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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellows' Seminar - Narrative Theory for Complexity Scientists? Narrative Cognition in an Interdisciplinary Context

21st November 2016, 13:00 to 14:00, IAS Seminar Room, Palace Green, Dr Richard Walsh (University of York, UK)

I came to the IAS with very specific questions about the implications that ideas of scale had for a narratological perspective upon emergence in complex systems. However, I also think that the theme of scale is applicable in a much broader and more generously interdisciplinary way that might better serve as the focus of this seminar. Those original questions arose in the context of my collaborative work with complex systems scientists on the problem of narrating complexity, out of which has come a volume of essays, and part of my editorial frame for those essays has been an introductory chapter called “Narrative theory for Complexity Scientists.” Writing this chapter has required me to recalibrate the scale of my thinking about narrative in two respects. Firstly, to re-think a conceptual framework that has been elaborated within a fairly narrow disciplinary frame in terms that are broad enough to engage different disciplinary interests not just across the humanities, but also to the range of sciences and social sciences that are the conceptual homes of my complex systems colleagues. Secondly, to re-think the concept of narrative itself in terms that framed the highly elaborate cultural and literary forms normally privileged by narratology with a much larger and more fundamental idea of narrative as a mode of cognition. My approach, in that chapter and for this seminar, is to present and elaborate upon a definition of narrative understood as a mode of cognition, in terms that don’t presuppose the conceptual framework of narratology (and indeed call into question some prevailing narratological assumptions). The goal is to identify the affordances and limitations of narrative cognition so as to make clear how and why these are consequential from the perspective of complexity science; but in doing so, I hope to make these ideas available for discussion across a whole range of other interdisciplinary contexts.


What, fundamentally, do we mean by “narrative,” as distinct from the narratives or stories that instantiate it?

Do the formal features of narrative cognition, understood as a mode of sensemaking upon which we are to some extent dependent, constrain the scope of knowledge or understanding in significant ways?

How might the affordances of narrative cognition inform the foundations of the framework of meaning and value with which narratives negotiate in their more sophisticated cultural forms?

Fellows' seminars take place on Monday lunchtimes in the seminar room at Cosin's Hall.

Places are limited and so any academic colleagues interested in attending a seminar should contact the Institute in advance to reserve a place.

The aim of these seminars is to develop new thinking on the big issues that are of current concern/interest for the Fellows . Each Fellow is asked to present a core idea that informs their current work, or a problem that they are tackling, that could benefit from cross-disciplinary thinking. These seminars are informal and designed to encourage discussion.

Contact for more information about this event.