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The Culture Hack Curriculum

Deep Dive – Understanding the Narrative Space

Identify and analyzing narrative communities

In step three of the Culture Hack Methodology (Module 6), we assemble a picture of the narrative communities in the narrative space.

The Understand process (Module 6) builds on the initial insights developed from the data collected through our listening model (Module 5). In this Understand phase (Module 6) we will assemble a picture of the communities that best represent specific narratives, we will analyze how they organize themselves and the potential they have to evolve the narrative space.

This phase of our research uses social network analysis (SNA) and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) to develop a map of the narrative space. To do this we first identify the narrative communities of interest to us and then show their relationships to each other. Once we have done this we identify the key frames in each narrative community, and also define the power relations and dynamics in the narrative space. 

This module outlines 5 steps:

Step 1: Identifying narrative communities

Step 2: Analyzing narrative communities: Attention, Network & Power

Step 3: Mapping narrative communities: the System-Knowledge framework

Step 4: Identifying and analyzing Frames

Step 5: Articulate your narrative objectives

Step 1: Identify narrative communities

Remember that narrative communities are groups of people talking to each other persistently about a specific thing over time—similar to an echo chamber. These hubs of discussions shape and influence narratives on a specific topic. 

You will be able to see narrative communities emerging from your data insights. You will need to name your narrative communities and provide a brief description – below, you can find a  table template to do this,  as well as see an example of a completed table.

Narrative Communities are the crux of Culture Hack Labs’ methodology. Our goal in a later part of the Understand Phase is to map these communities and their underlying belief systems to inform our

narrative strategy. Because once we unpack a Narrative Community’s belief systems, we can identify their justifications for action, and use that to guide our narrative intervention.

More information about narrative communities:

  • nodes are talking to each other in an ongoing conversation
  • the conversation is about shared topics and events 
  • actors have a shared perspective, belief system and ideology
  • they often have a shared geography but not exclusively 
  • the language, concepts and terminology is shared 
  • from a network theory perspective these communities are defined by the ‘distance’ between them in the network which measures their level of interaction

In essence we are looking for ways to cluster nodes by interaction, language, time and power. There are three elements to analyzing power potential in narrative communities: 

  1. That it is growing 
  2. That is exists and endures over time and
  3. The diversity of the conversation has consistently engaged people 

Example: Below is an example of a narrative community map taken from our Indigenous Futures Report

Community Name Description
North American Indigenous ActivistsIndigenous activists in the Global North are very active on social media, in particular around specific social movements. They have helped popularize notions of de-colonialism, territorial sovereignty and reparations
Latin American Indigenous and Non Indigenous ActivistsThis community is made up of various communities in Latin America (Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina). Some are led by Indigenous and others are not, but they all voice their support to Indigenous struggles and develop around Indigenous’ land guardianship and ownership.
Global North Climate Activists & Non Activists A very diverse group of activists, Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies, BIPOC, young people from the Global North as well as progressive politicians who make a clear connection between systems of oppression, Indigenous struggle and climate change. 
DGlobal North Climate Science Experts The larger conversation around the IPCC report happened in various communities, mostly composed of scientists, experts and international institutions. 
EClimate Deniers A community mostly present in the Global North who emerges in reaction to claims that climate change is real and scientific and that it requires a system change.

Step 2: Analyzing narrative communities: Attention, Network & Power 

Once you have identified narrative communities based on the insights from your collected data, we conduct an analysis of the narrative communities, following three key criteria: Attention, Network and Power.

  1. Attention is the first, high-level view of the narrative space, it allows us to understand key features like narrative events, themes and the volume of activity within the narrative space. If we are mapping this, we will aim to show the most important events during the time frame we are interested in. However, this does not give us a lot of detail about narrative communities or their interests, we must go deeper to find this out. 
  2. Network analyses illustrate the relationships between actors within a network, often this will show how narrative communities are related. Over this network topology we can also understand the virtual layer (as explained in Module 2) of these communities and narrative forms, by understanding their semantic and semiotic content.
  3. Power analyses map the political system of the narrative space by identifying dominant narrative communities and less powerful ones. 

Using these three principles we can map any narrative space and from this develop insights into how we may intervene. Irrespective of the kind of listening you do, whether big or small, you can always map a narrative space using these three principles. However, we should always remember that creating maps is a political process in which we are enacting our worldviews, politics and belief systems.

Explore Further:

Radical Cartography: This is not an Atlas is a project by collective Orangotango that gathers knowledge from global south and north about counter cartography and collective mapping of various kinds. Their book with the same title includes, tactics, a multitude of case studies and theory around radical cartography. 

Cultural Cartography Case Study: Decolonising the Wallmapu Map

Beehive Collective: Map of Globalization in the Americas

Manual of Collective Mapping by Iconoclastas

Step 3: Mapping narrative communities: the System-Knowledge Framework

After your attention, network and power analysis, the next objective of this module is to understand these narrative communities and their ways of knowing. For this, we conduct a mapping based on the System-Knowledge framework. This mapping between ways of ‘knowing’ and modes of ‘being’, is essentially a mapping of power relations and the potential for capacities for cultural evolution. Locating our narrative communities in this framework can help us to project our future narrative intervention, as well as to understand the relationship of each community with a way of knowing and relating to the world we inhabit. 

Note: you are free to adapt the axes to fit with your own goals (outlined in the POV), but the system-knowledge framework is a good backup or can provide inspiration. Take a look at an example of an adapted framework in the Territories of Transition report (p.26).

The System-Knowledge axis helps us to understand different narrative communities as heterogeneous groups that are defined by their interaction with information/knowledge and their relationship to systems of oppression; as opposed to understanding communities solely by ideology.

To help contextualize this, we can think of the three modes of modern domination: capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy – which still rule the world and work together to maintain these power-based relations. They feed on the conception of knowledge as being single and unique, forged by European modernity leading to an empire that rules the cognitive realm. Mechanisms of struggle and resistance have to be acknowledged and privileged to overcome such a world order, with particular attention to the intersectionality of such potential struggles, which rely on a common experience of oppression, whether gender, social or racial exclusion.

The framework is defined by two spectrums: system and knowledge spectrums.  We could say that the center of this whole spectrum is where the world currently stands, i.e. the status quo, that which we want to change to different ways of knowing the world and many forms of being.  

Figure 1: The System Knowledge Framework

The System Spectrum 

The system spectrum covers the systems of domination (capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy, etc):

  1. At one extreme we have communities that with their narratives and actions reinforce the current systems of domination, that is, they reproduce and support capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism, etc. 
  2. In the midst of the status quo and the reinforcement of the system, there are communities that are complementary to these systems, that is, they are akin to these systems of domination but do not completely reproduce them.
  3. On the other hand, there are communities that present, in their narratives and actions, alternatives to the systems of oppression.
  4. And finally, at the end of the axis, we have the regenerative life-affirming systems. The communities on this side of the spectrum are life centric and actively dismantle the systems of oppression. 

The Knowledge Spectrum

The knowledge spectrum comprises different ways of knowing the world:

  1. A belief that there is one truth in the world. These communities are firmly rooted within European legacies of The Enlightenment and Modernism, and its consequent epistemological monism.
  2. Between the center and singular ways of knowing we find laws and policies. This knowledge type is also rooted in the current systems and aims for incremental changes through policy and law.
  3. Next is the popular culture type of knowledge, communities on this side of the spectrum tend to reproduce narratives and messages that are closer to popular knowledge, i.e. knowledge that is not specialized but also not heterogeneous.
  4. The last end of this spectrum embraces the plurality of knowing in the service of life. The narrative communities found here are interested in allowing diversity to flourish.

Step 4: Identifying and Analyzing Frames

Remember that we have already identified frames in Module 2 as part of the virtual layer of the narrative form. In this process, we must be able to identify the different frames present in the narrative space (activity 1 below) then we will conduct a linguistic analysis. 

  • Frames are mental models, sometimes called mental schemas, that we use to interpret the world. 
  • Frames serve as mental structures for unifying ideas and concepts.
  • They are made up of a mix of facts, experiences, emotions, memories and assumptions. 
  • We have a frame for almost every word, but we also have frames for concepts, people and objects. 

To understand a frame, it is useful to ask three questions: 1) What is inside the frame? 2) What is outside the frame? and 3) how is what is inside constructed? In this sense, what is absent in the discourse often says more than what is present. And what is present in the discourse must be dissected into its component elements in order to elucidate the metaphors, logics and power behind it.

Explore Further: The Frames of Our Cultural Narratives: How Neurobiology and Metaphorical Frames Inform the Work Wraparound.

Step 5: Articulate your narrative objectives

In the final unit of Module 6, and in preparation for the next module, ask yourself: what are your specific narrative objectives? What do you want to shift in this narrative related to your POV?

Based on the mapping of narrative communities in the narrative space, we see the following critical insights:


Therefore we will engage the following narrative communities:


By taking these narrative actions: