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Narrative Paradigm | The Power of Stories in Communication

The cultural significance of stories as a mode of communication spans civilisations. They act as repositories of collective wisdom, cultural identities, and shared experiences. Within the field of Media and Communications, the Narrative Paradigm serves as an indispensable theoretical framework. It not only delineates the pivotal role of narratives in shaping human perceptions and decisions but also underscores their multifaceted nature. They further serve as conduits for disseminating knowledge, articulating societal norms, and fostering interconnectedness among diverse communities.

Stories have always played a fundamental role in human communication, bridging cultures and generations. In the context of Media and Communications, consider the global impact of Disney’s narratives. Disney films like “The Lion King” or “Frozen” transcend geographical boundaries, captivating audiences worldwide with their narratives about family, courage, and identity. These stories not only entertain but also convey universal values, contributing to shared understandings across diverse audiences.

What is Narrative Paradigm?

The Narrative Paradigm, proposed by communication scholar Walter Fisher, is a theoretical framework that views human communication and persuasion as rooted in storytelling. According to this paradigm, people are essentially storytelling beings who understand and make sense of the world through narratives. It suggests that individuals rely on stories, anecdotes, and narratives rather than formal logic or empirical evidence to shape their beliefs, attitudes, and decisions.

Fisher further argued that narratives are persuasive because they appeal to our values, emotions, and cultural experiences, providing a framework through which we interpret and understand information. The Narrative Paradigm asserts that people judge the credibility of a message not only based on facts or evidence but also on the coherence, fidelity, and emotional appeal of the narrative presented. It emphasises the significance of storytelling as a fundamental aspect of human communication, influencing how individuals perceive and engage with information in their daily lives.

Origins & Development

The Narrative Paradigm’s genesis can be traced to the intellectual strides made by Walter Fisher during the transformative era of the 1980s. Fisher’s groundbreaking work, “Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action,” heralded a seismic shift in communication theory. By positing that storytelling constitutes the core of human communication, Fisher challenged established paradigms. Thus, framing communication as an inherently narrative process. His theoretical propositions catalysed a paradigmatic revolution, reframing the essence of human communication from the conventional viewpoint. This viewpoint centred on rational argumentation to the realm of storytelling.

Narrative Paradigm finds resonance in the evolution of social media platforms like Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for Facebook was centred on the concept of storytelling. Zuckerberg therefore wanted to enable individuals to share their personal narratives, experiences, and memories. The platform’s success was partly due to its ability to facilitate the creation and dissemination of personal narratives. Thus, contributing to the paradigm shift towards user-generated content; shaping online interactions.

Key Principles of Narrative Paradigm

Narrative Rationality

At the crux of the Narrative Paradigm lies the principle of narrative rationality. This advocates that individuals are more inclined to be persuaded by the coherence and fidelity of narratives than by sheer factual evidence or logical reasoning alone. Coherence within a narrative denotes its internal consistency, engendering credibility, while fidelity addresses its authenticity and resonance with the audience’s lived experiences and value systems. The potency of narratives to engross individuals lies in their ability to transcend mere information dissemination. Therefore, captivating audiences by resonating deeply with their emotions and beliefs.

The Netflix series “Stranger Things” exemplifies narrative coherence and fidelity. By skilfully weaving a storyline that resonates with the audience’s nostalgia for the 1980s, coupled with supernatural elements and coming-of-age themes, the series captures viewers’ imaginations. Despite the fantastical premise, the coherence within the narrative and its fidelity to the characters’ emotions make it compelling and relatable, enhancing its overall impact.

Universality of Storytelling

Storytelling also emerges as a universal human expression, transcending geographical borders, cultural diversities, and temporal boundaries. It encapsulates the essence of shared experiences, emotions, and cultural legacies, serving as a timeless conduit for human connection. From ancient oral traditions to contemporary digital narratives, stories serve as a universal language. They foster empathy and further establish mutual understanding among individuals from diverse backgrounds. This universal appeal endows narratives with the profound ability to bridge divergent perspectives. Thus, forge cohesive bonds among disparate societal groups.

Consider the impact of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom.” Mandela’s narrative of resilience, forgiveness, and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa transcended cultural boundaries, resonating globally. The universality of his story forged connections with diverse audiences. Therefore, inspiring individuals worldwide and fostering solidarity in the fight against oppression.

Application in Media & Communications

Media Influence

The pervasive influence of narratives within media content permeates various forms of communication, including news reports, documentaries, and entertainment programming. Utilising the power of storytelling, media narratives craft compelling narratives to captivate audiences emotionally and shape their interpretations of events. The narrative framing within media content serves as a catalyst, significantly impacting public opinion formation. Thus, steering societal discourse on a myriad of issues.

The coverage of the 2019 Hong Kong protests by various news outlets illustrates the power of narrative framing. Different media sources presented distinct narratives about the protests, portraying them as fights for democracy, disruptions to public order, or clashes between authorities and citizens. The way these narratives were framed significantly influenced public perceptions and international understanding of the events.

Brand Narratives

Within the commercial landscape, brands strategically harness storytelling to establish profound emotional connections with consumers. Brand narratives eventually transcend the mere promotion of products. They artfully weave stories that evoke emotions and resonate deeply with the aspirations and values of their target audience. Through impactful storytelling, brands foster enduring relationships, brand loyalty, and advocacy among consumers.

The Nike “Dream Crazy” campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick encapsulates the potency of brand narratives. Nike’s storytelling pivot, aligning with Kaepernick’s activism, ignited conversations about racial equality and social justice. Despite controversy, the narrative’s authenticity resonated with many consumers, leading to increased brand loyalty among certain demographics.

Political Narratives

Political communication relies extensively on narratives to resonate emotionally with constituents. Politicians and political campaigns adeptly utilise storytelling to craft narratives that encapsulate their visions, policies, and ideologies. These political narratives aim to influence public perceptions, garner support, and sway voter attitudes. Therefore, significantly impacting electoral outcomes and policy implementation.

Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign harnessed compelling narratives of hope, change, and unity. Obama’s speeches and storytelling prowess resonated deeply with voters across demographics, symbolising a departure from conventional political rhetoric. His narratives galvanised a diverse electorate, contributing significantly to his historic election as the first African American president of the United States.

Criticisms & Debates

Despite its prominence, the Narrative Paradigm is not immune to critical analysis. Some scholars contend that the theory may oversimplify complex decision-making processes by elevating subjective interpretation over rationality. For instance, in assessing the impact of social media on mental health, while stories and user-generated content can foster connections, critics argue that oversaturation and curated narratives may lead to detrimental effects on self-esteem and mental well-being. Furthermore, ongoing debates question the theory’s cross-cultural applicability, considering how storytelling’s significance may vary across diverse cultural contexts.


In conclusion, Narrative Paradigm signifies the intrinsic power of storytelling in human communication. By delving deeper into its multifaceted principles and diverse applications, a more nuanced understanding emerges of how narratives intricately shape human perceptions, beliefs, and societal interactions. Recognising the pervasiveness and impact of narratives provides profound insights into their pivotal role in shaping individual worldviews and societal dynamics.


Fisher, W. R. (1984). Narration as a Human Communication Paradigm: The Case of Public Moral Argument. Communications Monographs, 51(1), 1–22.

Fisher, W. R. (1985). The Narrative Paradigm: An Elaboration. Communication Monographs, 52(4), 347–367.

Fisher, W. R. (1987). Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action. University of South Carolina Press.

Shanahan, J., & Morgan, M. (1999). Television and its Viewers: Cultivation Theory and Research. Cambridge University Press.

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