Dr. Lois Presser publishes new book, "Inside Story: How Narratives Drive Mass Harm" (University of California Press, 2018).
Inside Story explores the capacity of stories to motivate large numbers of people both to participate in collective harm-doing and to tolerate harm done by others. Cases of terrorism and criminal punishment ground the theoretical exploration. The book is aligned with narrative criminology, according to which stories, especially but limited to self-stories, promote or inhibit harmful action. It goes beyond prior social research on narrative impacts by discerning the arousal processes set in motion by the stories we tell. There is a general sense that stories govern the way we see things. By comparison, the fact that our stories emotionally affect – both excite and subdue – us has received far less attention. Scholarly work in literature and aesthetics, the psychology of reading and textual reception, and the sociology of social movements highlight phenomena of captivation and invitation via narrative and other figurative and ambiguous discourse. Studies of emotion direct attention to how we evaluate in narrative form that which might affect control over our well-being. Those evaluations draw from present circumstance, cultural prescriptions, and memory. An analysis of the psychic yet intersubjective experience of storying our lives and our worlds is crucial to understanding the energy driving today’s mass harms.