Narrative Politics: Stories and Collective Action

Frederick W. Mayer
Oxford University Press

The book explores two puzzles – How do individuals come together to act collectively in their common interest? Why is it that those who promote collective action so often turn to stories?

Why is it that when activists call for action, candidates solicit votes, organizers seek new members, generals rally their troops, or coaches motivate their players, there is so much storytelling? Mayer, professor of public policy, political science and environment and director of the Program on Global Policy and Governance, argues that answering these questions requires recognizing the power of story to overcome the main obstacles to collective action. He shows that humans are, if nothing else, a story-telling, story-consuming animal. We use stories to make sense of our experience and to imbue it with meaning – our self-narratives define our sense of identity and script our actions.

Drawing on insights from neuroscience and behavioral economics, political science and sociology, history and cultural studies, literature and narrative theory, Narrative Politics sheds light on a wide range of political phenomena from social movements to electoral politics to offer lessons for how the power of story fosters collective action.