Workshop: The Role of Narrativity in the Study of Violence
Updated: Nov 8
Stories make us human. They help us make sense of things, from complex ones such as quantum physics to our seemingly simple everyday experiences. Occasionally, however, we face events that seem to escape words. Psychological, emotional, and physical violence are experiences that are particularly difficult to process and integrate into our personal narratives. Telling stories for those who had suffered violence is thus the first step towards making sense of what had transpired, healing, moving forward, enacting agency, and, finally, regaining a sense of power and control over their own lives.
Narratives of violence cannot be tackled from a single discipline alone. Understanding them is complex and calls for an array of different perspectives. That is what we aimed to achieve last week on 3 and 4 November at the first of the two workshops on Narratives and Narrativity in the Study of Violence at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main organized by the interdisciplinary research initiative Power and Abuse (Macht und Misbrauch), which gathers researchers from across social sciences and humanities who are working on the topic from a narrative-theoretical perspective and who are interested in an interdisciplinary exchange.
Eight talks and two plenaries delivered by an international group of eleven speakers covered a broad sweep of disciplines – from anthropology, education, history, linguistics, literature, philosophy, sociology, to theology. Seemingly fundamentally different in their approach, the talks opened some important lines of research and offered intellectually exciting disciplinary views.
A substantial proportion of both days of the workshop was taken up by presentations from the participants who offered their own perspectives upon the relation between narratives and violence. The dialogue following each presentation proved especially stimulating, showcasing how much of the content resonated across disciplines, opening venues for further reflection.
On the first day, the case studies of transgenerational trauma in Switzerland by Andrea Abraham, violent attacks of India’s right-wing student organization ABVP (All India Students’ Council) by Aastha Tyagi, testimonies of child sexual abuse in Israel and Germany by Sabine Andresen and Talia Glucklich, and violence under the final wave of collectivization in Hungary (1959—1961) by Gábor Csikós showcased how the gulf between the experience of violence and narrativity can be analytically brought in relation to each other in different ways. The talks drew together the threads of dispersed work, identifying local insights, and yet sifting out common themes.
Two themes that clearly emerged for me during the first day were that of making peace through narratives and, as a global issue, the role of the researcher in capturing narratives and their complexity as well as facilitating and protecting the stories of people who had suffered violence. Monika Bobbert addressed the latter of the two in detail and provided some answers to the burning question of a researcher’s ethical responsibility in the study of violence.
We restarted the discussion on Friday, 4 November, by further emphasizing the role of power dynamics in its different forms: from adding a theoretical dimension in the keynote by Doris Reisinger, explorations on negotiations of sexuality and violence in the narratives of young adults by Nina Schaumann, violent attitudes towards infants by Tatjana Dietz, to my own (Morana Lukač) presentation on the stories of narcissistic abuse. Vicoria Lupascu engaged with the topic while focusing on fictional narratives in ink painting and graphic novels showing how narratives of violence can be told through images and not words alone.
The workshop achieved what it aimed to do, establishing a dialogue between studies and conceptual paradigms they embody. Instead of perhaps reaching a consensus or a synthesis of ideas, we observed patterns and similar insights albeit from different perspectives. Even more importantly, the conversations led to an exchange that is likely to generate new research impetuses. An additional outcome of the intellectually stimulating event is the proposal to produce papers for a special journal issue aiming to open the many facets of research questions raised by the The Role of Narrativity in the Study of Violence workshop.