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Narrative theory

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2. Lesson Objectives

  • To understand a range of narrative theories.
  • To be able to apply narrative theory to the analysis of a media text.
  • To evaluate the usefulness of narrative theories.

3. Put these events in order

  • Detective investigates
  • Crime conceived
  • Crime discovered
  • Detective identifies criminals
  • Crime committed
  • Crime planned

4. The story is

  • a) Crime conceived
  • b) Crime planned
  • c) Crime committed
  • d) Crime discovered
  • e) Detective investigates
  • f) Detective identifies criminals
  • Could the story events be arranged in a different sequence to make the narrative more interesting?

5. The plot could be

  • d) Crime discovered
  • e) Detective investigates
  • f) Detective identifies criminals
  • a) Crime is conceived
  • b) Crime is planned
  • c) Crime is committed

6. Narrative Story vs. Narrative Plot

  • all events referenced both explicitly in a narrative and inferred (including backstory as well as those projected beyond the action)
  • the events directly incorporated into the action of the text and the order in which they are presented
  • NarrativeStory
  • NarrativePlot

7. Section A: Theoretical Evaluation

  • You will be asked 2 questions about your coursework.
  • Question 1(a) will ask you to describe and evaluate the development of your coursework from your AS Production to your A2 Production.
  • You will be asked to do this in relation to one or two of the following areas:
    • Digital technology
    • Creativity
    • Research and Planning
    • Post-production
    • Use of media conventions

8. Question 1(b)

  • Question 1(b) will ask you to choose one coursework product (either AS or A2) and evaluate it in relation to a theoretical concept.
  • The exam will specify one concept from the following:
    • Genre
    • Narrative
    • Representation
    • Audience
    • Media Language

9. Definitions of Narrative

  • Narrative is defined as a chain of events in a cause-effect relationship occurring in time (Bordwell & Thompson).
  • Narrative is a way of organising spatial and temporal events into a cause-effect chain of events with a beginning, a middle, and end that embodies a judgement about the nature of events (Branigan).

10. Narrative Theory

  • Narrative theory analyses the way in which media texts communicate meaning about events.
  • Narrative theory can be applied to range of different media including film, TV. Photographs, and magazines.
  • Narrative analysis of internet based media is more problematic, though may still be relevant.For example, you could consider how someones Facebook profile creates a narrative about their life.

11. Narrative

  • Read the chapter on Narrative Theory.
  • Note down key points about the following theorists:
    • Branigan
    • Propp
    • Barthes
    • Todorov
    • Levi-Strauss
  • How useful do you think their perspectives are?

12. Edward Branigan

  • Branigan argues that narrative is a way of organising spatial and temporal data into a cause-effect chain of events with a beginning, a middle and end that embodies a judgement about the nature of events.
  • What is Branigan saying?Can you think of an example?
  • Branigans key point is that the narrative will embody a judgement ideology and narrative.

13. Vladimir Propp

  • Propp suggests that there are a limited number of character types that share a function.
  • When an audience reads a media text it deploys its knowledge of these character types in order to decode the meaning of the text.
  • Can you relate any of the character types to the characters in your coursework products?

14. Tzvetan Todorov

  • Equilibrium disequilibrium resolution.
  • How might this be used to analyse the ideology of a media text?

15. Roland Barthes

  • Barthes identifies 5 narrative codes which readers use to decode texts.
  • He emphasises the active role of readers in creating meaning, and their culturally formed expectations.
  • The narrative codes are:
    • Action
    • Enigma
    • Semic
    • Symbolic
    • Cultural

16. Claude Levi-Strauss

  • Narratives are structured by pairs of binary oppositions.
  • How can this be used to analyse media texts?

17. Postmodern Narratives

  • Some theorists suggest that postmodern narratives are different from previous narrative structures.
  • Characteristics of postmodern narratives include:
    • Irony, playfulness, and black humour
    • Intertextuality
    • Pastiche
    • Metanarratives
    • Extreme self-reflexivity
    • Temporal distortion
    • Hyperreality
  • Linda Hutcheon argues that postmodern narratives can critique contemporary society by calling attention to the constructed nature of the society.

18. Review Theorists Theorist Key Words Todorov Propp Levi-Strauss Barthes 19. Narrative Analysis

  • Apply one of the narrative theories to the analysis of the music video.
  • Narrative analysis involves considering how a range of elements (including mise-en-scene, editing, camerawork, sound, as well as events) create meaning for the audience.
  • Narrative analysis focuses on how the meanings made by the audience are constructed?
  • How useful is this approach?

20. Todorov

  • Equilibrium the geeky girl is in love with the boy next door who only sees her as a friend.
  • Disequilibrium the boys girlfriend cheats on him?
  • Resolution the geeky girl is transformed into a beautiful girl and gets together with the boy.
  • What sort of values are reinforced by this narrative structure?

21. Propp character types

  • Hero character who seeks something Taylor Swift
  • Villain character who the hero must overcome the girlfriend
  • Princess the boy he is the reward for the hero.
  • What effect does the use of these character types have?
  • Why might the hero and villain be female?
  • What values are reinforced by this?

22. Levi-strauss binary oppositions

  • The video involves a number of pairs of opposites reflecting (and resolving) the narrative conflicts.
  • There are different sets of oppositions between the jock/the geek, and the cheerleader/the geek.
  • These oppositions identify the central ideological messages of the video.


  • Male
  • Sociable
  • Popular
  • Sport
  • Object
  • Female
  • Studious
  • Unpopular
  • Reading
  • Subject
  • Jock
  • Nerd

24. Levi-Strauss

  • What are the key conflicts?
  • Which values are dominant in the pairs?
  • How are the conflicts resolved?
  • What messages are conveyed through this narrative?

25. Barthes Narrative Codes

  • Action Viewers are expected to connect different pieces of narrative (e.g. The boy is shown arguing on his phone viewer assumes it is with his girlfriend).
  • Enigma Will the jock and the geek get together?
  • Semic glasses, book, notepads, red car, uniforms, white dress/red dress
  • Symbolic conflicts between male/female, popular/unpopular, different types of femininity
  • Cultural the video draws on stereotypes/cliches of teen movies jock, cheerleader, geek, girl next door, prom, etc.

26. Postmodern approach - Pastiche

  • Frederic Jameson argues that postmodern texts are characterised by pastiche.
  • A pastiche is an imitation of another genre or text.
  • Jameson argues that "Pastiche is...the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language.
  • Linda Hutcheon disagrees with this view arguing that postmodern texts use pastiche in a knowing way acknowledging the constructed nature of representation.
  • Does the cliched nature of the video act as a critique of the values it promotes?

27. Applying Narrative Theory

  • In pairs analyse one of your AS or A2 coursework products using narrative theories.
  • Work through either theoretical approach and consider how useful you find them.

28. How useful is narrative theory?

  • Consider how useful you think each of the following perspectives is:
    • Propp
    • Barthes
    • Todorov
    • Levi-Strauss
    • Postmodern Theory