The (Pictorial) Construction of Collective Identities in the Third Reich

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Collective identities of the Self vs. the Other are not only conveyed in and between cultures through verbal discourse, but also through pictures. Cultural encounters are often comprehended by storytelling, the verbal expression of which has been abundantly studied. Pictorial manifestations of narration, however, have received comparatively less attention. Mostly,
narration has been associated with verbal discourses, where, briefly put, events or situations are temporally ordered. Even though the narrative capacity of pictures has been taken for granted by e.g. art historians, attempts to elucidate the semiotic and cognitive basis of visual narrativity, esp. in static pictures, have been relatively rare (cf. Ranta, 2013).
Within cognitive science, narratives are regarded as crucial and fundamental cognitive instruments or tools (e. g. Bruner, 1990; Schank, 1995). As Roger Schank suggests, the identity of (sub-) cultures is to a considerable extent based upon the sharing of narrative structures.
According to Schank, culturally shared stories—or stories in general—occur frequently in highly abbreviated form, as “skeleton stories” or “gists”, not least in pictorial form. Moreover, in ways that correspond to Schank’s account of storytelling and cognition, these may also have implications for conceptions of one’s home-culture in relation to an alien-culture. Many pictures and visual artworks have indeed been produced in order to consolidate, modify, and demarcate certain cultural stances.
In this paper, I shall focus upon one (and even today highly relevant) example of creating cultural identity, namely the racist confrontation of the “Aryans” vs. the Other (esp. Jews, but also Slavs and Romani) as promoted by National Socialist thinking and politics during the Third Reich in German history. Some concrete pictorial examples indicating these attempts will be discussed and analysed from a narratological and cognitive semiotic perspective.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
  • History


  • art, pictures, National Socialism, narrativity, cultural encounters, cognitive semiotics, cognitive psychology
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-124
JournalLanguage and Semiotic Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Oct 15
Publication categoryResearch

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