Politics and narrative

Tyranny of story, BBC Radio 4, reviewed by Kate Johnstone (Associate Editor for Culture).

The Guardian journalist John Harris presents a three-part series which examines the potency of stories, both for us as individuals, and for society.

Given Harris’s day job, it is unsurprising that the first episode focuses on politics and narrative. He speaks to Drew Westen, who wrote ‘The Political Brain’ in response to the failure of the Democrats, and the left in general, to grasp the significance of storytelling. ‘People don’t want you to get out your fact collection’, he explains. ‘Make America great again’ is not just a phrase, but a story in four words. In contrast, Clinton’s campaign went through 84 different slogans before settling on the feeble ‘Stronger, Together’.’ Harris talks to Tali Sharot about the neuroscience of narrative, and investigates how the ‘Significant Objects’ experiment increased the value of a second-hand mallet from 33 cents to $77.

In the second episode he focuses more on the importance of person narratives, and considers why there is an onus on those accessing services (such as benefits) to provide a coherent narrative of their lives. Interviewees in this episode include Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School.

The third episode looks at the intersections between science, art and storytelling; Harris also discusses memory and the unconscious in relation to story with Arabella Kurtz, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalytic psychotherapist.

Overall, this is an enjoyable and informative listen which benefits from Harris’s non-academic, magpie-like approach.


Also on BBC Radio 4 recently, and available via the BBC Sounds app, are ‘Thought Cages’ and ‘A History of Delusions’ with psychologist Professor Daniel Freeman. If you are interested in reviewing these or future programmes, please get in touch, or keep an eye on Twitter @psychmag

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