology. Silencing is part of the fabric of culture in that it is critical to socializing prevailing ideologies. Assuming one’s expected place in society entails conforming to and telling stories that reinforce social order.
To varying degrees, the silencing of alternative stories is a form of linguistic oppression. Dominating stories that preserve the status quo can estrange and muffle alternative perspectives. In Morrison’s words, such stories can “sanction ignorance and preserve privilege.” She likened them to “a suit of armor, polished to shocking glitter, a husk from which the knight departed long ago…exciting reverence in schoolchildren, providing shelter for despots, summoning false memories of stability, harmony among the public” (161:14).
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