In this chapter, we first define counter-narratives as a theoretical construct. We argue that counter-narratives are uniquely distinguished by an illocutionary force intended to challenge background assumptions supporting an intertextually related alternative narrative. However, whether narratives are ‘mastering’ or ‘countering’ is not to be determined on universal grounds, but contingent upon the structure of social, cultural, and political power of interactive and contextual conditions. Next, we detail the narrative practice approach (Bamberg 2020) and exemplify it with an analysis of two opposing closing arguments of a defense lawyer and a district attorney for a murder case. Analyzing the two statements as narratives (small stories) helps us to reveal two alternative positioning strategies—one identifiable as aligning with the master narrative of care, the other of justice (cf. Gilligan 1980). In our concluding section, we make use of these two positioning strategies to demonstrate the power of the master narrative of justice for the construction of a criminal identity, and the problems this poses for counter-narratives that facilitate the social reintegration of offenders and lowering rates of re-offending.
- Master narratives
- Narrative practice
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The reasons for why we refer to these statements or arguments as narratives are laid out in more detail in Bamberg and Wipff (2020), and touched upon in our opening paragraphs.
Third-person stories, i.e., stories that thematize the actions of others, typically are precluded from narrative research, because they arguably don’t give insight into first-person experiences. However, as we have argued repeatedly, third-person narratives are as worthy of positioning and identity analysis as are first-person stories. Courtroom narratives are a good example.
It should be kept in mind that we are analyzing a fictional representation for viewers that is produced through the lens of cameras. Camera angle, sequence and duration of shots and other techniques are extremely important in the production of emotion transportation (generating affective responses in the viewer)—as for instance the coinciding of a pointing gesture of the DA at one of the jury members with line 67, and, what will be viewed as the juror’s facio-affective reaction—all taken in by the viewer and bodily-affectively processed.
We made a similar point when analyzing medical interactions between doctors, nursing staff, and researchers (cf. Bamberg 1991; Bamberg and Budwig 1992), emphasizing how caring and curing form two differing sense-making strategies (master narratives) that typically ‘sit’ side-by-side, but at certain circumstances can collide and lead to miscommunication.
We recommend watching the ending scene of The Breakfast Club, retrieved February 14, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sv1I4q6lOpo. Interestingly, for the German version (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_10mJG2sZqE) the character of ‘the criminal’ is dubbed ‘ein Freak.’
These kinds of constructs reach back as far as Adler’s (1931) and other psychologists’ ruminations about ‘asocial’ personality characteristics of the criminal.
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Bamberg, M., Wipff, Z. (2020). Counter-Narratives of Crime and Punishment. In: Althoff, M., Dollinger, B., Schmidt, H. (eds) Conflicting Narratives of Crime and Punishment. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-47236-8_2
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