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The Functioning of Mythic Narratives

Myths solidify the perceptions of the ingroup as lawful and faithful to the nation while the outgroup is represented through seemingly fixed negativities that are grounded in their place of origin, a shared ancestry and history, or common flaws (e.g. Schopflin, 1997; Smith, 1987).

Myths that fulfill the first function of history education—formation of national identity—justify the meaning of ingroup and outgroup and the social boundary between them through the emphasis on continuity of community. Myths that fulfill the second function of history education—legitimization of power—support or challenge the social order and legitimize the power of the ingroup through the employment of specific events and history of intergroup relations. In both kinds of myths, through the process of embedment ofconcepts of power into the meaning of national identity, the desired power relations and dominance of the ingroup are presented as inherent to the nation, forming its very core; outgroups are excluded from the nation-building process. At the same time, both kinds of myths represent the specific features and the history of the groups as underpinning their rights to power and occupy specific places in the social hierarchy, thus shaping the concepts of power based on the meaning of national identity.

In mythic narratives, the main functions of history education—formation of national identity and legitimization of power—are fulfilled through mechanisms of justification and interpretation. The former includes justification through: (1) impediment by outgroup, (2) condemning imposition, (3) positive ingroup predispositions, (4) validation of rights, and (5) enlightening. The mechanisms of interpretation include providing an opposite interpretation of the same subject on the one hand, and providing the same interpretations for the opposite subject on the other. These mechanisms can be used in several types of myths or in a specific myth.

The first justification mechanism—impediment by outgroup—is a depiction of the fight between two groups in which the ingroup represents and supports the positive values of the nation. The desired values of the nation promoted by the ingroup vary from a mono-ethnic state based on nationalism to civic society and multiculturalism. The outgroup impedes ingroup activity through the development of a conflict, the establishment of wrong policies, the promotion of wrong ideologies, unfair treatment, oppression and use of violence. Thus the binary opposition between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ groups is justified attributing right actions to the ingroup and wrong actions to the outgroup. In the process of embedment of concepts of power in the meaning of national identity, this mechanism postulates ingroup exclusiveness in defining national identity and presents the outgroup as an illegitimate agent of nation-building. In the process of shaping of concepts of power by the meaning of national identity, this mechanism justifies the actions and dominance of the ingroup as representing the rightness of nation. The impediment by outgroup mechanism can be more prominent in myths of foundation, of suffering and unjust treatment, and of rebirth and renewal (Schopflin, 1997).

The second justification mechanism—condemning imposition—rationalizes the claim that the ingroup represents the interests of all groups in the nation while the outgroup is imposing its own narrow ideology, ideas, policies, traditions, ethnic or regional culture, and language on all people in the nation and wrongly claims to symbolize the nation. The myth explains why the culture or ideology of the outgroup is alien to a specific group within the nation and cannot be accepted as national one. Thus, the binary opposition between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ groups is justified by the claim that the ingroup represents the whole nation while the outgroup represents particular corrupt interests. In the process of embedment, this mechanism presents the ingroup as an essential core of the nation, while the outgroup is reduced to a narrow corrupt subculture. In the process of shaping, this mechanism justifies the power of the ingroup over all other groups. The condemning imposition mechanism can be more prominent in myths of ethnogenesis, possession/acquisition of territory and Golden Age (Schopflin, 1997).

The third justification mechanism—positive ingroup predispositions—takes the ingroup to be more able, capable, and competent than the outgroup. These abilities can include entrepreneurial ability and skills of innovation, democratic values and cultures, European traditions, tolerance and support of human rights. According to the myth these abilities stem from a long history and development of the ingroup and became an essential core of ingroup mentality. In comparison to the ingroup, the outgroup lacks these abilities because of its simplistic culture, regressive mentality, and history. As a result, the outgroup is not developed, conservative and paternalistic, trying to promote its ideas as core ideas for the nation. Thus, the ingroup is required to fight with a backward outgroup to prevent it from influencing the national development. The binary opposition between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ groups is justified by one group better able to lead the nation. In the process of embedment, this mechanism presents a progressive and virtuous ingroup, defending the nation from a backward outgroup. In the process of shaping, this mechanism justifies the power of the ingroup, as it is better able and suited to rule. The positive ingroup predispositions mechanism can be more prominent in myths of foundation and election (Schopflin, 1997).

The fourth justification mechanism—validation of rights—awards the ingroup more rights to develop the nation according to their vision. These rights are based on an advanced authentic culture, a historic development on native land, birthright, and international acknowledgement. The outgroup has fewer entitlements because it is not native to the land, arrived later, does not share ethnic roots, has a simplistic culture and thus cannot be treated as an equal in the nation-building process. In the extreme case—exclusion—the rights of the outgroup are completely denied and it is treated as alien, hostile to and excluded from the nation. The binary opposition between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ groups is justified by the validation of the exclusive rights of the ingroup and denouncing the rights of the outgroup. In the process of embedment, this mechanism presents the ingroup as legitimately deserving the power and the outgroup as alien to the nation. In the process of shaping, this mechanism justifies the power of the ingroup as coming from its history and rights to the land. The validation of rights mechanism can be more prominent in myths of ethnogenesis and possession/acquisition of territory (Schopflin, 1997).

The fifth justification mechanism—enlightening—emphasizes the willingness of all people in a nation to pursue a particular goal (such as a civic society, liberalism, an ethnic state, multiculturalism), but states that their limited abilities reduce their prospects to achieve the desired outcomes. The limitations arrive from a persistent outdated mentality, an absence of agency, and a dependency on populist leaders and government. The myth supports the claim of the ingroup that it identifies the visions and aims shared by all the people and enlightens them in their movement toward these goals. The binary opposition between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ groups is justified by taking the ingroup to legitimately represent the nation while people who do not share these visions are perceived as outsiders. In the process of embedment, this mechanism presents the ingroup to possess the shared vision of a positive future and the outgroup as not open-minded enough. In the process of shaping, this mechanism justifies the power of the ingroup in terms of its enlightened and progressive ideas. The enlightening mechanism can be more prominent in myths of foundation (Schopflin, 1997).

There are two mechanisms of interpretation. The first one provides an antipodal interpretation of the same subject. The supporters of a particular national narrative are aware of the existence of the different (and often opposite) interpretations of a particular event, data, or idea and use myths to denounce and dele- gitimize outgroup interpretations. The ingroup interpretation is presented in a form of discussion, in which the ingroup both promotes its own point of view and condemns the outgroup explanation as completely invented and groundless. This mechanism of interpretations serves in the processes of embedment of concept of power in the meaning of identity by reinforcing the binary oppositions established in dualistic order. This mechanism is used in all myths.

The second mechanism of interpretation attributes identical meanings to the opposite subjects. In this mechanism, both groups define the same positive value (e.g. vibrant, progressive, modern, and tolerant) and attribute it to the ingroup while denying it for the outgroup. This attribution takes the form of a discussion in which, first, the importance of the particular value is established; second, it is described as a core feature of the ingroup; and third, all claims of the outgroup to use similar positive definitions are denounced. This mechanism of interpretations serves in the processes the shaping of concepts of power based on the meaning of national identity in the following way: different interpretations of the same concepts allow both groups to justify the dualistic orders they use to define their views on the power structure. This mechanism is used in all myths.

Therefore, through the mechanisms of justification and interpretations, mythic narratives serve to form and reestablish the meaning of national identity and legitimize the power of the ingroup. In the process of embedment, the ingroup is an essential core of the nation, exclusively defines national identity, deserves better faith, is progressive and virtuous, and represents the shared vision of a positive future. The outgroup, on the other hand, is an illegitimate agent of nation-building, alien to the nation, backward, has a narrow corrupt subculture and is not open-minded enough. At the same time, mythic narratives portray the ingroup history and features as a fundament for the rights to power and a privileged place in the social hierarchy, thus shaping the concepts of power based on the meaning of national identity. This process justifies the actions, power, and dominance of the ingroup because it represents the whole nation, symbolizes ‘rightness’ in a nation, has exclusive rights deriving from history and attachment to the land, is better able and suited to rule, and is enlightened and progressive. Through the validation of the attribution of positive social value to the ingroup and denial of this value to the outgroup, mythic narratives support their views on power structure that is based on a domination of the ingroup over all outgroups.

 
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