Call for Papers
From Unlikely Bonds to Vital Links: STORYTELLING & SYMBOLIC COMMUNITIES IN GLOBAL MEDIA CULTURE
Information for Potential Contributors
Contributions are being sought for an interdisciplinary book collection on the social dynamics of fictional and imaginary worlds in narrative culture and storytelling media. This volume to be edited by Lily Alexander, Mark Wolf and David Desser, and is considered by Routledge, as a follow-up to its series examining worldbuilding and interactive media.
Lily Alexander is an author of the Fictional Worlds book set and numerous journal articles, she teaches at CUNY, New York. David Desser is former Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Journal and author of four books in cinema studies. Mark Wolf is an author of multiple books and an editor of the influential book series on new media and imaginary worlds.
Preliminary inquires and discussions of ideas and possible topics/approaches are encouraged. Interested parties should submit a 300-500 word proposal to the editors via firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. You may also use the contact form on this website. While we prefer comparative papers, we welcome all relevant theoretical angles as well as case studies or examples from modern media and narrative traditions of any culture or era. Contributors will choose their own frame of references and theoretical influences. (Some ideas are listed below but they are merely suggestions).
Please submit your proposal in the body of email, accompanied by the list of keywords and the author’s short bio. Type “Proposal – Routledge Collection” in the subject line. The authors, whose proposals match the project's themes and/or methods and are being further considered, will be contacted within a month.
We seek new deliberations on, and answers to, such questions as: How do the artists’ visions of fictional worlds shape new understanding of symbolic kinship, social solutions and humanism? What are the mechanisms of social optimization inherent within our narrative practices? What transnational story formulas have proven to be the most effective in respect to this purpose? How did different genres develop specific types of apparatus contributing to this evolutionary goal?
The proposed collaborative volume will conceptualize fictional world-building as a “symbolic construction of community” (as theorized by anthropologists and social thinkers Victor Turner and Anthony Cohen in the 1960s-1980s). It will examine social tactics and strategies of survival and progress, deliberated upon via narrative practices. How dramatis personae experiment with organizing their social worlds is the project’s main interest. What futures and worlds do authors and their characters dream about? What steps do they take to see their visions realized? And how does each parable answer the question “Why can’t we all get along?” The dynamics within a cast of characters and their storyworlds’ populace, the unlikely bonds, foreseeable or astonishing alliances, emerging conflicts, and flawed or inventive conflict resolutions will be explored.
This collection is meant to attract and promote new research on themes of cooperation and bonding in storytelling media (subject matter investigated in Lily Alexander’s book set FICTIONAL WORLDS, 1st ed. 2013). The project is intended to facilitate innovative studies of storytelling as a “social modeling system” to be examined at the intersections of such fields as narratology, media theory, film and literary studies, socio-symbolic anthropology, and hermeneutics. The Editors welcome contributions from all who are enthusiastic about the subject, the relevant media or stories, as well as interdisciplinary debates, and what Linda Hutcheon defined as “theoretical imagination.” If you want more information, please read below.
Read more below on the volume’s intellectual concerns and underpinnings, associated with such thinkers as Propp, Durkheim, Bakhtin, Benjamin, Arendt, Levi-Strauss, Turner, Cohen, McLuhan, Deleuze, and Nancy.
Following their steps, L.A. Alexander’s Fictional Worlds proposes that narrative communication can be viewed as “signal systems” which evolved in storytelling patterns and practices. We may be the only species for whom the relations between an individual organism and the social whole are not set in stone. We exist at once as individuals and a “macro-organism,” perpetually balancing on this innate dichotomy and adjusting to this dramatic contradiction. Unlike ants, wolves, or lions – for whom social behaviors are largely genetically scripted in respect to one’s place in a colony, pack or pride – in our species the degrees of personal freedom and complex connections to the whole vary greatly, being essentially an open-ended question.
Unsurprisingly, we have been engaged in intense and passionate discussions on the spectrum of social models, from democracies to tyrannies, for as long as we have evolved as a species. Each Hero’s choice (“to be or not to be?”), at the crossroads of social dramas, emerged as a focal issue of narrative discourse and ethics. Fictional Worlds argues that our never-ending negotiations of the rights of the individual vs. the rights of society may have more than cultural and political significance, but also biosemantic and evolutionary elements, pointing at the ways our species must self-organize, while adjusting to changing natural and socio-historical environments. Therefore, storytelling, one of the most effective forums for such biosemantic negotiation, should be explored within interdisciplinary contexts.
In view of the above, the pivotal concept for the proposed collaborative research “From Unlikely Bonds to Vital Links” will be The Symbolic Construction of Community (Anthony Cohen, 1985), introduced as a new key concept for the field of anthropology and widely accepted in the 1990s. This notion was conceptualized by L.A. Alexander in 2013 as a vital symbolic process in the narrative and media studies discourse. Following Fictional Worlds’ theorization of narrative world-building as the symbolic construction of community; its anthropological theory of genres; and a set of twenty story formulas considered most effective in “optimizing” societies across time and cultures, this new collection will take the exploration of these subjects further, and in multiple new directions, to be determined by its contributors.
Storytelling can be understood as a ritual practice meant to facilitate societal adjustment; the process by which members of a community learn how to gain the knowledge necessary to mature, achieve their optimal development, and effectively contribute to society during all stages of life. “Community-building,” as investigated by anthropologists and social thinkers, refers to the system of symbolic practices which support mechanisms of social optimization: finding the best possible solutions in the infinite variety of social situations, both age-old and emerging. Central to the historical experience of many cultures, the notion of “symbolic community-building” also resonates with recent multidisciplinary interest in forms of creative “networking" – a topical issue in our era of globalization, Internet communication, and virtual communities.
Importantly, theorists often speak about a process or steps of symbolic construction of community rather than a tangible or calculable outcome. In a sense, this symbolic community-building is an evolutionary practice that never ends, meant to constantly perfect, optimize and advance forms of effective human collaboration in view of ever-changing natural and social environments. This process has always been effectively mediated and facilitated by storytelling, from myths and sacred narratives to ritual performance and drama. In “the media age” when manifold media forms and outlets, both local and global, become influential forces in social communication across space and cultures, the symbolic construction of community in the media and by means of the media represents an important new area of interdisciplinary inquiry.
As a form of symbolic communication, which involves systems of multi-level and coded messages, community-building is a fascinating and intriguing area of study – appealing to, and exciting, our curiosity for the enigmatic. Symbolic communications are guided by such activities and notions as ritual practices, “the metaphors we live by,” mythopoeia (a modern-day myth-making), parables, political aspirations and propaganda, desires for meaningful change, sacred riddles and secret/subversive messages, search for conflict resolutions, perceptible or hidden cultural/political codes and “meaning-making” mechanisms, “mystery investigations,” the fantastic, virtual and discursive communities, as well as various forms and realms of symbolic “families” and “brotherhoods.”
All of the above constitute continual experimentation with modeling systems (Lotman-Ivanov) or “models of” and “models for” (Geertz) via storytelling. Media, hence, is a rich, diverse, and effective testing ground for symbolic community-building, whether through “buddy movies,” romantic comedies, sitcom families, teams of tireless doctors and cops, or sarcastic portrayals of brutal “medieval” and dystopian societies in fantasy and SciFi, shifty treacherous alliances of “Goodfellas” and “The Sopranos,” and assemblages of those "Lost" on uninhabited islands or inside Reality TV.
In “From Unlikely Bonds…” symbolic communication via storytelling will be examined on multiple levels: story content and form, as well as individual texts and/or cultural practices. This symbolic process transcends on-screen group dynamics, to include off-screen loyal audiences, fandom, and other forms of participatory activities. Case studies and examples may relate to any media, and any national, transnational, or global narrative discourse. Comparative and interdisciplinary angles are of special interest, as well as historical approaches deepening our understanding of the present and the future.
“Symbolic Community-building” consists of a system of circles, or spirals, originating in friendships and family bonds and encompassing group dynamics of ever-increasing scale. Therefore, we are interested in interconnected themes:
The Social Self – from individuation to maturation through life’s rites of passage, struggles and journeys: a spectrum of socialization of the individual;
The Pair – interpersonal relationships between partners, buddies, relatives and strangers, even different species, particularly, the revelatory “unlikely bonds”;
Family dynamics – consequential to the kinship connections, and ideological interpretations of the optimal “family roles” – those of the Symbolic Father, Symbolic Mother, Symbolic Daughter and Symbolic Son, different for diverse societies and eras;
Small groups dynamics – bands, crews, jurors, teams, villages/towns, and various spontaneous associations;
Networking – expanding micro- and macro-connections, often of emerging nature, which enhance the scope and depth of social connectivity and search for innovative conflict resolutions. (i.e. Tolkien’s and Roddenberry’s inter-species alliances).
Dysfunctional groups – faulty or dangerous social dynamics from a family unit to society, including bullying, cults, imprisonment, pseudo-communities, oppressive regimes and hierarchies, the mafia/criminal underworld, or corrupt political structures.
Similarly of interest are social actors and narrative figures with important impact on community-building, whether positive or negative: leaders, gurus, underdogs, reluctant heroes, friends and lovers, travelers, villains, false claimants, traitors, private detectives and crime investigators, tricksters and fools, as well as the “ordinary” yet astonishing characters.
Topics for contributions may also be associated with, but not limited to, the themes and contexts of ritual, genres, myth, religion, fantasy, utopia, inspirational stories, parable, drama, poetics, metanarrative, gender and power, symbolic social roles, collaboration, negotiation, intolerance, violence, revenge, manipulation, narrative patterns and formulas, storyworlds, imaginary or discursive communities, the hero’s journey, the future, survival, mystery, astonishment, empathy, experience, symbolism, new knowledge, and wisdom.
Those of you interested in additional information about the connections between the symbolic construction of community with narrative/media studies and world-building, may find some of the links below useful.
Link to the seminal work by Anthony P. Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community (1985), one of the most celebrated books of the 1990s in the field of anthropology.
Link to L.A. Alexander's Fictional Worlds: Traditions in Narrative & The Age of Visual Culture (2013). This print edition is available in North America and Europe, but can be mailed by amazon to other destinations.
Link to Fictional Worlds (2014), a digital 4-book Kindle set. Available in all countries with access to amazon Kindle books.
Link to the illustrated interactive transmedia edition of Fictional Worlds (2014), titled Fictional Worlds I: The Symbolic Journey & The Genre System, copublished with Apple, Volume I. (Volumes II - IV are generally completed and are coming soon. The subsequent three volumes are titled: Fictional Worlds II: Dramatic Characters & Action; Fictional Worlds III: Tragedy & Mystery; and Fictional Worlds IV: Comedy & The Extraordinary. TBA on the NEWS page of this site). Available in all countries with access to the iTunes store.