Political Narratives

We all think of ourselves as rational beings who weigh the evidence on various sides of an issue and then choose our position. But in practice—as detailed by George Lakoff with respect to climate change—we often arrive at these positions through the power of narrative framing.

If you’ve paid attention to American politics for the past several years, you may have felt the sensation that people on different sides of the political aisle are actually inhabiting different worlds, not just differing on a set of issues but on sets of facts, and sometimes the very nature of reality. According to Lakoff and others, that’s because people have different narrative frameworks for how they see the world, and these stories tend to drive their positions on a variety of issues.

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For this paper, you will be analyzing the narrative frames around a particular political controversy of your choosing (see list below). The goal of the paper is not to take a position in that controversy—to declare one side right or wrong, nor to predict who will eventually win out—but to explore the different stories people are telling when they talk about the issue, and when they try to persuade others.

The argument you’ll eventually make, then, will be an analytical one, as you attempt to answer some or all of the following questions:

How do people on different sides of the issue frame the controversy? What are the “stories” they tell about the issue?
How do people on one side of the issue talk about the opposition? How does that differ from how the opposition talks about itself?
Where do these narrative frames come from? Do they connect with other narratives people might believe in, such as religious narratives, or narratives about freedom, authority, power, democracy, or what it means to be a citizen?
How do these competing narrative frames filter down to day-to-day political and journalistic messages on the issue?

Controversies to choose from include:

Climate change/global warming;
The Black Lives Matter movement, police violence, protesters, All Lives Matter, etc. (a paper could consider some or all of these, but they sort of exist in the same constellation);
Monuments and memorials (Confederate monuments, or other controversial monuments that are part of that ongoing cultural conversation)

For this paper, you’ll be using a combination of our course readings and your own research. A suggestion would be to lean on the reading that lines up with your chosen issue area and then find some aspects of a second reading that can help you analyze that issue. These sources can include a mix of scholarly and non-scholarly sources, though you’ll need at least two scholarly sources in the paper, not counting our class readings.

The scholarly sources can be used to help you build your argument and analysis.

You can also incorporate various kinds of non-scholarly sources, including news stories or opinion pieces that might serve as examples of narrative framing. You can even include statements from politicians or social media posts (like tweets from politicians or political analysts) to provide examples of how the issue is being talked about.

Must use ‘Two Stories, One America’ as a source and one of the following depending on which topic you choose:
– https://theconversation.com/communicating-climate-change-focus-on-the-framing-not-just-the-facts-73028
– https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17524030903529749
– ‘Disciplining Black Activism’ Chole Banks (in downloads)
– ‘Destroying Confederate Monuments isn’t ‘erasing’ history’ (in downloads)

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