Shaping society through stories: narrative as regulation

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Conversations series 2019: Narration and renarration as regulation
"Story enculturates the youth. It defines the people. It tells us what is laudable and what is contemptible. Story is the grease and glue of society: by encouraging us to behave well, story reduces social friction while uniting people around common values. Story homogenizes us; it makes us one."

(Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human)

Fairy tales, movies, art, the media - they all convey stories that produce, and reproduce, the norms and values of a society within a given time and space. What did the stories of your childhood teach you about virtues and vices, masculinity and feminity, heroes and villains? What do the daily newspapers, the evening news, or the latest tweets say about personal responsibility or collective action, about what we as a society should value or fear? How do these stories seek to regulate our behaviour?

This panel will open our series on Narration and Re-narration as Regulation by exploring how stories and narratives shape both formal and informal regulatory processes in Australia and the Asia and the Pacific Region.

Speakers in this session are:

Professor Desmond Manderson (ANU College of Law)

Desmond will bring the literature of social constitutionalism into dialogue with the approach to interpretation adopted, by and large, by the High Court of Australia. Understanding the constitution not just as a technical document but as grounded in what Cover famously describes as the relationship between 'nomos and narrative', Desmond will consider the function of narrative in founding the legitimacy of our constitutional system, and the implications of the High Court's normatively weak textual literalism - particularly at this moment in our legal history.

Myra Mentari Abubakar (PhD Candidate, Gender, Media and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language)

How do Indonesian nationalists construct a heroine? Myra will trace the phenomenon of the national hero cults in Indonesia and look at the process of how a historical figure can be transformed into a heroine with broader recognition at the national level. This incorporation of female hero characters in the heavily male-dominated nationalist narrative in Indonesia can be seen as an effort to improve the equality of representation of men and women in Indonesia's historical narrative.

This argument supports the scholarly studies that suggest Indonesian hero canonization was heavily related to the establishment of the Indonesian nation and identity during the independence period.

Associate Professor Miranda Forsyth (School of Regulation and Global Governance)

Stories are a powerful catalyst of sorcery accusations and violence in many parts of Papua New Guinea today. Narratives of women "eating" hearts and men magically "poisoning" food and drink create a sense of outrage and a fear that fuels violent responses. While some individuals deliberately spread such narratives, others seek to contain them through spreading different narratives of shared humanity and commitment to Christianity. Based on several years of fieldwork, this discussion reflects on the role of competing worldviews and the factors that make them more or less dominant in influencing individual and community receptiveness to particular narratives about and against sorcery and magic.