Storytelling Revolution

This Blog Has Moved.


Welcome to my little corner of the interwebs. I am an independent researcher, web developer, and foremost, a storyteller. I believe that stories can be used to teach, heal, and transform lives. This blog is dedicated to that discussion: from narrative identity research, to story-driven web applications, to tips on educational storytelling.

Start Here: Multimodal Storytelling – Transformational Stories – Research – Education

Narrative Identity and Anime: Fan Studies

This is part of a series drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with anime fandom to create a framework for exploring the relatedness between narrative, performance, and identity. I explore a theory of narrative identity in which individuals incorporate elements from narratives into their lives. I document how anime fans use anime-specific narrative resources such as archetypes, icons, and language to shape their personal identity narratives and perform those identities to both anime fans and non-anime fans.

Check out the rest of the series.

Why Study Fans?

“Most people are fans of something,” says Jonathan Gray in the introduction to Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World; from Potterheads, to Trekkies to Country Music Fans and Football Fanatics. “Fandom is beautiful…and [has become] an ever more common mode of cultural consumption.” (2007:1,7) Where fans were once seen as “odd” or “absurd” in their dedication to a single show or pastime, this fervor has become increasingly accepted and even promoted by enterprise. No longer is a fan someone who has “lost touch with reality,” but simply someone who “really loves that show” in the words of David, an anime fan in his mid-fifties.

Moreover, fandom has become a means of identification, especially for those who may feel marginalized by mainstream society. As the world shrinks through globalization, individuals find themselves with a growing array of identities to choose from. No longer are we simply defined by kinship group, religion, or occupation. We can now identify with social movements (women, gay men, lesbians, ethnic groups, disabled persons, etc.), social circles (networks through online socialization like Facebook), or common interest groups such as motorcyclists, extreme sports, scrap bookers or anime fans (Linger 2005:23).

So, again, why study fans? Why specifically study anime fans?

One answer is simple from an anthropological perspective: anime fandom exists and is important to people. These fans create a culture around anime; a culture with its own rules, taboos, taxonomies, initiations, and language. A second answer is that anime is a fascinating media exchange. The very word anime has crossed from Latin to Anglo-Saxon to Modern English to Japanese and then back to Standard American English (Drout 2010). Anime as an art form is a Japanese interpretation of an originally Western art form: animation. Anime is imported to the States, where it is picked up by individuals, for the most part, with no Asian identity. Few better examples of globalization and transcultural media exchange exist.

Building on the assertions from Linde, Wertsch, and Hydén and leaning on Irving Goffman’s theories of symbolic interactionism (Goffman 2002), we can craft a theory of narrative identity in which individuals incorporate elements from narratives (fictionalized, social, and others) into their personal identity narrative. The individuals then project this identity narrative by way of a performative identity. By using anime fans as an illustration, we can investigate this phenomenon in a specific, real-world context.

All these definitions will be detailed in Chapter Two, but they suffice now to form a central question: How do anime fans use anime to perform their personal identity narratives? Even anthropologists and scholars not interested in anime could find the finding here applicable to other settings. Researchers of narrative studies, media studies, fan studies, identity studies, and cultural exchange may be interested in various elements of the ethnographic findings.

Fan Studies

Francis Hsu (1963) posited that, in societies where clans and castes have become de-emphasized, people seek social identification through a system of clubs. The clubs are groups that become “imagined communities with false borders” (Anderson 2006), and play an integral role in constructing and disseminating cultural norms. Clubs do this chiefly by offering social resources that create “communities of practice” in which individuals use common social-symbolic tools to construct and perform their identities.

So, in our case, anime fandom is a community of practice that provides narrative resources, allows fans a place to test-drive these identities, and provides contexts into the redefinition and projection of personal identity narratives

As we are using anime fans as our example, it is important to discuss the history and important literature of both fan studies and anime studies. Fan studies is not a new field, as fans have always existed. In the early 1980s, scholars became interested in fandom through Michel de Certeau’s discussion of the powerful, the powerless, and media consumption (1988).

Fandom is a common feature of popular culture in industrial societies. It selects from the repertoire of mass-produced and mass-distributed entertainment certain performers, narratives or genres and then takes them into the culture of a self-selected fraction of the people. They are then reworked into an intensely pleasurable, intensely signifying popular culture that is both similar to, yet significantly different from, the culture of more ‘normal’ popular audiences. (Fiske 1992:36)

This first wave of scholarship saw fans as cast aside from the mainstream and looked down upon because of their devotion. It focused on the artifacts of extreme fandom such as conventions and gaming circles. Fandom was to be seen as a beautiful form of otherness and the study fans was dedicated to championing those disadvantaged within society. (Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007; Tulloch and Jenkins 1995).

This sort of binary did not do justice to those who loved a show and watched it religiously, but did not engage in any other forms of fan expression like fanfiction (fan-created texts based on more popular texts) and cosplay (costume-play). Meanwhile, the cultural status of fan changed, becoming more accepted and even promoted by corporate America, which wanted a dedicated consumer. This led to a focus on fan texts and a more literary investigation of fandom. The third wave of fandom strives to look at fandom as a more holistic and integrated aspect of life:

Here fandom is no longer only an object of study in and for itself. Instead, through the investigation of fandom as part of the fabric of our everyday lives, [this wave] aims to capture fundamental insights into modern life (Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007).

Contemporary fan studies has moved in many directions, mostly following fandom as it expanded to computer mediated, virtual spaces. As the field of interest matured, it became intertwined with a number of disciplines. Literary scholars still study fan produced texts, questions of canon, and textual evolution (Black 2006; Bronwen 2011; Kap 2006; Black 2007; Oviedo 2007). Many sociologists and psychologists investigate fandom in terms of intertextual conglomerations from multiple sources (Henry Jenkins 2007; Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007; Alters 2007). Fandom has even been looked at as therapeutic (Ashby 2010; Harris and Alexander 1998). Of course, business and marketing has a keen interest in fandom as consumption (Fiske 1992; Elliott and Wattanasuwan 1998).

While anthropologists have been slow to do ethnographic fieldwork in fandom, a number of researchers are looking at fandom on anthropological ways, specifically in fan interaction. Longhurst (2007:137) “seek[s] to connect contemporary cultural theory to the mundane practices of everyday life, and concludes that there is “evidence for the analytic power of the simple, mass, diffused characterizations…among the audience continuum.” Roberta Pearson looks at self-identification in fandom, classifications, taxonomies, and stigma attached to certain types of fans (2007)

Studies in anime texts are proliferous. Not only are there textual studies on the anime itself (Newitz 1995; Drazen 2003) and media studies on theme and craft (Kono 2011; Gustines 2007), but many scholars have looked at anime fandom in particular. Madeline Ashby’s (2010) cyborg theory to explore a fan’s online identity in contrast to the fan’s offline identity. Others look at how different regions produce different fandom experiences and attitudes about fans (Frasier 2007; Manion 2005).

It is also important at this point to clarify the notion of subculture versus popular culture versus counterculture and so on. These terms have been traditionally fuzzy. Many anthropologists prefer the term “popular culture” when describing groups such as the anime fans I interacted with because that does not draw the same sort of “hard line” around a group. This is important to recognize: anime fandom is not isolated or separated from other social circles. One is not a fan here, but not a fan there. In this way, popular culture may be more appropriate. However, since the prevailing term in fan studies as well as among anime fans is “subculture,” subculture will be used here. In any sense, the discussion on “communities of practice” is most helpful when speaking of a social context for the analysis of narrative identity.

Now that we have grounding in our subject group, let us turn to the analytical tools used in exploring how fans construct and perform personal identity narratives.

Ed Stories: 10 Elements of Educational Storytelling

This post is part of a series exploring basics of Educational Storytelling. Largely derived from my master’s thesis, The Value and Principles of Educational Storytelling (which can be read here), this series hopes to lay the foundation for an educational storytelling model regardless of setting and medium. 

Check out the rest of the series.

This is it. We have taken a long journey through educational stories and barely scratched the surface. In the best tradition of “memory episodes” from T.V. shows we love, I wanted to walk down memory lane. Here is the entire series boiled down into ten-ish bite sized bits🙂

Why Educational Stories?

Stories are part of humanity, and have been ever since, and probably before, humankind took to speech. John Niles even went as far as to call humankind Homo Narrans, “storytelling man.” Cultures have developed myths, legends, and works of fiction core to identity, history, and moral behavior, and the transmission of knowledge. This is not a past society phenomenon. Narrative still shapes our daily lives, be it intentional or unintentional. It seems that stories can be a great deal more than fun.

Fables are specifically useful in character education and the passing along of traditions, mores, and cultural ethics. Stories are not just effective in teaching social-oriented principles (like fables). Process-oriented principles like math, the scientific method, problem solving, and even computer programming can all benefit from storytelling.

1. A Good Story, Well told

At its heart, and educational story must be a good story. We can all relate to some cheesy special (though I bet you learned some good stuff). But, its simple: the better the story, the more attached we get, and the more powerful the opportunity to learn.

So, what does it mean to tell a good story? What is a story? Scholars and storytellers share a favorite past-time: arguing about the elements of a story. Some definitions include close to a dozen like setting, plot, character, theme, motif, symbol, point of view, and so forth. Since this is an introduction, and not a series on the elements of story, we will stick to a simpler definition of a story:

A person (character) doing something (plot) in a place and time (setting).

I won’t dive into the details here. This is a summary, after all. Fear not! I have three simple posts dedicated to character, plot, and setting just waiting for you.

2. Hero Audience Bonding

The first principle of educational storytelling is simple: the audience has to bond with and care about someone. We create a hero the audience can learn through. With an identifiable character, the audience can see through their eyes through empathy and emotion. As the hero progresses through the story, learning and problem solving, the audience will learn the same lessons.

What creates a “bondable” characters? In a dedicated post, I show that

  1. Identification with the character (“hey this person is like me!”)
  2. Empathy for the character (“I’ve felt that same way before”)
  3. Believability (“The character seems real”)
  4. and Complexity (a want, a wound, and a need)

are key to hero audience bonding.

3. The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey is a simple structure for story creation that I have adapted for educational purposes. The Hero’s Journey and The Hero’s Growth are paramount to educational storytelling.

I am a fan of simplicity. Many Hero’s Journey outlines include 12 or 15 stages plus a dozen archetypes. I have boiled this down to five pieces of the Journey, each with an important task to the journey and the growth.

  1. The Hero and the Cast of Characters – Main and supporting characters (from archetypes) that reflect, counterpoint, and aid the character. (Click the link to learn more)
  2. The Hero and the Ordinary World, Broken – Something goes terribly wrong in the hero’s ordinary world and they must set out into a strange world to get everything back to normal. This can be any ordinary and special world, so long as it is ordinary and special to the character.
  3. The Hero and the Journey – Once the hero steps into the special world, the trials begin. This may be a literal special world like a new city or fantasy world. It may also be a new venue or set of circumstances with different rules than the hero understands. This is where the Hero begins to learn.
  4. The Hero and the Moment – The climax of the story where the hero puts her new learning to the test.
  5. The Hero and the Repercussions – The hero now has what is needed to set her life back in order. They’ve grown from the experience and overcome the major flaw along the journey. Now, they re-enter their ordinary world to find they don’t quite fit anymore. She creates a new ordinary world melding the best from her experience and the world that surrounds her. Everything is in balance again.

4. Interactive Stories

An educational story must be active, not passive. This does not mean the audience must be moving during the story, but there must be a way for them to express, test, reconcile, and cement the knowledge. To use it. There are a lot of ways to do this, and its not as complicated as it may seem.

5. Presentation

An educational story will only be effective if it is engaging. Therefore, it is important to follow the conventions of whatever medium you chose to tell your story in. Each medium has its own flares, quirks, strengths and weaknesses. Prose allows you to crawl inside the readers mind, Video engage multiple senses, etc. Know your craft and choose the right medium for the story you are telling.

6. Learning Profiles

Just as every medium has its quirks, each form also engages different people in different ways. I have posted about individual differences and learning profiles, but its enough to say that some people are visual learners while others may learn best through hearing or movement. Specific storyforms lend themselves to these learning styles. Again, choose the right weapon.

7. Emotion

There is a reason you remember the joke your grandfather told you at six years old, but you cant remember what you had for breakfast. Emotion makes things memorable. This isn’t just an axiom, its biological science. There are specific, easy things you can do in any type of story to entice the brain to store the information away.

8. All Kinds of Learning

Educational stories are not just for “we shouldn’t lie” morality. They can be used to teach social-oriented lessons, process-oriented lessons (like math), and identity management.

Fables are so effective at social-orient learning because the audience can relate to the situations. In the case of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” the hare is overconfident, falls asleep, and loses the race to the steadily plodding tortoise. This narrative would seem to impart the moral message that, in the domain of human actions, perseverance will be rewarded but not sloth and overconfidence.”

Finally, stories are not just effective in teaching social-oriented principles. Process-oriented principles like math, the scientific method, problem solving, and even computer programming can all benefit from storytelling. Rina Zazkis and Peter Liljedahl use tell stories about math, mathematicians, and (most importantly) about math concepts. They use stories that “introduce, explain, ask questions of, and tell jokes about” mathematics. Folktales teach cause and effect, prediction, problem solving, and reasoning according to Math Catcher uses aboriginal storytelling to show algebraic concepts. Even “A Robot Story” teaches young children to count in binary through story. The repetitive nature of many oral stories can be helpful in teaching things like multiplication tables and the scientific method.

Stories can help students get in touch with themselves. “[Stories] have an obvious interpersonal value because they enable students to weave their unique histories into the fabric of the classroom community.” We can learn our relational place in the world through storytelling. For more discussion on this, check out my series about narrative identity.

9. A Memorable Experience

A good educational story must be memorable. It must grab the audience and not let them go, keeping them through emotion. It must also be an experience. Don’t let storytelling become a passive thing that keeps kids quiet for a few minutes. Leverage the power of narrative to truly transform lives.

And that ends my series. Hopefully, I have laid the foundation (both theoretically and practically) for educational storytelling. We set out with the goal of

Laying the foundation for an educational storytelling model regardless of setting and medium. Specifically, we will explore the value, history, theoretical foundation, and basic use cases for educational storytelling as well as common elements of engaging storytelling. The last major aim of this  series is to outline a model for basic educational storytelling. The differences between teaching social-oriented principles (values, identity, etc) and process-oriented principles (math, science, etc) will be explored.

I feel I have at least touched on these goals. This blog is about transformational storytelling, and educational stories are at the heart of that. I am not finished. Together we will continue to work through the tough ideas and come up with practical solutions because

There is no joy like the simple joy of a tale well told.

Narrative Identity and Anime: A Brief Intro to Anime

This is part of a series drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with anime fandom to create a framework for exploring the relatedness between narrative, performance, and identity. I explore a theory of narrative identity in which individuals incorporate elements from narratives into their lives. I document how anime fans use anime-specific narrative resources such as archetypes, icons, and language to shape their personal identity narratives and perform those identities to both anime fans and non-anime fans.

Check out the rest of the series.

“Anime” literally means animation from Japan. In popular circles, however, and especially among fans, anime is characterized by a specific visual style. Merriam-Webster defines anime as “a style of animation originating in Japan that is characterized by stark colorful graphics depicting vibrant characters in action-filled plots often with fantastic or futuristic themes”(2005). While it is true that anime is as varied as any art form, anime fans, critics and the general population identifies anime with some common visual tropes such as large eyes with richly colored corneas, multi-colored hair, stark animation, exaggerated style, and dramatic camera angles.

Frequently, visual cues take root in Japanese comics, Manga. Often, manga series will spawn anime spinoffs or remakes. Many of the terms used to describe anime also have their roots in manga such as sojo (anime or manga for girls), shonen (anime or manga for boys up to 18), seinen (anime or manga for young adults), and seijin or hentai (anime or manga with adult, often graphic themes). Certain reoccurring anime themes also owe their existence to manga. The “giant robot” genre, “real robot”, and retelling of Japanese folklore were all made popular by the “god of manga,” Osamu Tezuka. Manga series are also known for their very long runs and extensively complex storylines. This has been adapted to anime in series like Gundam and Pokémon with universes more complex than almost anything found in Western literature.

Anime fandom became more prominent in Japan during the 1970s. The Japanese film market began to shrink because of television competition, which led to experimentation and the adaptation of manga styles. This created many of the current features of anime and gave rise to a couple key genres such as Mech and Space Operas. A subculture in Japan formed around magazines. This group called was called otaku which generally means someone obsessed with something, usually games, anime or manga.

Astro Boy (1963) was the first television-produced anime series, and the first anime to be widely distributed overseas (Clements 2006). Through the 1970s and 1980s the worldwide export of anime grew beginning what has been called the “golden age of anime” and the “second golden age” of Japanese cinema (Kehr 2002).

In America, anime fandom began growing 1980s, taking cues from the otaku of Japan. These small groups would gather to watch pirated episodes on VHS tapes. The imports of anime and manga were difficult because of price and translation issues. After the computer revolution in the 1990s, an undercurrent of anime culture began to grow in the United States, fueled by increasing interest in goods from Japan. The internet opened the door for anime fans to connect with other fans and share their media.

At the same time, main-stream television began replaying dubbed anime such as Gundam, Pokémon and Sailor Moon. Several networks reformatted their late-night programming around anime. Soon after, anime began to hit the mainstream market as “Japanimation,” graphic novels started to climb in the bookseller charts, many stores adding a dedicated manga section by the early 2000s.

By 2010, anime style had taken a powerful place in influencing popular culture. Many American films and television shows borrow hallmark anime style techniques, clothing and fashion has assimilated an anime look, and graphic novels in manga form have become bestsellers for children’s and young adult fiction.

Even with this growing popularity, the kind of fanatical devotion many “true” anime fans exhibit has not been adopted by the mainstream. This will be discussed in detail later. Therefore, many anime fans sit just outside the cultural norm here in the United States. Many consider themselves a counterculture or a subculture, holding meetings to watch and discuss anime, dressing in anime character costumes, and interacting intensely with other fans through the World Wide Web.

The 2000s also gave rise to satires and non-Japanese competition (such as Transformers Galaxy Force and Avatar: The Last Airbender) that borrow anime aesthetics which become popular, showing the wide acknowledgement of anime. Anime has become such an important aspect of Japan’s financial health that, in 2008, the Japanese government created the position of Anime Ambassador and appointed Doraemon as the first Anime Ambassador to promote anime worldwide in diplomacy (Doraemon Swon in as Anime Ambassador 2008).

In the next post, I will introduce Fan Studies and Anime Studies before we dive into our analytical framework for narrative identity.

Ed Stories: Interactivity

This post is part of a series exploring basics of Educational Storytelling. Largely derived from my master’s thesis, The Value and Principles of Educational Storytelling (which can be read here), this series hopes to lay the foundation for an educational storytelling model regardless of setting and medium.  Check out the rest of the series.

We are nearing the end of our Basics of Educational Stories series. In total, we have looked at the basic elements of story, the value of educational storytelling, the Hero’s Journey and how it can be used in educational stories, and the first four of five principles: Hero Audience Bonding, Emotion and Learning, Presentation, and Learning Profiles. Now we dive into the fifth principle: Interactivity. In many ways, interactivity is a capstone of the other principles. When a story is interactive, it gives a more genuine bonding experience and increases emotional involvement, makes a much stronger presentation, and complements a variety of learning profiles. If interactivity is the capstone, it can also be called the bedrock. When a story is interactive in some way (even if just encouraging the audience to picture themselves in the protagonists place), it encourages the other principles by design. Interactivity holds it all together and shoots steroids into an educational story. By designing stories that are interactive and allow the student the chance to participate, the repetition of processes can be made more interesting. Younger students, especially, have a great ability to learn as they interact. The hero may ask the audience for help, the storyteller may include exercises into the story, and the story will most definitely include the hero working through the processes in order to reinforce the learning. Stories can also be used to introduce concepts that lie behind the processes in process-driven principles. When a character uses addition with something other than cold numbers (perhaps bails of grain to feed the village) the learning is adapted for those who struggle with logical-mathematical intelligence. People relate to narrative. Why is interactivity is so important to educational storytelling?

  • Learn by solving problems

We learn by doing. What better way to learn through storytelling than by doing through storytelling. This kind of interactivity would suggest having puzzles, quizzes, or other challenges that require the audience (learner) to master a skill or knowledge to continue. The story could even take a twist depending on how the reader solves said problems.

  • Ownership = emotional investment

As we discussed earlier, emotion strengthens learning, especially in storytelling. When a learner gets to impact the story, they take ownership and pride in that story. That equates to an emotional investment.

  • Get to see consequences of decisions

Through interactivity, the reader also gets the benefit of trial and error in a safe environment. Here, they can learn from the actions of (fictional) others without having to deal with the consequences themselves.

What “Interactive” Could Mean

The first question to consider is what makes a story interactive. Honestly, almost any story is interactive by default because the reader interacts with the protagonist through empathy. That being said, let’s be more specific. I mean interactive to mean an approach to storytelling where the audience manipulates the course of events or presentation of the story. In this way, the audience becomes part of the story and/or story creation process. In his post (Seven) Interactive Story Ideas Aided by Technologyauthor Chris Michaels (me) lists some possibilities:

1. Giant Madlib

What about a story that knows your reader? Not your target audience, but your specific reader. Before the story started, the reader input several details about their life: favorite color, vacation, fears, etc. And the story, like the world’s best madlib, put these details in the right spot, making each experience different. Unique to the reader.

2. Bonus Features

Blue-ray discs have them, why not books? Deleted chapters, character interviews, behind the scenes commentary. You get the idea.

3. Choose Your Own Path

I’ll admit, this isn’t exactly a new idea. With technology, however, you can do a classic “choose your own adventure” story in really interesting ways. One example is the inklewriter.

4. Maze where reader solves puzzles

What if, like a video game, the reader could not progress until they’ve solved the puzzle for your character? Lost in a labyrinth or on a clue hunt? Personally, I’d love this.

5. Collaborative (wiki) Story

Wikis (as in wikipedia) are collaborative documents that many people can edit. Open wikis are open to everyone to edit. Most, like wikipedia, are semi-closed. You must have a reputation to edit important articles. Why not let a story evolve in this same way? Discuss, collaborate, and create something better than you may have imagined.

You can read the rest of his post here.

Endless Possibilities

These are just some of the ideas that allow the audience to take control of, engage with, and interact with content. Not just stories benefit from this idea, either. Picture new systems that allow you to curate each article or even co-author with endless other people. Or even a virtual reality system that gives the audience the ability to move around Middle Earth. Yes, games are interactive content, too!

A Few Basic Principles

Drawing from an original post from Phoenix Labs, we can define some basic principles for interactive content in general. (I wrote this post and founded Phoenix Labs, so I give myself permission to use it, lol).

  • Not for Novelty -None of this is for novelty. None is “just because it’s cool.” The interactivity carries the content.
  • Stimulate Multiple Senses -When possible, harness the power of multiple senses. Even if you can’t actually do scratch-and-sniff, describe or symbolize that sense.
  • Guided (linear) or Free (non-linear) – Does the audience interact to get to the next piece or are they allowed to explore their own path?
  • Simplicity and Easy to Follow -no one wants to “work” through content. They want it to be fun, engaging, simple, and easy to follow.
  • High Quality – Whatever interactivity we choose, we should make sure it is of the highest quality for that craft.

In addition, some things to consider for educational interactive stories:

  • Interactivity integrated into the overall learning goals
  • Use as assessment, introduction, and skill building
  • Mix up interactive elements to suit different learning profiles
  • Must be fun! Engaging! A good story in its own right, not just educational.

And that concludes our look at the Basics of Educational Storytelling. Next up is a quick review of the 10 Elements of Educational Stories.

Virtual Reality Storytelling and the Future

One of my favorite books is the steampunk adventure Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld set during an alternate-history First World War. The world is lush and well thought out and the characters are incredibly real. Not to mention he is a word-smith extraordinaire.

So, imagine my excitement when I found a virtual reality lab building his world.

This is part of the Creators Project and is being carried out by a group of USC students and professors. They are experimenting with creating landscapes for stories to emerge from. The idea being, if you create a story space and let people interact inside it, unique stories will emerge. This is a similar concept to fan studies, but on a new level.

Keep you eye on this project. I will continue to bring you updates.

Narrative Identity and Anime: Questions, Definitions, and Directions

This is part of a series drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with anime fandom to create a framework for exploring the relatedness between narrative, performance, and identity. I explore a theory of narrative identity in which individuals incorporate elements from narratives into their lives. I document how anime fans use anime-specific narrative resources such as archetypes, icons, and language to shape their personal identity narratives and perform those identities to both anime fans and non-anime fans.

Check out the rest of the series.

Stories are part of humanity, and have been ever since, and probably before, humankind took to speech. John Niles (Niles 2010) even went as far as to call humankind Homo Narrans, “storytelling man.” But let’s take that though a little further. To what extend do people use narrative to build their personal identities?

I first posit that the “narrative” as a “sense-making” structure that gives the “bones” allowed for people to “create and give meaning to our social reality (Hydén 1997:50).” Further, I suggest that narratives can be effectively and intentionally used to teach, to shape, and to guide behavior.

In a general sense, this is building off of work by Joseph Campbell (2008) and Carl Jung (1981), who had complimentary notions of archetypes as described in Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey (2007) where mythic narrative elements (archetypes and journeys) act as guides for personal and social behavior. Bronisław Malinowski also discussed the idea of a social charter (1971) where myths act as guides or a sort of playbook for behavior.

In more recent years, Charlotte Linde, an anthropologist, theorizes about the use of narrative as a sense making structure and story as a resource for identity management during her ethnography of an American Insurance Company (2003; 2000). The definition of “narrative” will be discussed in detail later, but for now we will define story as a presentation of events, whether real or fictitious, involving three primary elements: plotting, character, and setting (Morrell 2006:51). Linde details how incoming employees use stories from training materials and social settings to mold their own identity and guide their behavior in the workplace.

James Wertsch, an anthropologist from Washington University in St. Louis, carries this further by postulating that narratives are the primary sense-making structure, and are carried collectively by groups as part of a narrative schema inside a social circle’s collective memory (2008; 2000). Indeed, the study of illness narrative inside medical anthropology suggests that narratives can be used to, among other things: 1) to reconstruct one’s life in line with a greater narrative, 2) as a form of strategic interaction in order to assert or project one’s identity, and 3) to transform illness from an individual into a collective phenomenon.

So, it can be asserted that narratives are instrumental in creating, shaping, and projecting (or performing) identity.

Narrative is the central sense-making structure that allows human beings to arrange, categorize and present symbolic ideas. Hydén (1997:50) said, it has only been recently that “social scientists began to consider narratives as one of the ways in which we create and give meaning to our social reality. To earlier generations of social scientists, the narrative was merely one of many forms of representation.” Therefore, narrative provides the schema or roadmap for symbolic ideas to be connected and interpreted. Narrative is built in the same way story is: with character, plot and setting.

Identity, according to Joel Charon is “the name we all call ourselves” and also “the name we announce to others that tells them who we are.” (2009:84) Identities are positional or relational. They are “perceived social locations of the individual where one has situated [themselves] in relation to others,…[and] the name one tries to communicate with others” (Stone 2011:93).

So our working definition of identity is the socially constructed, socially maintained, and socially transformed meanings a person attributes to himself or herself (Berger 2011; Burke 1980).

To further clarify definitions, I will call the internal “identity” the personal identity narrative, here meaning the story we tell ourselves, about ourselves. The external “identity” in the paragraph above, I shall refer to as the performative identity, meaning the “me” we attempt to show others.

These definitions come together in the theory of narrative identity which we described earlier as the interplay between narratives and social identity construction in which individuals incorporate elements from narratives (fictionalized, social, and others) into their personal identity narrative and attempt to project this identity narrative by way of a performative identity.

The triad of narrative identity is an analytical framework that is used to analyze narrative identity by describing the connectedness between the shaping and projecting of narrative identity using narrative resources.

Narrative resources are narrative elements that provide symbolic points of reference, context, and content for fashioning identity and for performing identity.

These three aspects work in concert together: personal identity narratives, performative identities, and narrative resources. This works in a procedural way:

  1. Narrative resources exist “out there” and are shared by both audience and performer. They do not have the exact same set, and both interpret these symbols differently.
  2. The actor uses these shared resources to cobble together a personal identity narrative. That is “Who do I say I am?”
  3. That personal identity feeds into the performative identity: Who do I want others to know I am?
  4. The performance is the observable interaction projected by the actor.
  5. The audience relies on the shared narrative resources for audience interpretation.
  6. This creates the perceived self, or perception of the actor. This is who the audience thinks the actor is.
  7. The audience provides feedback, both intentionally and unintentionally.
  8. That feedback influences the performance, which influences the performative identity, which can ultimately influence the personal identity narrative.

Consider this simple example: Jerry is a football fan. His personal identity narrative is, therefore, informed by narrative resources that may include sports narratives, sports jargon and personal experiences. Jerry also performs this identity in order to situate himself as an athlete among his circle of friends. In order to communicate this, he again draws on narrative resources. In this case, those resources may be a brand of clothing that carries symbolic weight and that the group understands to point towards athletes. He may also adopt (enact) certain gestures and language that have been made popular by celebrity athletes. The audience (individuals in his circle of friends) sees these performance features and associates Jerry with athletics, therefore perceiving him as an athlete.

Going forward, I will attempt to walk a three-sided line. First and foremost, I will strive to enable anime fans to share their own voices through their own interviews, interpretations, and performances.

The second line is an attempt to create an analytical framework for investigating the theory of narrative identity. This framework will help us draw conclusions about the form and substance of narrative identity in social contexts. This is a test, and it may be that the framework is insufficient or plain faulty.

The third line is to fit this work in with the larger question of stories for education, identity management, and transformation. I will discuss some applied approaches and further directions for research of this type.

In broad sections, I will dive into the history and theory around narrative identity, then present my ethnographic findings from a year with anime fans. Next, I will discuss the Triad of Narrative Identity through the lens of my ethnographic work. Finally, I will explore broader implications and further directions.

Stay tuned!

Series: The Triad Narrative Identity and Anime Fandom

This blog and my research, is devoted to transformational storytelling. At the core transformational storytelling research is the simple question, “why people respond so strongly to stories?” If we can find those secrets, we can exploit them to create stories that teach, heal, call to social action, and transform lives.

One great way to explore the connection between humans and stories is to explore groups who have observable, passionate, and strong connections to a specific cannon of stories. Many such groups come to mind: novelists, folklorists, storytellers, and fans. Fans pose an especially interesting case because they so often adopt the elements of stories and integrate them into their daily lives, in effect living out the stories they love to some extent. Is that not exactly what we are looking to investigate?

As I have discussed in another mini-series about storyworlds, there are many different expressions of individuals integrating elements of story into their personal identity narrative. This series is an in depth exploration of one small group of anime fans and a general look at the larger world of anime fandom.

Originally, this research was conducted for my Master’s Thesis entitled “Call Me Suzaku: An Analysis of Anime Fandom, Narrative, and the Performance of Identity which I completed while earning my M.A. in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Houston. For a full year, I embarked on a participant-observation ethnography with local anime fans in Houston, Texas. I attended watch parties, talked about anime, cosplayed, went to conventions, did interviews, and a lot more. What I learned astounded me.

In the end, I used these techniques and lessons to craft a work-in-progress framework for analyzing the way individuals and groups integrate elements of story into their personal lives. This series will overview that process and my initial findings.

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