Narrative Power Analysis

Human Beings are literally hardwired for narrative. Stories are the threads of our lives and weave together to form the fabric of human cultures. A story can inform, or deceive, enlighten, entertain, or all of the above. We live in a world shaped by stories.

A traditional power analysis gives community development workers an understanding of the power relations and institutional dynamics amongst the systems and communities we work in. Narrative power analysis provides a framework to extend power into the narrative space – the intangible realm of stories, ideas, and assumptions that frame social perceptions of the situations communities find themselves in, and the players in question. Narrative helps define what is normal, and what is legitimate, as well as the limited of what is politically possible. All power relations have such a narrative component.

Narrative power analysis is based on the recognition that the currency of story is not truth, but meaning. That is, what makes a story powerful is not necessarily facts (as we know from Trump’s post truth approach) but how a story creates meaning in the hearts and minds of the listeners. Therefore, the obstacle to working in communities that are not supportive of under-represented groups we work with (women, people with disabilities, people with diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities, Expressions and Sex Characteristics aka LGBTIQ+ people) is not what they don’t know yet – but actually what they already do know. In other words, people’s existing assumptions and beliefs can act as narrative filters to prevent them from hearing social change messages.

A narrative power analysis seeks to unearth the hidden building blocks of these pernicious narratives, so that a narrative of diversity, equality, inclusion, liberation can better challenge them.

Current realities are often rooted in oppressive narratives. Our role as community development workers is to work with under-represented communities to undermine these narratives and replace them with new stories that help build a fairer, freer world.

In Sum: All power relations have a narrative dimension. Narrative Power Analysis is a systemic methodology for examining the stories that abet the powers that be in order to better challenge them.