A culture’s “common sense” is rooted in its common stories. We must understand the big narratives that shape our world.
A metanarrative is the blueprint for a society or culture. It provides the big ideas that organize our world. Often these are stories that everyone believes are true or just “common sense.” Growth is good. Progress is linear. You get what you deserve. Because meta narratives seep into the many smaller stories of our lives, we don’t even recognize them as a stories. That’s why meta narratives are often invisible.
Metanarratives can be political or economic ideologies — democracy, capitalism, socialism. They can be assumptions about how the world works — humans have the right to use and exploit nature, for example, or that if you just work hard enough, you’ll get the rewards you deserve.
A good indicator that you’re dealing with a metanarrative is that it presents itself as a self-evident truth, not just one opinion among many. Of course, profit is always good, it might say, or, Obviously, new technology is superior to traditional ways of doing things.
The thing about metanarratives is that they don’t need to be explicitly evoked to do their work. These stories run so deep that they often shape our actions and worldviews on a subconscious level. This is what makes them so difficult to challenge. Difficult, but not impossible.
What metanarratives are embedded deep into the issues you’re tackling? What meta narratives are gaining power? What meta narratives are breaking apart? Here’s an exercise to analyze the meta narratives at play for you.