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{{short description|A theory that gives comprehensive interpretation to events or experiences based on a claim of universal truth}}A metanarrative (also meta-narrative and grand narrative; ) in critical theory and particularly in postmodernism is a narrative about narratives of historical meaning, experience, or knowledge, which offers a society legitimation through the anticipated completion of a (as yet unrealized) master idea.J. Childers/G. Hentzi eds., The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (1995) p. 186R. Appignanesi/C. Garratt, Postmodernism for Beginners (1995) pp. 102–3Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Explained to Children (1992) p. 29


"Meta" is Greek for "beyond"; "narrative" is a story that is characterized by its telling (it is communicated somehow).The Meta-Narrative. "Lesson 1: What is a Meta-Narrative?". YouTube. October 11, 2013.Although first used earlier in the 20th century, the term was brought into prominence by Jean-François Lyotard in 1979, with his claim that the postmodern was characterised precisely by a mistrust of the "grand narratives" (Progress, Enlightenment emancipation, Marxism) that had formed an essential part of modernity.Childers pp. 166–7

Post-structuralist skepticism

In (The Postmodern Condition|The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge) (1979), Lyotard highlights the increasing skepticism of the postmodern condition toward the totalizing nature of metanarratives and their reliance on some form of "transcendent and universal truth":Lyotard, Jean-François. Introduction:The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge," 1979: xxiv–xxv. {{webarchive|url= |date=2007-06-10 }}Lyotard and other poststructuralist thinkers (like Foucault)G. Gutting ed., The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (2007) p. 36 view this as a broadly positive development for a number of reasons. First, attempts to construct grand theories tend to unduly dismiss the naturally existing chaos and disorder of the universe, the power of the individual event.C. Nouvet et al eds., Minima Moralia (2007) pp. xii–iv

Replacing grand, universal narratives with small, local narratives

Lyotard proposed that metanarratives should give way to petits récits, or more modest and "localized" narratives, which can throw off" the grand narrative by bringing into focus the singular event.Nouvet, p. xvi Borrowing from the works of Wittgenstein and his theory of the "models of discourse",Hans Bertens, The Idea of the Postmodern: A History, Routledge, 1995, p124. {{ISBN|0-415-06011-7}} Lyotard constructs his vision of a progressive politics, grounded in the cohabitation of a whole range of diverse and always locally legitimated language-games.Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Differend'' (1988) p. 151-161Postmodernists attempt to replace metanarratives by focusing on specific local contexts as well as on the diversity of human experience. They argue for the existence of a "multiplicity of theoretical standpoints"Michael A. Peters, Poststructuralism, Marxism, and Neoliberalism: Between Theory and Politics, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001, p7. {{ISBN|0-7425-0987-7}} rather than for grand, all-encompassing theories.

Narratology and communication

According to John Stephens and Robyn McCallum, a metanarrative "is a global or totalizing cultural narrative schema which orders and explains knowledge and experience"Stephens, John and Robyn McCallum. (1998). Retelling Stories, Framing Culture: Traditional Story and Metanarratives in Children's Literature. {{ISBN|0-8153-1298-9}}. – a story about a story, encompassing and explaining other "little stories" within conceptual models that assemble the "little stories" into a whole. Postmodern narratives will often deliberately disturb the formulaic expectations such cultural codes provide,J. W. Bertens/D. Fokkema, International Postmodernism (1997) p. 186 pointing thereby to a possible revision of the social code.E. D. Ermath, Sequel to History (1992) p. 156In communication and strategic communication, a master narrative (or metanarrative) is a "transhistorical narrative that is deeply embedded in a particular culture".Halverson, Jeffry R., H.L. Goodall Jr. and Steven R. Corman. Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. p. 14 A master narrative is therefore a particular type of narrative, which is defined as a "coherent system of interrelated and sequentially organized stories that share a common rhetorical desire to resolve a conflict by establishing audience expectations according to the known trajectories of its literary and rhetorical form".The Consortium for Strategic Communication also maintains a website on master narratives.WEB,weblink CSC Center for Strategic Communication |,, 2016-06-02,

Criticism of Lyotard

It is unclear whether Lyotard is describing a global condition of skepticism towards metanarratives in postmodernity, or prescribing such skepticism. His critics point out the awkward fact that meta-narratives clearly continue to play a major role in the current postmodern world.WEB,weblink Metanarratives, 2012-08-28,weblink" title="">weblink 2012-07-01, yes, Critics have also argued that, in so far as one of Lyotard's targets was Science, he was mistaken in thinking science relies on a grand narrative for social and epistemic validation, rather than upon the accumulation of many lesser narrative successes.J. W. Bertens/D. Fokkema, International Postmodernism (1997) p. 94

See also

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Further reading

  • David Carr, Time, Narrative, and History (Indiana UP, 1986)
  • Geoffrey Bennington, Lyotard: Writing the Event (1988)

External links

    • weblink" title="">A Postmodern Strategy: Language Games
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