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Narrative media/cultural interaction as means of preventing adolescent violence and political/religious extremism

Final Report Summary - MEDIA/ANTI-VIOLENCE (Narrative media/cultural interaction as means of preventing adolescent violence and political/religious extremism)

Project context and objectives

Using a European Reintegration Grant (ERG), this project utilised the results and insights which were gained in the project, 'Narrative media interaction and psycho-trauma therapy', funded by a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship (EIF) grant, and transferred these results into the area of social work, de-radicalisation and violence-prevention studies. The EIF grant's main product is an innovative research approach and methodology called Literary and Media Interaction Research (LIR).

LIR seeks to understand what people actually do mentally when they interact with fictional or non-fictional narratives, such as films, novels, songs and song lyrics, that they consider emotionally engaging and meaningful. How does a media consumer, while watching or reading such a narrative, unwittingly engage with important biographical experiences and address personal developmental challenges? And what does this mental media-biographical work imply for the person's further real-life conduct, both in individual and societal terms? The approach of LIR research is to use literary and media interaction as a means of understanding and preventing adolescent violence and political or religious extremism.

Finally, LIR research aims to draw pedagogical conclusions about how culture and media narratives can be dealt with in schools and other educational and public discourse settings in the most conducive manner. More poignantly, the question is: In what ways can we go beyond routinely underrating the pedagogical potential and possible societal impact of teaching (popular) cultural media narratives? How can we avoid viewing them just as mere entertainment and/or subjecting them to intellectual procedures of 'ideology critique', or otherwise exploiting some narratives as canonical highbrow culture.

Project methodology

LIR methodology combines biographical and media-experience interview techniques with narratological analyses of media texts. LIR researchers engage with three potentially conflicting dimensions of human / media interaction and mental activity: a person's actual behaviour in particular biographical situations; her or his subjective experiences at the time of the events, and the subsequent narrative emplotments of the events in an interview situation, dealing with real and/or media experiences of the person. While the biographical interview focuses on the person's life history, the media-experience interview investigates an actual instance in which the person consumes a fictional media narrative.

For these analyses, LIR research relies on and develops further social-science methods of hypotheses formation and contrastive comparison. The narratological text analysis, sensu Malte Stein: provides a systematic linguistic assessment of the media narrative's informational focus, comprehensiveness, and verifiable inconsistencies; consults psychological resources in order to develop explanations for these inconsistencies; and determines what interaction potentials the media narrative holds in store for its consumers.

LIR thus follows a threefold analytical protocol. Firstly, the biographical analysis identifies a person's particular developmental challenges. Secondly, the media experience analysis demonstrates how that person engages with these challenges in the course of his or her mental engagement with a personally selected media text. Thirdly, the text analysis determines whether and in what way the person responds to the media narrative's specific interaction potentials.

LIR is based on the assumption that people engage in more or less conscious media-biographical work whenever they consume narratives and that studying that interaction provides important insights into the ways in which everyday culture fosters or impedes processes of psychological development on an individual and collective scale. By integrating methods of psycho-dynamic and clinical psychology, reader / viewer research, and narratological text analysis into one overarching research design, LIR contributes to the fields of empirical literary studies, media psychology, qualitative reading and media reception research, and the didactics of history together with literary and media studies.

Expected results

LIR focuses on individual readers' personal challenges and their developmental and social repercussions. Therefore, events involving the victimisation of individuals and groups and experiences of emotional stress, violence, and psychological trauma often assume a particular relevance in the course of LIR research. In the end, LIR hopes to be able to identify ways in which the consumption of media narratives strengthens psychological resilience against extremism and violence, facilitates self-reflexive strategies of historical remembrance, and thus supports mental health and sustainable psychological development both on an individual and a collective level.

In providing new insights into the nature and impact of media reception processes, the LIR research approach should prove particularly useful in didactic contexts and thus be relevant for all professionals who are in areas of teaching, social and therapeutic work, in settings of re-integration and inter-cultural work, in the media and in the policy-making of these fields.

The ERG project in particular aimed at studying and developing pedagogical interventions and modules for media-based cultural-social work with various high-risk populations among European adolescents who are prone to violent behaviour and extremist political and religious ideologies. Its main objective was to develop psychologically solid methods, which are effective in supporting these young people's 'narrative media literacy' and 'narrative interpersonal skills'.

The ERG project's principal areas of application were youth-work and de-radicalisation in prison, probation and preventative community work. Hence, the ERG and the LIR approach should demonstrate in concrete terms that the humanities, while describing and analysing cultural processes, can play a decisive role in helping citizens to identify sustainable paths of personal development and support peace-building initiatives within contemporary inter-cultural societies.

Follow-up LIR-research is presently being conducted, submitted, and prepared for the European Commission Directorate-General for Justice and Directorate-General for Research, the European Research Council (ERC) and in national proposals.

Project leader website: http://www.weilnboeck.net/
Project leader email address: hweilnboeck@gmx.de