In an earlier post, I outlined ways in which the term strategic narrative is used in current practice, in public relations—as an element of marketing—and in the academic field of international relations. This post returns to the evolution of the term as an applied concept in foreign affairs.
According to International Relations professor Alister Miskimmon (who I asked by email), the first published use of the term “strategic narrative” was by Lawrence Freedman, a professor of War Studies at King’s College, London. In 2006, Freedman wrote a paper called The Transformation of Strategic Affairs. Many of the insights in Freedman’s work stem from the Western experience of war in the post-9/11 years, and the discovery—the hard way, through experience—that the era of large scale land warfare may be decisively over. In its place, the future promises smaller wars, waged by insurgents as well as governments, in which human factors such as behavior, culture and communication play meaningful roles.
In this context, Freedman identifies “strategic narratives” as a kind of secret weapon of networked combatants fighting irregular wars. In Freedman’s view, a story that connects people emotionally to an identity and a mission “helps dispersed groups to cohere and guides its strategy. Individuals know the sort of action expected of them and the message to be conveyed.”
Thus, in Freedman’s definition, narrative is a function of strategy in the most traditional sense related to the science of war. In that vein, he argues that: Continue reading