Edited by Konstanze Jungbluth, Cornelia Müller, Nicole Richter, Hartmut Schröder
Multi-dimensional frameworks for new media narratives
Christian R. Hoffmann (ed.). 2010. Narrative Revisited. Telling a Story in the Age of New Media. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
This volume sets out to discuss the role of narratives in old and new media. The collection centers on two themes, one devoted to the description of narratives in new media environments which can be understood as a variety of forms and functions narratives assume in computer-mediated environments, e.g. weblogs, message boards, etc., and the other to the multimodal composition of new media narratives which typically feature multiple co-occurring semiotic modes such as speech, sound, text, static or moving images. As a matter of fact, this volume works with a broader scope of narratives and so even scholars and students in scientific disciplines other than those interested in the discursive and pragmatic dimensions of narratives will not be disappointed by this volume.
The volume contains revised papers from the international conference on Narrative Revisited: Telling a Story in the Age of New Media to honour Professor Dr. Wolfram Bublitz on the occasion of his 60th birthday at the University of Augsburg in 2007. This interesting and worthy collection contains ten papers, which are refreshing, not least because they are the first concise linguistic investigation of narrative texts produced and interpreted via the computer. The focus is on a wide array of authentic examples from text genres as diverse as political speeches, real-time narratives and contemporary feature films. The essays approach narratives from formal (linguistic), functional (pragmatic), social (sociolinguistic) and media (forms of communication) perspectives. This multi-dimensional perspective provides “theoretical access to a variety of narrative genres, spanning from non-verbal means which contribute to storytelling and spoken narratives in political speeches to new media storytelling on websites and weblogs and film narratives” (2). The select authors in this collection aim to show “the way stories are told today, emphasizing the parallels and differences between narratives in changing contexts as well as within different medial configurations” (2).
In the introduction, the editor defines the scope of narrative on the basis of Prince’s classic view of narratives and tells us that these essays are linked up by a certain view on narrative, namely, a view in which “narrative sequence (chronology and causality) and evaluation are considered essential to narratives albeit to differing degrees” (4).
The first essay, by Carla Bazzanella, draws a blueprint for all the following papers as it not only provides a general view of the contemporary research in computermediated communication, but also explains the contextual constraints on new media narration. This paper explores the five features of computer-mediated communication: interactional goals; spatial and temporal contexts; number, identity and common ground of interactants; socio-emotional features; and textual dimensions. Interestingly, while Bazzanella maintains that new technology plays an
important role, she also believes that “the narrative impulse, always value-laden, multipurpose and sensitive to context has found other ways of expressing itself, and has upset the usual relationship between being together and talking about events – one talks about events to be together” (19).
Hübler’s essay on the role of electronics in the perception of everyday narratives suggests that computer-assisted forms of viewing and techniques of analysis and notation are the only detailed and accurate way to study the problem of perceiving and describing/analyzing the verbal and the non-verbal, i.e. the prosodic and kinesic/gestural features in conversational narratives. The author uses examples from one TV-narrative to show how a computer-assisted form of analysis can help to study a narrative performance in the most insightful way by comparing different methods of analyzing such data.
Jucker’s essay concerning live text commentaries on the internet follows the pattern of finding similarities and differences which live text commentaries share with unscripted radio commentaries and personal narratives. He first compares the narrative elements of the online sport coverage to Labov’s (2006) classical elements of an oral narrative. Afterwards, he points out that the live text commentaries are not ephemeral in contrast to personal narratives and to unscripted radio commentaries.
Eisenlauer and Hoffmann’s essay on weblog identifies the four most widely used weblog genres as internet diaries, friendship blogs, career blogs, and corporate blogs. Within the theoretical framework of Labov and Waletzky’s (1967) structural model of narrative analysis, two examples of weblog entries are analyzed. By comparing the results of this analysis to Ochs and Capps’ (2001) multi-dimensional model of narration, the authors adapt the four weblog-specific narrative features of interactivity, fragmentation, multi-linearity and multi-modality into Ochs and Capps’ model to demonstrate the functions of weblog discourse.
Arendholz’s analysis of narratives in message boards, which is illustrated by authentic message board entries, is also based on the narration theories of Labov and Waletzky (1967) and Ochs and Capps (2001) with a special focus on the changed communicative
prerequisites of computer-mediated communication in general and of message boards in particular (110). Arendholz differentiates forums and message boards by a careful description of forum in its widest sense. A special emphasis is put on the aspect of storytelling of message boards.
Schubert discusses narrative sequence in political discourse on the internet. He points out four central functions of political narrative (personalizing, integrating, exemplifying, and polarizing). With the advent of the hypertext framework, they can be accentuated by placing online political speech in the form of politicians’ biographies, historical surveys and photo essays. The data for analysis consist of speeches by American presidents and British prime ministers.
Political discourse is also the topic of Fetzer’s essay. She defines form and function of the small story in political discourse. Besides, she analyzes how the small story works as a tool to integrate the private sphere and a public domain of life. The interpersonal aspect of small story is emphasized and its contextualization is explained within the Gricean framework.
Stenglin and Djonov’s essay Unpacking narrative in a hypermedia ‘artedventure’ for children is a case study of an online game Leonardo’s Workshop to explicate the role of narrative in educational hypermedia for children. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of narrative as a stimulus for children’s engagement with educational hypermedia games, the authors apply Systemic Functional Theory as analytical framework for the study of how the features that define narratives as “a type of western-culture story genre are distributed multimodally and hypertextually in this hypermedia game” (185). In order to provide a sufficient explanation, this theoretical framework integrates the notions of “genre” and “macro-genre” (Martin and Rose 2008), Djonov’s (2008) framework for analyzing logico-semantic relations in hypermedia, Appraisal Theory (Martin and White 2005), and Stenglin’s (2009) concepts of Binding and Bonding.
The last two essays focus on film discourse. Both essays draw an analogy between linguistic and filmic discourse. In Tseng and Bateman’s Chain and choice in filmic narrative, an analytical framework adapted from discourse semantic treatments of verbal text is used as a tool to study the narrative construction of film effectively. They propose that Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain (2006) provides a good example to illustrate their point and to demonstrate the cohesive ties which are used to help the public to understand the complex narrative structure of this film. Janney’s Film discourse cohesion approaches the topic from
the perspective of discourse in linguistics. Although there might be some differences between conceptual representation in language and perceptual representation in film, film and discourse are similar in terms of cohesive relations.
This collection may serve as a good introduction to linguistic and compositional structure and communicative functions of new media narratives as well as analytical changes and modifications to linguistic narrative theory. Taken collectively, two main themes are discussed: narratives in new media and multi-modal narratives. The book also offers a rich set of comparisons and contrasts between the narrative in old and new media so that what is new can be found by assessing the old. This collection will satisfy those looking for an understanding of contemporary trends in narratives, that is, understanding how exactly stories enter the digital realm and how the classic approaches to the analysis of narratives can be adapted to meet the sociotechnological needs of digital narration. Some papers revisit the structural and contextual aspects of stories in old to new media and others emphasize their pragmatic functions in discourse. In my opinion, all the papers help to achieve the editor’s two objectives related to the description of narratives in new media environments and the theoretical and empirical analysis of multimodal narratives. I would like to add that this fascinating and intelligent book should appeal to a wider audience than just those interested in narratives, and although it would not be suitable as a textbook, its many insights into different approaches and viewpoints on storytelling would be of interest and use to any teacher of narrative.
Djonov, Emilia. 2008. Children’s website structure and navigation. In: L. Unsworth (ed.), Multimodal Semiotics: Functional Analysis in Contexts of Education. London: Continuum 216–236.
Labov, William. 2006. Narrative pre-construction. Narrative Inquiry 16(1): 37-45.
Labov, William and Joshua Waletzky. 1967. Narrative Analysis. Journal of Narrative and Life History 7(1): 1–38.
Martin, James R. and David Rose. 2008. Genre Relations: Mapping Culture. London: Equinox.
Martin, James R. and Peter White. 2005. The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. London/New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Ochs, Elinor and Lisa Capps. 2001. Living Narrative. Creating Lives in Every Storytelling. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Prince, Gerald. 2003. Surveying Narratology. In: T. Kindt and H. -H. Müller (eds.), What is Narratology? Questions and Answers Regarding the Status of a Theory. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1–17.
Stenglin, Maree. 2009. Space Odyssey: Towards a social semiotic model of 3D space. Visual Communication 8(1): 35–64.