Intersections of Storytelling, Experientiality and Cultural Memory

December, 14, 2-4pm

Room SD.1.23, Docklands Campus, UEL

Narrative Hermeneutics: Storytelling, Experience and Memory

Hanna Meretoja

In this talk, I explore narrative hermeneutics as an approach that emphasizes the interpretative structure of storytelling, experience and memory. In contrast to the tradition that links interpretation to the idea of unveiling deep, hidden meanings, I argue for seeing interpretation as an activity of sense-making that has a performative dimension: it is not just about representing the world but takes part in constructing, shaping, and transforming intersubjective reality. Acknowledging the interpretative structure of narrative and experience allows us to understand their interrelation in such a way that neither posits a hierarchical dichotomy between them nor identifies them with each other. Narrative hermeneutics provides a framework for articulating life as a constant process of narrative reinterpretation rather than as one coherent narrative, and for a non-reductive, dialogical way of conceptualizing the relation between cultural narrative webs and individual subjects. Against the backdrop of narrative hermeneutics, I envision a narrative ethics that acknowledges the ethical complexity of narratives as cultural practices of making sense of the past, present, and future:  instead of seeing narrative as inherently “good” or “bad” for us, it is crucial to address both how certain cultural narratives reinforce oppressive social structures and the potential of certain storytelling practices to enlarge the space of possibilities in which we can act, think, and re-imagine the world together with others.

Hanna Meretoja is Professor of Comparative Literature, Director of SELMA: Centre for the Study of Storytelling, Experientiality and Memory at the University of Turku (Finland), and the leader of the research project “Ethics of Storytelling and the Experience of History in Contemporary Arts” (Emil Aaltonen Foundation, 2013-16). Her research interests include narrative studies, cultural memory studies, narrative hermeneutics, and the interrelations between literature, philosophy and history. Her most recent publications include The Narrative Turn in Fiction and Theory: The Crisis and Return of Storytelling from Robbe-Grillet to Tournier (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), “Narrative and Human Existence: Ontology, Epistemology, and Ethics” (New Literary History, 45:1, 2014) and Values of Literature (co-edited, Brill Rodopi, 2015).

Biography, Gender and History: Nordic Perspectives

Maarit Leskelä-Kärki

Historical biography is an old practice with a strong but often debated relation with history as an academic discipline. In the 20th century, in particular during the post-World War II period, academic historians did not generally see biography as a form of writing ‘real’ history or perceive it as an appropriate field of historical research. As a result, biography remained under-theorized, even marginalized until in recent years. This renewed interest in biography is strongly related to and intersects with microhistory, gender history, history of everyday life and the new history from below, all of which question the grand narratives of history and emphasize the individual, in particular “ordinary” people, and their experiences in society.

The Nordic countries are no exception in this “biographical turn”, as this renewed interest has been called. In my presentation, I will illuminate our project concerning the methodology and theory of biographical research that we have been working with together with my Nordic colleagues during the past few years. Its objective is to strengthen the relationship between history and biography by demonstrating the various ways of doing biography as a method of historical analysis from a particular gender perspective. I will also talk about my own research related to this field concerning the use of the concept of relational identity. In a biographical work on a Finnish 19th century woman I will analyse the ways individuals are remembered in their close family relations and ask how we could as biographers make use of the varied and often also contradictory textual and visual material produced on past persons. The aim will be to question the idea of a coherent life-story, “a life as a given entity” and ask how we could approach the past persons in a way that would allow many voices and contradictions.

Maarit Leskelä-Kärki works as a University Lecturer at the Deparment of Cultural History at the University of Turku and is the Vice Director of SELMA. She works on several research and book projects concerning cultural history of women’s writing, autobiographical sources and life-narratives as well as biographical research. Her most recent articles include “Cercanos y distantes. La relacionalidad en la investigación biográfica” in Isabel Burdiel and Roy Foster (Eds.): La historia biográfica en Europa: Nuevas perspectivas (Zaragoza: Institución Fernando el Católico, 2015) and ”Histories of women, histories of nation: Biographical writing as women’s tradition in Finland, 1880s-1920s” in Women telling nations. Eds. by Amelia Santz & Suzan van Dijk & Francesca Scott (Series Women Writers in History, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014).

Greetings from SELMA: Centre for the Study of Storytelling, Experientiality and Memory

Hanna Meretoja and Maarit Leskelä-Kärki

We will conclude by providing a short overview of the activities of the new research centre SELMA: Centre for the Study of Storytelling, Experientiality and Memory, located at the School of History, Culture and Arts Studies at the University of Turku (Finland). Established in June 2015, SELMA is an interdisciplinary and international research centre that combines historical and theoretical perspectives to the study of the interconnections between storytelling, experientiality and cultural memory. It coordinates research collaboration and organizes research events, including both theoretical-methodological symposia and public engagement events based on the interaction between the arts and the sciences.  For further information on SELMA, see and



Published by corinnesquire

Corinne Squire is Professor of Social Sciences and Co-Director, Centre for Narrative Research, at University of East London

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