Notes on narrative, cognition, and cultural evolution

TitleNotes on narrative, cognition, and cultural evolution
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsGrishakova, M, Sorokin, S
JournalSign Systems Studies
Date Publisheddec
Keywordsattention, cognition, complexity, cultural evolution, development, narrative, post-Darwinism, symbolic representation

Drawing on non-Darwinian cultural-evolutionary approaches, the paper develops a broad, non-representational perspective on narrative, necessary to account for the narrative “ubiquity” hypothesis. It considers narrativity as a feature of intelligent behaviour and as a formative principle of symbolic representation (“narrative proclivity”). The narrative representation retains a relationship with the “primary” pre-symbolic narrativity of the basic orientational-interpretive (semiotic) behaviour affected by perceptually salient objects and “fits” in natural environments. The paper distinguishes between implicit narrativity (as the basic form of perceptual-cognitive mapping) of intelligent behaviour or non-narrative media, and the “narrative” as a symbolic representation. Human perceptual-attentional routines are enhanced by symbolic representations: due to its attention-monitoring and information-gathering function, narrative serves as a cognitive-exploratory tool facilitating cultural dynamics. The rise of new media and mass communication on the Web has thrown the ability of narrative to shape the public sphere through the ongoing process of negotiated sensemaking and interpretation in a particularly sharp relief.


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ENN is the European Narratology Network, an association of individual narratologists and narratological institutions. ENN aims to foster the study of narrative representation in literature, film, digital media, etc. across all European languages and cultures.