Report on the Opening Symposium of the new research centre
Narrare: Centre for Interdisciplinary Narrative Studies is a new research centre, established at the University of Tampere (Finland).
The Opening Symposium of Narrare, “Interdisciplinary Narrative Studies Today,” was held on 8 October 2014.
Narrare draws together narrative studies conducted in different disciplines at the University of Tampere: literary studies, social sciences, health sciences, game studies, history, philosophy, psychology, education sciences. The research centre functions as a platform for national and international collaboration.
Narrare… the Latin verb for ‘to narrate’, derived from the adjective gnarus, refers both to having knowledge and being skilful.
The research centre thus approaches narrative as a mode of knowing, as a socially and culturally conditioned practice of sense-making, and as an art, exploring how different kinds of narratives construct social reality and shape and transform our ways of seeing the world.
Narrare focuses on interdisciplinary dialogue in narrative studies. It aims to provide new theoretical understandings of the basic concepts of narrative studies and to develop new methodological tools for scholars and students working in various fields.
The centre has four broadly defined foci that build on specific qualities of interdisciplinary narrative studies at the various schools of the University of Tampere. All the foci address the interrelation between artistic and everyday narratives and explore how cultural models of narrative sense-making are perpetuated, shaped and questioned across media. The four foci, which are shaped and change over time, provide a range of perspectives on contemporary narrative theory.
(1) Autobiographical and Cultural Memory
We explore the interplay between autobiographical and cultural memory, how they are formed in processes of storytelling and how fictive and non-fictive forms of historiography take part in shaping cultural memory.
(2) Health, Illness and Narrative: Border Zones of Meaning Construction
We are interested in those dimensions of human life and the self where concepts of narrative identity and autobiographical memory lose their precision and determination (due, for example, to aging, trauma, illness, injury, disability).
(3) Intermediality, Digital Narratives and Society
We focus on how experiences are narrativized in different media, particularly in different digital environments (social media, computer games) and narrative journalism, and how these intersecting storytelling practices construct social reality.
(4) Narrative Hermeneutics and Identity
We explore and theorize narratives as culturally and socially conditioned and historically changing forms of sense-making and as practices of (re)interpreting experiences that shape our sense of who we are and who we could be.
The research centre is open to different approaches to narrative studies and to new visions and ideas about productive directions for future collaborations. One of the purposes of the opening symposium was to discuss such visions and ideas.
The symposium “Interdisciplinary Narrative Studies Today” was opened with the welcoming address of the Vice Rector Pertti Haapala and Head of School Katariina Mustakallio; then I, as the Director of Narrare, gave an overview of the research centre. The keynotes of the symposium, by Jens Brockmeier (The American University of Paris), Henrik Skov Nielsen and Stefan Iversen (University of Aarhus), addressed the current stage of narrative studies in which there is little consensus about what narrative and narrative studies are about. Brockmeier emphasized that rather than a problem this is a sign of the maturity and refinement of the field. Iversen and Nielsen discussed fictionality as a communicative strategy and stressed the distinctiveness of fictional narratives, that is, how they invite specific interpretative strategies.
Matti Hyvärinen (Vice Director of Narrare) explored the notion of socio-narratology and hoped that social scientists would engage more thoroughly with narratological research and vice versa. Kirsi Peltonen discussed trauma psychology and the use of narrative for therapeutic purposes in the treatment of children suffering from war traumas. Maria Mäkelä explored the scope of narratology and defended the distinctive identity of narratology as a subfield of narrative studies. She discussed the different types of questions that are asked in different areas of narrative studies and suggested that narratology focuses on answering questions of how narrative texts are constructed (in discourse and in reading), while other areas of narrative studies explore a variety of other questions including how narratives shape the past, determine the present and project the future and how stories shape and reflect experience and identity. The last speaker, Sari Yrjänäinen, discussed narrative studies from the perspective of education sciences, particularly the function of narrative in school teaching environments and its relevance for pupils’ processes of learning and identity construction.
The symposium ended with a roundtable discussion with speakers of the symposium and Mari Hatavara (University of Tampere). We discussed in particular the possibilities, risks and challenges of interdisciplinary narrative studies. These risks include confusion resulting from the use of the same concepts in different (sometimes even opposite) ways as they travel from one discipline and discussion to another. The potential gains of interdisciplinary include the possibility of learning from each other and becoming aware of some of our most basic assumptions which can be so self-evident for us that we have grown blind to them.
We also discussed whether or not there are core concepts of narrative studies that can be seen as forming the nucleus of the field. After a lively discussion, we more or less agreed that no discipline has a privileged position in narrative studies. It depends on the research questions which concepts and discussions are most relevant; accordingly, different disciplines have made different types of contributions to interdisciplinary narrative studies. We all have something to learn from each other.
The symposium ended with a reception including a book exhibition that presented the research published by the researchers of Narrare, among them Hanna Meretoja’s monograph The Narrative Turn in Fiction and Theory (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
The symposium brought together about 60 scholars and students from different disciplines. We hope Narrare will engage in lively collaboration with other centres and networks of narrative studies, such as the European Narratology Network.
University of Tampere
Contact and further information:
Professor Hanna Meretoja, Director of Narrare: Centre for Interdisciplinary Narrative Studies, Hanna.Meretoja(at)uta.fi
Professor Matti Hyvärinen, Vice Director of Narrare: Centre for Interdisciplinary Narrative Studies, Matti.K.Hyvärinen(at)uta.fi
Coordinator Samuli Björninen, Samuli.Bjorninen(at)uta.fi