RPP #5: Research Puzzle Proposal

I am proposing to research the divergence of post-war narratives because I want to find out what explains the increased diversity between them [consolidated narratives] in order to help my reader understand how they can be politicized. Essentially, I want to understand why social narratives split in both positive and negative directions, and how they can be rewritten to impact policies aiming towards ethnic reconciliation.

Though slow in their development, individual beliefs and thusly narratives, are not stable.[1] As discussed by many scholars in sociological and psychological fields, narratives, like most things produced by and from humans, are inherently dynamic, in that they have the capability to change and develop over the course of time.[2] However, despite their moldability, when integrated into society,  or socialized, these seemingly dynamic entities adopt what Daniel Bar-Tal calls “durability”.[3] This durability of social narratives is defined by their long-term significance as an aspect of identity in society, and in our case, within a specific ethnic group. Alongside Bar-Tal is Shenhav, who further emphasizes the idea of durability under the title “core element” of a social narrative, an aspect of a narrative that remains durable and lasting despite the increasing divergence around it. [4]

However, what happens when this core element shatters?

Scholars tend to agree and understand how these core elements develop and continue to persist, which is primarily through an amalgamation of communicative institutions such as mass media, family, peers and education/pedagogy.[5] However, this consensus of durability does not, and for the record, cannot exist. At some point, there must be a line where the divergence of a narrative completely shatters the core element. We see this perhaps most drastically in the case of ethnic conflicts, where the core beliefs of certain groups are contested and change drastically. In the case of the former Yugoslavia, groups lived as neighbors and friends, but there was a sudden turn in this core element, with a major structural crisis, institutional factors that promote ethnic intolerance, manipulation of historical memories by political entrepreneurs to evoke resentment, and hate towards the ‘other’ – among other factors – caused an eruption of mass hatred and ethnic cleansing.[6] And in the aftermath of it all, a new core element evolves around the idea of reconciliation and, ultimately, justice. [7]

The divergence of the core element of narrative is significant in that as we’ve seen, it can impede upon a society’s capability to redefine and reconcile itself after change. Narrative is essential to our society, it is in school books, what we hear on the news, and influences who define ourselves as, and when these core elements break, we see monumental change, almost suddenly.

Therefore, I want to explain why what social scientists have traditionally named “durable” can no longer be considerably named so. But also, what explains this lack of durability? Why are these core elements considered such in literature? Why are we now seeing this breakdown, or has this been going on throughout history?

Most scholars answer these questions through the divergence of the components narrative alone through the idea of “reform” and change post-conflict.[8] These schools of thought, as they were, related to institution reform, educational reform and demographic reform. The institutional reforms debate between how influential external influences and internal influences are on their core elements – such as the Dayton agreement’s influence on the decentralization of Bosnian cantons or if it was more caused by domestic factors within specific governing bodies. Essentially, they debate what causes more of a rift in narratives. Then comes education reform, divided between the pedagogy of language and history. Language scholars argue that the distinction of language in classrooms, and thusly separation, is what causes a shift in their core narratives, whereas history argues that textbooks, that houses the narratives of their and other groups can cause great rifts.[9] Finally, is demographic reform. The demographic debate, though rather rare, cites that the separation or integration of certain groups in society, depending on who you talk to, is what leads to this divergence.[10]

The current situation pertains to this core element of reconciliation among social groups who have snapped a core element – through civil or ethnic war and genocide. In Bosnia specifically, the goal is for the people to reconcile, but there are some people who say that it is an issue and others who do not wish to see in as an issue. This is primarily emphasized by the “two schools under one roof “policy, that has endured since the early 2000s and despite a call for change, has only changed in one canton. [11] Education is one of the communicative institutions that influence the development of this core element, but people are divided around it, and it is thusly fracturing. [12] Whereas in Rwanda, the schools are not segregated, but still have a hard time teaching history and contest that. What happened in this narrative formation that caused this riff here but not there? I intend to look deeper into other case studies beyond Rwanda after this posting to understand more of these divergences. It is essential that we understand this lack of durability, so that we can thus see when it happens to us, and hopefully, how we can fix it, and begin to repair countries impacted by this breakdown.

General question: What explains the lack of durability in post-war narratives?

Case-specific question: What explains the lack of durability in the reconciliation narratives of post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina?


[1] Daniel Bar-Tal, Shared Beliefs in a Society (Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc, 2000): 69.

[2] Shaul R. Shenhav, Analyzing Social Narratives (London, UNITED KINGDOM: Routledge, 2015), http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/aul/detail.action?docID=2038970. 3.
Abelson, Robert P. “Beliefs Are Like Possessions.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 16, no. 3 (1986): 223–250.
Labovitz, Sanford, and Robert Hagedorn. “Measuring Social Norms.” Pacific Sociological Review 16, no. 3 (July 1, 1973): 283–303.

[3] Bar-Tal, Shared Beliefs in a Society. 69

[4] Shaul R. Shenhav, Analyzing Social Narratives (London, UNITED KINGDOM: Routledge, 2015), http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/aul/detail.action?docID=2038970.

[5] Bourdieu, Pierre, and Jean Claude Passeron. Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London: Sage Publications, 1977.

[6] Bojana Blagojevic, “Causes of Ethnic Conflict: A Conceptual Framework,” Journal of Global Change & Governance 3, no. 1 (2009): 3.

[7] Sarah Freedman, My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Mass Atrocity, ed. Harvey Weinstein, vol. 1, 1 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 305–307.

[8] B. Baliqi, “The Aftermath of War Experiences on Kosovo’s Generation on the Move – Collective Memory and Ethnic Relations among Young Adults in Kosovo,” Zeitgeschichte 44, no. 1 (2017): 6–18.

[9] L.L. Kasumagic-Kafedžic, “Exploring Challenges and Possibilities in Pre-Service Teacher Education: Critical and Intercultural Pedagogy in Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina,” in Challenges Associated with Cross-Cultural and At-Risk Student Engagement, 2016, 42–62.

[10] I. Moore, “Linguistic, Ethnic and Cultural Tensions in the Sociolinguistic Landscape of Vilnius: A Diachronic Analysis,” in Expanding the Linguistic Landscape: Linguistic Diversity, Multimodality and the Use of Space as a Semiotic Resource, 2018, 229–263.

[11] “‘Two Schools Under One Roof’ – The Most Visible Example of Discrimination in Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina” (n.d.): 52.

[12] Bar-Tal, Shared Beliefs in a Society, 67.

3 thoughts on “RPP #5: Research Puzzle Proposal

  1. Avatar Price says:

    The nature of narrative durability is one that fascinates me in other areas of International Relations. Is there some transitive element that can be brought across the realm of IR? I wonder- is the natural systems theory that Abrahms discusses in his criticism of traditional arguments about terror organizations (namely that all members are ideologically similar to the organization). In my paper I am dealing with a source that studies a specific song of nationalism- one the author thought was native to Bulgaria- but actually had been used by most of the Balkan countries as a means of displaying patriotism in their community. The ways that these narratives intersect across conflicting borders is truly fascinating, I would recommend making sure that you discuss the means of producing and replicating a narrative, though, not just the narrative itself.

    • Avatar Tristen says:

      Price –
      Thank you for your comment. I will have to definitely look into Abrahms as well as your project more, as how narratives pass on and reproduce beyond their place of origin is truly fascinating.

      Regarding the production and reproduction of narratives, I have been basing my theories strongly in the ideologies of Social Psychologist Daniel Bar-Tal – as well as his colleagues cited in his novel “Shared Beliefs in a Society” (Chapter 3 specifically). Though he mainly discusses the production and reproduction of beliefs, I believe these beliefs are indeed held close to the production of the shared narratives I discuss, and I hope to be using these foundations, as ways of examining how such “durable” entities can break down.

      Regarding a transitive element, I do believe that narratives are that, at least generally, as they’re a way of spreading knowledge, but the specific stories told cannot be applied cross culturally, instead, their themes (such as patriotism and nationalism) could be.

      I’m looking forward to looking at your project and seeing how we can connect in this way.
      Have a good evening!

  2. Tristen — you provide a very thorough overview of your puzzle here (particularly of the conceptual dimensions to the puzzle) with a good discussion of some scholarship that is clearly applicable and relevant. The empirical dimension — the actual examples of events, trends, policies, statements, etc. — remains a bit vague, though. In the problem statement you note that you want to understand divergence and diversity. Divergence from what and towards what else, specifically? Empirically what is it that is diverse in the primary source material that you’ve examined? Be careful about remaining consistent in thinking about the empirical side of the puzzle as well. You start out by proposing to explain diversity and divergence, but end with questions that point to a lack of durability. That idea is also a bit vague, and it points to a different phenomenon to be explained than does divergence or diversity! The project looks like it is going in the right direction overall, but make sure to work on specifying the empirical dimension (building your equivalent of Edelstein’s list of cases for potential investigation) as you continue your work.

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