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Figures, narratives and byways

Récits, figures et chemins de traverse
Delphine Saurier et Odile Vallée
Cet article est une traduction de :
Récits, figures et chemins de traverse [fr]


À partir de recherches portant sur la notion de figure, les auteures proposent une réflexion sur la place que peut avoir le récit et la narratologie en sciences de l’information et de la communication, et inversement. De la rencontre du récit sur le terrain des processus de communication au concept de récit pris dans son sens anthropologique, c’est une réflexion sur la fabrique de la recherche qui est proposée. De cette réflexion, il semble qu’une manière pertinente d’améliorer la qualité de la recherche dans le domaine de la narratologie passe par une pollinisation par et dans différentes disciplines, suggérant d’éviter la tentation de l’institutionnalisation.

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Notes de la rédaction

This English translation has not been published in printed form/Cette traduction anglaise n’a pas été publiée sous forme imprimée.

Texte intégral

  • 1 We would like to thank Joëlle Le Marec for reading this work and also for her precious advice.
  • 2 The notion of narrative is used widely by organization theorists, anthropologists and historians.

1Let’s be perfectly clear: on first reading, it seemed to us that Raphaël Baroni’s article (2016) L’empire de la narratologie, ses défis et ses faiblesses (The Empire of Narratology: Challenges and Weaknesses) addressed the question of narratology with precision, even to the point of saturation.1 After reading this article, what can we say about narrative and the important – sometimes central – role it plays in our scientific exploration? But above all, what can we say about an article that places us squarely in the category of “ordinary” (ibid.: 227) and no doubt clumsy users of the narratology “toolbox” (ibid.: 220)? How can we debate an article that lumps together “ordinary users” of narratology and acknowledged or unwitting “narratologists?” The subject draws us like a magnet: let’s return to the article for a closer look at the clearly argued and referenced demonstration. It certainly provides the basis for a lively discussion. “Narrative,” “narration,” “narratology” and “narrative theory”: the clarity of the concepts that we are endeavoring to grasp is implied in the subject matter but not explicitly defined, thus creating an unsettling similarity in terms of use. We observe that certain uses of narrative, which we have encountered in our research, are surprisingly absent from the state of the art.2 The dividing line between “institutional discipline” and “research discipline” (ibid.: 230) appears to be a key point in this respect. While this distinction by Raphaël Baroni, also adopted by Dominique Maingueneau, is verifiable and verified, the logic behind the association nevertheless seems questionable when the author refers to narration as a “meta-discipline” (ibid.). The door opens slightly when we read the following:

“In short, for researchers who have a tendency to merge a pro-narrativist conception with constructivist epistemology […], our identities are unquestionably the product of narrative mediation, and our relation to the world dependent on an emplotment in which reality is transformed from its shapeless and mute beginnings, controlled by a temporal flow without structure or meaning” (ibid.: 223).

2This paves the way for some deliberative questioning regarding our relationship to the field, the object of research, the angle of observation and the discipline. We will pick up the threads of the demonstration in our capacity as researchers in information and communication sciences (ICS), attentive to the processes through which the objects of our attention evolve. Taking this clearly situated practice as our basis, we can pursue our intention of examining Raphaël Baroni’s conclusive remarks on the importance of institutionalizing narratology.

On the institutional problem of narratology

3Let’s go back to Raphaël Baroni’s demonstration, as we understood it. The author starts from the initial observation that narratology is moribund from an institutional viewpoint, saying that "if narratology still has a territory, it can only be an outbuilding, a hospice, or the back of a cupboard in departments of literature, which are themselves in the process of dying" (ibid. : 221). And yet the social territory of narrative is expanding continuously, like an empire that is capable of “invasion” or “enslavement” (ibid.: 222), which , according to some researchers, subjugates all the other explanatory matrices of social reality. This situation results from the undeniable impact of narratives on reality, as well as from the “ethical ambivalence of the use of narrative” (ibid.: 223), as personified by homo fabulator. Analyses show that homo fabulator is capable of fabulation, an act that is key to the fulfillment of the human personality and a collective identity. Using James Phelan as an example, Raphaël Baroni reminds us here that it is important to make a clear distinction between narrative as a cultural production and the cognitive skills enabling it or allowing its interpretation. We could add that Marcel Proust (1954: 110) already made this distinction over a hundred years ago, when he described the power of the novelist:

“We stand in front of the novelist as slaves in front the Emperor: with one word, he can set us free. Through the novelist, we become someone else: a general, a weaver, a singer, a country gentleman, living in the country, gambling, hunting, hating, loving, going to war. Through the novelist, we are Napoleon, Savonarola, a peasant and more still – living an existence that we might never have experienced – we are ourselves. He lends a voice to the crowd, to solitude, to the elderly clergyman, to the sculptor, to the child, to the horse, to our soul. Through him, we become the true Proteus, taking on all forms of life in succession. Swapping one for the other, we feel in ourselves, in our newfound agility and strength, that they are but a game, a sorry or pleasurable mask, but one with no hold on reality. Just for a moment, our good or bad fortune loses its tyrannical hold, we play with it and with that of others. This is why we feel such happiness when we reach the end of a good novel, even if it is sad.”

4Although narrative is establishing itself in the questions asked by many disciplines, Baroni (2016: 226) criticizes the poor use of narratology by researchers from other disciplines, too often limited to borrowing “imported and often dated concepts as stabilized terminology, applying them to their objects in almost total ignorance of the work undertaken in the field of narrative theory over the past thirty years.” While there can be no doubt as to the overly broad nature of the narratology “toolbox,” Baroni nevertheless points out that “the French-speaking community has many researchers who are continuing to build an understanding of narrativity in its various forms, media-related or cultural, rather than simply basing their studies on standardised, simplified theory” (ibid:228). How can we explain an overall context that is ill equipped to make a positive contribution to narrative theory?

5Baroni believes that this context can be explained first and foremost by the problem relating to the institutionalization of narratology in academia. Based on the distinction made by Dominique Maingueneau (2006: §3), Baroni posits that although narratology is active and relevant as a research discipline, it is starting from scratch as an institutional discipline. “So we find ourselves facing a vicious circle: we can study narratology in many institutions, and we cannot deny that a level of interdisciplinarity is needed to drive this ‘meta-discipline’ forward, but it is increasingly difficult to see exactly where the theory of narrative is positioned, and thus to keep pace with its discussions and developments, or to identify with its objectives” (ibid.: 230). The solution is threefold. The ideal and idealistic solution: the creation of a new section by the French National Board of Universities (CNU). The efficient but difficult solution: the creation of institutional forums such as seminars and – above all – chairs. The effective and feasible solution: narratology could acquire real visibility within another discipline such as literary studies, language sciences and information and communication sciences.

Motivations behind institutionalization: balancing scientific necessity and individual aspirations

6Raphaël Baroni’s call for greater visibility of narratology in the scientific arena may bring to mind similar past attempts, such as those relating to educational sciences or information and communication sciences, sections 70 and 71, respectively, within the CNU. We are also reminded of the extensive debates relating to the institutionalization of criminology, which are summed up quite well in the following introduction to a volume of Cultures & Conflits (Bigo, Bonelli, 2014):

“For a French sociologist or political scientist, the very expression “criminology” sounds a bit strange and a little ridiculous at first. Why would we separate behavior – criminal behavior in this instance – from the set of social relations in which it is bound up in order to make it a specific field of study? If criminology focuses only on crime, then it is no more meaningful than “anorexicology,” “suicidology” or “marriageology,” understood to be the sciences of anorexia, suicide and marriage, respectively.
If, on the other hand, its ambition is to position crime as part of the development and maintenance of a social and political order, then why distinguish it from sociology or political science? The question is intentionally naive. Depending on the country, the existence or not of criminology as a discipline, as well as the meaning given to it, depend on unique historical legacies, the stages and forms of which need to be traced back in each case. The social power dynamics and the academic balance between law, sociology, medicine and psychology reflect different forms of institutionalization in Canada, Belgium, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and France. However, the question is naive in appearance only. This is because the battle for the disciplinary existence of criminology remains inseparable from broader efforts to promote specific modes of questioning, categories of thought and narration, i.e. a “criminological reason” that this special issue of Cultures & Conflits intends to look at more closely.”

7This sharply worded introduction includes most of the lines of thought identified by Raphaël Baroni concerning narratology, with the exception of denunciation. First of all, narrative and crime are omnipresent in the social and political arena. As subjects and forms of communication, they are present in words, the environment, representations, and relationships with others. This omnipresence is reflected in moral beliefs and judgements, giving the question of crime and narrative a hold over political and social decisions.

8Next, Baroni highlights the difficulty of making narratology and its contributions visible, leading in particular to it being seen as merely a “toolbox.” In the same way that narrative concerns several disciplines, the subject of crime involves law, sociology, medicine and psychology – to name just a few – resulting in a lack of visibility of the knowledge produced in this field. A researcher may thus feel regretful that their work will not contribute at all – or only in a small way – to the reasoned development of society.

9To continue, Baroni sees the creation of a CNU section as the solution: “In an ideal world, it would probably be more efficient to create a new section” (Baroni, 2016: 235), even though, in the case of criminology, it existed for just a few months in 2012. We see it in deeds for criminology and in words with Baroni: this institutional recognition raises questions relating to the scientific legitimacy of researchers in this field and their desire for institutional, or even political, recognition. In this respect, Baroni makes the distinction between “the real theoreticians of this specific form of communication” and “ordinary users” (ibid.: 227). Why and for whom would we submit a proposal of this type, which seems more like a demand in the case of criminology? The question for whom is dominant in the French debate around criminology. Although the for whom is not absent from Baroni’s article, the why is essential: to test the theory of narrative. This is particularly important when we consider that criminology has acquired institutional recognition in some parts of the scientific world whereas, as the author shows, this is not the case for narratology.

Towards an alternative perspective: how does narrative come to researchers?

10This comparative detour sheds light on individual motivations, as well as on the social, political and scientific objectives of recognition by the CNU. In so doing, it underlines the division of the discipline suggested by Dominique Maingueneau and which supports the approach of Raphaël Baroni. If the distinction between a “scientific discipline” and an “institutional discipline” is accepted by researchers from an intellectual standpoint, it is because they put it to the test in their interactions with their research objects and fields of research. How, then, can we distinguish the study of the object from the institutional system overseeing its activity? This institutional presence can be seen at every stage in researchers’ activities, both upstream and downstream – in a list of journals recognized by the CNU section, the make-up of the journal’s scientific committee, European funding, a disciplinary field structured by its players, concepts and methods, and so on. As a result, it is difficult to isolate it from a “scientific discipline”. Particularly as “players are inevitably led to believe that this breakdown [by discipline] corresponds to an effective partitioning of reality, projecting into some transcendental realm the principles of the classification that structure their practices” (Maingueneau, in: Baroni, 2016: 229).

  • 3 Note that we leave out the question of visibility and training.

11For this reason, it seems feasible to develop a second perspective alongside that of Raphaël Baroni, who suggests that “the best way to improve the visibility and quality of research and training in this field lies in the institutionalization of a number of players, even if researchers from different backgrounds continue (as indeed they should) to contribute to the development of this general theory, from their own standpoint” (ibid.: 234). Shifting the focus to an alternative perspective, however, means that we will address only part of Baroni’s proposal:3 the best way to improve the quality of research in this field is through pollination by and within different disciplines, suggesting that the temptation of institutionalization should be avoided. The proliferation observed and acknowledged by Baroni may have as its focus the intersection with other disciplines, including objects other than the symptomatic written narrative. If the ideal comes about— – with the creation of a new section – is there not a risk that narratology could see its progress gradually frozen by the practices of researchers who have internalized disciplinary structures? To what extent would creating a new section – in line with Raphal Baroni’s wishes – result in narratology cutting itself off from this proliferation, pushing away the spaces for productive and creative cross-fertilization? These would be the very spaces that are helping to ensure the development of narrative theory today.

12This raises the fundamental, epistemological and methodological question of the manufacture of research. How does narrative come to ICS researchers such as us? How does it fit into our information and communication approaches? We developed an interest in narrative through its players and practices. In this case, narrative becomes a constitutive component of the research object and no longer an exogenous and superimposed concept. Narrative has established itself as one of the components for an analysis of communication phenomena and we have tried to understand its logistic, poetic and social aspects, to grasp it in its trivial life (Jeanneret, 2008). In order to do so, we have effectively made functional use of conceptualizations taken from classical and post-classical narratology, to borrow the opposition described by David Herman (1997), supplemented by a theoretical corpus taken from sociology, semiology and information and communication sciences (ICS).

  • 4 The prefix “meta” is understood as much in its sense of extension and depth as in its usual scient (...)

13In ICS, moreover, narrative is no longer approached as a tangible, circumscribed material, but as a concept that helps to address our attempt to analyze the communication process. Narrative is thus also approached in ICS as a “meta” component4 that makes the communication process smoother. It contributes to the transparency of the mediations at the heart of the process. Jean-Michel Adam (1984: 11), a “post-classical” linguist (Baroni, 2016: 226), who is interested in the textual analysis of discourse, describes the act of discourse performed by narrative as follows: “The normal (classical) regime of narrative is based on the denial of production operations (coding, assembly), on the act of forgetting that a body organizes the representation and regulates our analysis.”

14As a result, narrative as it is understood in the communication process – and no longer in its sole function as a “toolbox” – has a smoothing, harmonizing effect. It produces this controversial “narrative identity,” criticized by Raphaël Baroni. Its contextualization in social places and practices and its deconstruction thereby enable a detailed study of the communication process, which becomes all the more crucial in a context where mediations are significantly redefined by digital technology and by the ideology of the direct link. Here, the level of appropriation of the narrative concept is actually that of the narrative and narrativity, circumscribed to what makes the narrative happen. By considering narrative in this way, the researcher is able to question its forms and boundaries, as well as its scale of observation. It also becomes possible to grasp the process and effects of the articulation, whether deliberate or accidental, of a heterogeneous assemblage of media, discourses, text, images, practices and figures that are sometimes remote in time and space. Finally, we are able to re-establish the idea of narrative tension at the heart of our reflection. This contributes to structuring the communication process, which accompanies cultural forms in their trivial life, and which ultimately guarantees their social durability.

15Inserting narrative and narrativity at the heart of the analysis of the communication process restores the symbolic depth of actions, the historical and social depth of the apparatus and structures, the presence of the irrational. At the same time, narrative tension guarantees an opening for possibilities.

The figure, narrative and ICS

  • 5 The Microcredit Summit Campaign is an international network bringing together a wide range of play (...)

16How is this perspective implemented in practice? Each starting off from a different basis of questioning, we looked at well-known figures, and more precisely at the ways in which they emerged and evolved. What is behind the symbolic operativity (Quéré, 1992) of microcredit as a cause (Voirol, 2003)? An analysis of the discourse of the players in this cause led us to study the emergence of two complementary figures (Vallée, 2014): the micro-entrepreneur and the macro-entrepreneur.5 The construction of these figures is based on different narratives and discursive productions: visual and narrative portraits, biographies, autobiographies, personal media, speeches, DVDs, videos, business reports, etc. We looked at how other spaces and other figures were involved in how visitors contribute to the emergence (Hennion, 1993)– always renewed and always yet to come – of a place of memory (Nora, 1984). A joint analysis of the patrimonialization of places dedicated to Marcel Proust, Marie and Pierre Curie and Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie and the reception of visitors made it possible to identify the figure of the celebrity – referred to today as illustrious – as one of the beacons in the emergence of places of memory. This figure is the result of the interweaving of different discursive productions and narratives: biographies, literary essays, political speeches, commemorative speeches, on-site scenography, stories of illustrious lives present in the public sphere, etc. In other words, the figure is seen as an object whose analysis is essential if we are to address our respective problems relating to the patrimonialization and sociology of reception on the one hand, and the circulation of public problems on the other. Against this backdrop, we can observe the dominance of narrative and the way it contributes to the emergence and continuous shaping of the well-known figure. Narrative thereby establishes itself first and foremost as one of the categories of research materials.

  • 6 The analysis focused more specifically on the discourse of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, an int (...)

17The starting point of the narrative analysis is therefore empirical and must enable us to capture the social circulation and political reasons of each figure. Note that the status of narrative is similar in both fields, albeit to different degrees: although it is always omnipresent, it is a concept that is claimed by the players promoting microcredit6 and called upon by the players in places of memory. Narratives and their uses are spread over time and take on various forms, thus making up a composite corpus of research. The figures of Marcel Proust, Marie and Pierre Curie and Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie emerge from an exploration of the creations and the very lives of the illustrious figures offering material for narratives (Elias, 1991); the words of illustrious figures who have placed their lives in the public sphere in order to construct a posture (Meizoz, 2007; Saurier, 2011); stories conveyed by literary critics (Jeanneret, 1982) and the work of experts (Heinich, 1991), creating an inner circle that gives the figure legitimacy; political and community appropriations (Saurier, 2013) that closely blend their own narrative with the story of illustrious figures, giving the figure access to ever more distant social circles; and finally, heritage narratives and narratives relating to visitor interpretation (Heinich, 1991; Saurier, 2013) that allow the illustrious figures to become part of the collective memory. Another composite corpus of research can be observed when we look at the emerging figure of the macro-entrepreneur, of which Muhammad Yunus, considered as the founder of microcredit, is a high-profile example, responding to the figure of the micro-entrepreneur. The ways in which this initiator of microcredit projects and linchpin of its development appeared in the field are varied and complex. Yunus speaks in his own name and develops a rhetoric that contributes to and exceeds that of the network of players from which it is analyzed. He is the subject of hagiographies. Finally, an analysis of the narratives shows that their uses contribute to

“the […] dynamics [...] that leads [sic] living beings to become signs, to find in a discourse the means of transforming themselves into a unit of meaning, into an identity. To finally pass from this opaque and dispersed flesh, from this exorbitant and troubled life, to the limpidness of a word, to become a fragment of language, a single name, that can be read and quoted by others” (Certeau, 1990: 217-218).

18Thus, the interlacing of the narratives and discursive productions that were analyzed form “narrative catalysts”, giving rise to a new “narrative” that is legible, quotable, memorizable, memorable and embodied by the figure. This is because the modes of appearance and expression of the macro-entrepreneur, like those of illustrious figures, are based on both narrative and narrativity, as distinguished by Philippe Marion (1997: 84):

“We therefore have to distinguish between an explicitly affirmed narrative and a narrative seen as a possible dimension based on a given configuration of the object observed (whether a sign, a message or, more basically, a medium). Narrativity would then be not only a result but also a promise, that of a potential or virtual development suggested by the simultaneous presence of certain clues.”

  • 7 This is the trajectory analyzed by Y. Jeanneret (1982) concerning Romain Rolland and of Frédéric J (...)

19It is by analyzing narratives that are heterogeneous in terms of their materiality, historicity and narrative power, pronounced by different players in different spheres, that we grasp the strength of figures. This analytical approach makes it possible to see how figures take on values in order to reach either a breaking point,7 or a sphere of consecration. In other words, they can be transfigured but also disfigured by rhetorical use and the effects of their circulation and appropriation. The values they bear make social sense and the figures bring society a narrative of themselves that is always unique. The strength of this narrative lies in its narrative tension: the forming (Baroni, 2007: 402) of the initial plot (the rejection of Vincent van Gogh, the homosexuality of Marcel Proust, a scientific discovery by a woman in the case of Marie Curie, the counter-intuitive approach of Muhammad Yunus, the capacity for financial management shown by women in poverty) reaches its outcome in collective recognition and memory. But if these figures continue to live on so vividly, we believe that this is because of an outcome resolved collectively but, above all, partially. The narratives analyzed (fiction, commemorative speeches, scenography, etc.) offer overall coherence in space and time, but they also include asperities for the interpreter: they may tell the same story, but their narration is always unique. It is these asperities that raise questions for the interpreter, as they continue to weave a plot around a figure whom the interpreter understands as a subject impossible to grasp in its entirety. The narrative of the creator (their genius and potentialities) conveyed by these figures will always remain enigmatic owing to the unfinished narrativity behind their occurrence. And finally, as explained by Louis Marin (1978: 8): “This powerful assurance of the narrative as regards its power of truth, this immediate authorization of history to take the discourse of the real, has provoked suspicion: the suspicion that narrative is also a trap, and a trap all the more effective for not appearing to be one”.

20Thus, on reaching the end of a process of social appropriation, the figures are able to talk about themselves, their evocation summoning up a shared narrative that is alive in the collective memory. Our research is an attempt to understand the narrative in its anthropological dimension. These contemporary narratives of the micro- and macro-entrepreneur, of Marcel Proust and Marie Curie, draw on the common ground of the figure of the creator, the person who, at least partially freed from the structures ensuring social reproduction, is capable of innovating, transforming and creating. These creator figures give rise to emancipatory narratives:

“If our conception of reality is a construction aimed at making the world habitable, it is important for it be capable of evolving when it reveals its limits, adapting to the incessant clashes with a universe of concrete experiences that cannot be reduced to our interpretative and behavioral schemas. The continuous erosion of the standards of daily life is as necessary and vital to the individual and to society as their reproduction through regulatory processes. The anecdotes that we tell each other, but above all the fictional narratives, by their power to forge new possible worlds, allow us to explore unsuspected virtualities of reality, they aim to “defamiliarize” us with our everyday environment” (Baroni, 200: 410).

21Through our approaches, we have been able to experience an uncomfortable position that appears to us to be quite fertile. The nature of our terrain compels us to look at narrative and narrative theory from the highly specific standpoint of our discipline. This dual position of conceptual exteriority and empirical legitimacy with respect to narrative theory demands another approach, through a situated response that calls for further exploration.

  • 8 A useful analogy might be to consider that narrative is to narrativity what heritage is to patrimo (...)

22It is therefore clear that we have imposed an informational and communicational detour on narrative, steering it away from its initial origins in literature. Recognized as cultural beings offering themselves up as narratives in the public sphere, our figures raise questions on the relationship between narrative and narrativity. The figure offers a narrative that is part of and that itself forms a culture: it is polyphonic without a single narrator; it is made up of an infinity of narrations unfolding in a continuous narrativity. This narrativity takes the form of words, shapes and structures: it is a mimetic act, a synthesis of the heterogeneous seeking a configuration of time (Ricœur, 1983). If the narrative is included in the narrativity, it can also precede it, follow it, or even extend beyond it: earlier narratives feed the narrativity that brings about the narrative relating to the figures; the figures result from a narrativity understood as a process;8 finally, the narrative extends beyond the narrativity when it gains its autonomy as a cultural being.


23We believe that the proposal described as ideal by Raphaël Baroni, with the creation of a new section by the CNU, requires further discussion. This is what we have sought to do, starting off from our stance as ICS researchers and from a specific object: the figure. Discussing this proposal allows us to reflect on the approach to the specific question of narratology as a research discipline and as an institutional discipline. Looking beyond this, we can also consider what lies behind the production of knowledge, and more precisely the disciplinary boundaries considered from each field. This has prompted us to take a fresh look at the way we construct our fields, which are thought of as composites in the sense developed by Joëlle Le Marec (2002: 63):

“At the present stage, the concept of composite exists only as a reconceptualization of the separation and the connection between the field as a complex ‘unit’ organized by the communicational approach of social phenomena and the research object constructed through this field.”

  • 9 This concerns not only the social process of communication, but also the process of communication (...)

24The unit connected in and through the communication process9 refers both to places of social practices suggesting the convening of certain concepts (the narrative as material for analysis), and to a place reconfigured by research, bound by empirical and theoretical constraints (narrative and narrativity discussed as concepts). This marks the start of a broader reflection on interdisciplinarity, not as wishful thinking but as a scientifically constructed reality that must also be analyzed in its underlying communication processes, and more specifically, what narrative does to ICS and vice versa.

25Based on this understanding of research, through its relationship with the field, we are very much in agreement with Raphaël Baroni (2016: 234) when he says:

“Although a wide variety of approaches and interdisciplinarity remain a necessity for an object that is so broadly polymorphic in its uses and in its media incarnations, we must nevertheless guarantee the existence of an institution that could serve as a point of convergence for all perspectives [to] discuss the complementarity of different types of approaches, and to measure their impact on a general theory of narrativity. Only the existence of narratology chairs would guarantee the development of a viable theory of contemporary narrative, in step with the challenges of its times, and towards which anybody could turn if they are seeking to integrate a narrative dimension in their practices or studies, in order to keep abreast of the latest developments instead of just relying on preconceptions and cliché.”

26Based on this standpoint, the aim is no longer to adapt a scientific discipline to the approach of an institutional discipline. It seems to us that we cannot and should not address either discipline from the standpoint of the act of research. We suggest that research is capable of finding the right way forward for its development, even if the way forward takes it along the byways.

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1 We would like to thank Joëlle Le Marec for reading this work and also for her precious advice.

2 The notion of narrative is used widely by organization theorists, anthropologists and historians.

3 Note that we leave out the question of visibility and training.

4 The prefix “meta” is understood as much in its sense of extension and depth as in its usual scientific sense of self-reference.

5 The Microcredit Summit Campaign is an international network bringing together a wide range of players in the microfinance sector, which provides loans and financial products for people in poverty and/or excluded from formal financial links. The discourse of the network is the point from which the emergence of figures is identified and analyzed. Set up in 1997, the network advocates the recognition of microcredit as an effective tool for fighting poverty through field actions and an approach based on advocacy and strategic communication, targeting institutional and political decision-makers as well as the general public. Two figures structure the network’s rhetoric: the micro-entrepreneur, the ordinary “hero,” embodied by the poor women taking out the loans and who benefit from the microcredit approach, and the macro-entrepreneur, embodied by committed leaders, founders of emblematic microfinance institutions, the extraordinary “hero” and driving force and guarantor of the ethical orientation of the approach.

6 The analysis focused more specifically on the discourse of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, an international network of microfinance players strongly committed to promoting microcredit.

7 This is the trajectory analyzed by Y. Jeanneret (1982) concerning Romain Rolland and of Frédéric Joliot-Curie analyzed by D. Saurier (2013).

8 A useful analogy might be to consider that narrative is to narrativity what heritage is to patrimonialization.

9 This concerns not only the social process of communication, but also the process of communication that organizes research.

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Delphine Saurier et Odile Vallée, « Figures, narratives and byways »Questions de communication [En ligne], 31 | 2017, mis en ligne le 08 janvier 2021, consulté le 20 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Delphine Saurier

Audencia Nantes School of Management

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Odile Vallée

Audencia Nantes School of Management

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