Каталог статей из сборников научных конференций и научных журналов- The concept of narrative and semiotic approach to the study of narrative in psychology

The concept of narrative and semiotic approach to the study of narrative in psychology

D. M. Belugina, undergraduate,

e-mail: dianabelugina@mail.ru,

E. V. Zvonova, candidate of pedagogical sciences,

e-mail: zevreturn@yandex.ru,

Moscow State Pedagogical University,

Moscow, Russia


Nowadays, psychological research determines life stories in the form of social constructs – products of the narrative activity of the individual and those cultural situations in which he exists.

The term narrative comes from the word "narrare" and literally means the act of exposing the event through speech.

The term narrative was firstly used in historiography. Narrative history studied the event not within the framework of the realities that really took place, but from the point of view of their interpretations, the peculiarities of the narrative. So, historical events that were initially interpreted as “good” are already spliced with a similar interpretation and cannot be presented otherwise [1].

In a broad sense, in literature and art, narrative is an opportunity to “create reality” without relying on historical objectivity and adequacy [2].

From a psychological point of view, narrative is a way of describing a person’s lived time through a story, with the help of which everyday consciousness, personality and individual “I” are formed and exist.

According to M. Heidegger, the narrative appears as “a phenomenon that emerged as a result of the need to represent one’s inner self to the social environment and to participate in the lives of others, sharing individually comprehended values and meanings through dialogue” [3].

In addition, the narrative can be connected with the reaction to the request of members of society looking for answers to the same questions as this person, and in this regard, the unique “ways of living” that she finds turn out to be precedent for others and are built into the general cultural and even case of significance for many, a universal human resource of experience.

In these cases, forming a text about himself for another person (even if not real, but implied or even made up at all), the person not only organizes and constructs himself as part of the modern world, but also creates the contours of himself, while he is absent being, but capable of appearing as a result of the implementation of the “ideal project” chosen by this person for subsequent self-realization [4].

So, forming his image of himself in the texts for others (regardless of whether they are true or fictional), a person, in fact, certifies the way he exists in social space and at the same time verifies his own meanings.

On the other hand, a narrative gives an opportunity to a person to fix and organize the accumulating experience, realizing through it his uniqueness and originality. In this context, the narrative contributes to the understanding and acceptance by the person of himself, contributes to the awareness and comprehension of personal authenticity.

Building a narrative allows a person to fragment and conceptualize their life: a person every time has the opportunity to understand and accept himself as “himself-another” – a person who has lived, made a series of choices, made certain actions, survived events that have already taken place or somehow touched him and  made up the facts of his individual life [5].

The combination of these numerous "I-others" in the context of certain life circumstances not only becomes a guideline for further life, but also contributes to the individual self-development of a person.

So, the concept of narrative can be divided into two broad directions: narrative as a monologue and narrative as a dialogue.

In the first case, the understanding of narrative focuses on the central role of the “I” in the formation and structuring of the narrative, which, in turn, serves the purpose of understanding the experience and the formation of the I-concept.

In the second case, the narrative is understood as a special kind of communicative practice in which the “narrated self” is constructed in conjunction with the audience and is highly dependent on the cultural context. Interest in this case focuses mainly on the mechanisms of interaction as a result of dialogue.

According to the foregoing, we can conclude that a narrative is a verbal expression and description of related events. It is often used as a synonym for the concept of “narration” or “story”. But, in fact, this is more a story connected with the peculiarities of the story, and not from the point of view of the very idea of the story or its authenticity.

Everything that happens in reality does not always remain in our memory. But, the reflection and interpretation of the event, the emotional response is remembered. Therefore, the trace that is reproduced in the memory is not a “resurrection” of reality, but a retelling of factors that are significant for us.

That is why, the same event, when played by different narrators, will be like several different events. But, such evaluative myths are the causes of many anxieties and problems [6].

However, if all this is only a subjective perception of reality, then a person can easily rewrite his life, with all its troubles and disappointments. One has only to change the plot.

The concept of narrative psychology was introduced by Jerome Bruner, who argued that anyone can find elements of comedy, drama and romance in his biography. And also – a whole set of narrative schemes [7].

Note that it is precisely these narrative schemes that psychologists working in the field of advertising use. A classic narrative plot from a fairy tale: a protagonist with the help of magic weapons flogs with evil. Similar advertisements are found every day: the “ideal” mistress fights with grease, stains, rust or evil germs. And as a magic weapon – a tool that is advertised.

Modern psychological research in the space of understanding narrative structures is increasingly multiplicative in nature, due to the framework of which various approaches and ideas are combined.

Narrative schemes are easily and freely formed at an early age, because they rely on the first models of targeted human actions, which are completed in the course of further development, provided that the subsequent narrative is stereotyped” [8].

Individual life can be considered as a complex fabric of interwoven threads of sensory-practical experience and sign-symbolic elements of reality, structured on the basis of the personal activity of the individual himself, with the goal of understanding life experience.

Ks. Plech shows two essential features of any narrative:

1. The presence of temporal organization of current events is similar to events in real life.

2. Stories as special types of narrative, need the main character, who at the same time has a personal system of goals that create a certain perspective.

This second feature, due to the researcher, connected with the presence of significant relationships between the personal text and the personality of the author, allowing you to penetrate the world of personal meanings [8].

A similar approach is relevant for modern foreign narratology.

The semiotic approach provides for a comprehensive review of different symbolic systems, which is due to their ideological and compositional analogies and principles of functioning, involving the projection of a meaningful plan onto a plan of expression, and understanding of the text as a specially structured space [9].

It is necessary to pay attention to the fact that “the allocation of a function as a fundamental criterion for describing symbolic and symbolic activity follows from the nature of the sign and symbol: to be a sign or symbol is a functional rather than a natural property of an object. In accordance with the functional attribute of an object, a phenomenon is considered as an element of a wider system by highlighting the role that they play in it” [10].

The application of the semiotic approach involves the study of the object in the totality of the expressive means characteristic of it as a system of signs, the coding of which involves mutual correlation, “mutual reflection”. Semiotic analysis is aimed at understanding the object as an act of communication, the components of which are organized and become understandable in accordance with a certain code, which is a way of forming an information message.

So, from the standpoint of semiotic analysis, an interpretation is made of systems of signs that serve to express a certain content. Semiotic analysis allows it to be decoded and interpreted, and the meaning of the transmitted message may depend not only on the presence of a particular sign in it, but also on what combination these signs form.

Narrative semiotics acts as a kind of connection between these two levels and forms the third level – the presentation / presentation structure, which is closely intertwined with narrative structures.

The founder of the narrative component of semiotics is A. Greymas, whose methodology is based on a semiotic understanding of communication. In his opinion, communication consists of semiotic processes connecting signs and designated meanings:

- semiosis as an action, influence, is a unity or includes the unity of three subjects - a sign, its object and its interpreter.

This influence of the "three relations" in no case can be realized in pairwise actions.

The component “meaning” (or “interpreter”) is an intermediary between the signified (object) and that which means (sign). Here it is also worth remembering conventions or sociality: signs do not have a “natural” connection with the definable. Thus, the relationship is conditional;

- Signs are not autonomous entities, they acquire significance solely by their position in the semiotic system and due to differences from other signs.

Narrative structures are used to create and organize the values of the surface structure, which can be obtained through a series of choices, basic conditions and roles that occur in the text.

Thus, the primary goal of narrative semiotics is to identify the narrative structures of the text that link the surface and deep structure of the text.

Exceptionally, provided that such intermediate structures are understood, it is possible to understand the underlying structure.

In the narrative structure, A. Greimass identifies six actants (the most abstract concept of the implementer of the function of the action) that guide the story:

- Destinator (or donor) is a certain force, establishes rules and values in action and represents the ideology of the text;

- the recipient – carries the values of the destination, therefore, is related to the object to which he distributes the values;

- subject – plays a major role in the story;

- object – where, what the subject of the story seeks; the goal to which the subject's interest is oriented;

- helper – a force that contributes to the subject in his efforts aimed at the object;

- a traitor is power, prevents and personifies everything that keeps the subject from achieving the goal [11].

Note that only clearly defined connections are possible between the above functions.

An analysis of the narrative structure is intended to describe the aforementioned actants and isotopes in the narrative.

Thus, the semiotic analysis of narrative can be applied wherever narrative is explored, because its procedures make it possible to determine the structures and values that form their basis.

Direct penetration into the deep structure is the main advantage of using this method for the analysis of advertising texts.

Based on the foregoing, we can conclude that within the framework of the semiotic analysis of narrative, the cognitive orientation of the schemes is actualized, its psychological content is revealed. The leading function of the scheme is the process of understanding the situation, setting goals and making decisions.  Based on these functional components, the construction of the history of an individual event occurs.

The semiotic analysis of narrative gives the opportunity not only to understand the essence of the structure of the text, but on the basis of cognitive components to see the semantic component of the narrative text, to understand the psychological aspects of motivation and actions of the main characters.


1. Narrative as a cultural mediator of personality development: a look through the prism of cultural and historical psychology / Yu. b. Turusheva // Cultural and historical psychology, 2016. – No. 2. – P. 26.

2. Elfimova M. M. Narrative as an instrumental means of arbitrary sense formation // Questions of psychology, 2018. – No. 1. – P. 92.

3. Heidegger M. Being and time. – M. : Academic project, 2015. – P. 83.

4. Burton R. F. Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Madinah and Meccah. – M. : Book on demand, 2018. – P. 135.

5. Brockmeyer Th. Narrative: the problems and promises of one alternative paradigm. // Questions of philosophy, 2000. – No. 3. – P. 31.

6. Martsinkovskaya T. D., Turusheva Yu. B. Narrative as a methodology of personality research in the situation of transitivity // Psychological research: electronic scientific journal, 2017. – No. 52. – P. 2.

7. Bruner Dzh. Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life / J. Bruner-Harvard University Press, 2003. – P. 73.

8. Pléh Cs. Narrativity in text construction and self-construction // Neohelicon, 2003. – No. 1. – P. 192.

9. Ronina Ya. Sinergo-semiotic text analysis // In the book: Word, utterance, text in cognitive, pragmatic and culturological aspects, 2018. – P. 68.

10. Zvonova E. V. Symbolization and metacognitive mediation: continuation of cultural and historical tradition // Bulletin of the Russian state University, 2014. – No. 1. – Pp. 34–35.

11. Greimas A. J. Structural semantics. Search method. – M. : 2004. – P. 174.

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