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Institute of Advanced Study

Dr Richard Walsh

“The IAS fellowship has provided invaluable opportunities to try out my own ideas in a range of interdisciplinary contexts with my cohort of IAS Fellows, with the Hearing the Voice project, and with members of the English Department. I have gained considerably in the breadth of my own intellectual frame of reference from engaging with the work of other Fellows, and I have also profited from the experience of communicating my own research in this context.”

Dr Richard Walsh, University of York

IAS Fellow at Hatfield College, Durham University (October - December 2016)

Richard Walsh is a Reader in the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York. He is a narrative theorist with interests ranging from fictionality (in both literary and non-literary guises) to the nature of narrative cognition as a fundamental of human sense-making. He came to these concerns via doctoral research on innovative forms in American fiction conducted at the University of Cambridge, and post-doctoral work (begun as Keaseby Research Fellow in American Studies at Selwyn College, Cambridge) in which he developed a pragmatist, rhetorical model of fictionality and used it to interrogate many of the core concepts of narratology. He moved to York in 1995, and his research on narrative has acquired an increasingly interdisciplinary scope there, manifested especially in his work in the Interdisciplinary Centre for Narrative Studies, of which he is the founding director.

Dr Walsh is the author of Novel Arguments: Reading Innovative American Fiction (1995) and The Rhetoric of Fictionality (2007), the latter of which establishes the theoretical stance with respect to narrative theory that continues to inform his current work. It has proved an influential book, its challenge to narratological assumptions serving both to stimulate counter-argument and enable new theoretical developments in America and Europe (for example, the programme of the Centre for Fictionality Studies at Aarhus University). His publications since have ranged over literary topics (such as reflexiveness in narrative and fiction; the ideology of narrative voice, or of narrative theory; and the public value of literary study), cultural topics (for example, work on emergent and interactive narrative; and on the common basis of narrative and music) and cognitive topics (narrative cognition and its evolution; the contrast between narrative and complex systems models of behaviour; narrative and spatial cognition). He is the co-editor with Susan Stepney of an interdisciplinary volume of essays forthcoming from Springer, entitled Narrating Complexity.

In his capacity as director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Narrative Studies at York, Dr Walsh has led several collaborative projects and networks, notably the Fictionality Group (examining the functions of fictionality in diachronic and cross-cultural contexts); the Complexity in the Humanities group (involving scholars engaged with problems of complexity across York’s Humanities Research Centre); and the NarCS network (on the problematic interface between narrative and complex systems). The latter, which brings together participants from across Europe, was established in collaboration with the York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis, and brings together a radically interdisciplinary spectrum of complex systems scientists and narrative theorists. His work on fictionality led to a Visiting Professorship at Aarhus University in 2011, and his continuing contribution to narrative theory is manifest in his election as president of the International Society for the Study of Narrative in 2014 (the society’s first European president).

Dr Walsh’s current work includes a book project tracing the continuity between the basic affordances of narrative cognition and the highly developed cultural manifestations of narrative, which will draw together his broad interdisciplinary work on narrative and his work on fictionality. He is also engaged in a continuing exploration of the specific challenge that complex systemic processes present to narrative understanding, both for its implications in science communication and its theoretical value as a test case for the scope and, especially, the limits of narrative cognition. This work centres upon the objectivity and intelligibility of emergent behaviour; while at the IAS, he will be pursuing the implications, from a narratological perspective, of conceiving emergence within a paradigm based upon temporal and spatial scale rather than the more established model based upon levels of observation.

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Complexity, Scale, Story: narrative models in Will Self and Enid Blyton

11th October 2016, 17:30 to 18:30, Birley Room, Hatfield College


Will Self and Enid Blyton are not often mentioned in the same sentence, but this lecture will reveal that they have an unexpected interest in common: scale. By a happy biographical accident, I am well qualified to expound upon the particular focus of this common interest, which is a rather eccentric model village called Bekonscot. But both writers are also, of course, interested in stories, and that is where my more academic interest as a narrative theorist comes in. Their negotiations with questions of scale in their stories provide a point of departure for my own concern with the distinctive qualities and limitations of narrative form.
Narrative is itself a way of modelling, one specifically adapted to dealing with processes; it is highly privileged as such, both culturally and cognitively, yet it models some processes – specifically, complex systemic processes – rather poorly. Scale has a role to play in the context of complex systems, too, and my claim is that we can use it to mediate between complexity and story. By reflecting upon the way the notion of scale bears, respectively, upon complexity and upon narrative form, we can make some progress in understanding their problematic relation to each other.

Listen to the lecture in full.

Dr Richard Walsh Publications