On Narrative


Letter from the Editors

10 December 2018

The editorial board is very pleased to share with our readers issue 3.1 of Process: Journal of Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Scholarship. We hoped that our call for projects on narrative would solicit a wide range of work, and we are happy to publish three pieces that highlight the breadth of this topic. Narrative is a truly multidisciplinary concept, spanning the humanities and the sciences, the creative arts, the media, medicine, and public policy. Stories are at the center of a diverse set of human endeavors, and they may be celebrated or censored, reinforced or deconstructed; some stories even seem to become actors in their own right, taking on lives of their own. The essays in this issue make clear that it is essential that we pay attention to, appreciate, describe, and question how stories are told.

Common questions resonate across the work in this issue, which considers narrative from different disciplinary angles. All three scholars insist that our ways of telling stories have material consequences. From an analysis of the ethics of narration in Russian fiction, to a study of how cultural discourse about HIV/AIDS directly shapes the epidemic itself, to a personal narrative about raced and gendered standards of beauty, these pieces demonstrate the profound effects of stories in human communities. Furthermore, each essay considers how stories become implicated in networks of power that involve race, gender, the media, religion, and the state.

Eve Sneider considers the politics of narrative in her comparative analysis of Nikolai Leskov’s “The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Meek One.” The similar plots of these stories, Sneider argues, throw their remarkably different narrative styles into sharp relief. This piece investigates the complex relationship between author, narrator, and reader, suggesting that narrative is a space that fosters rich attachments. As Sneider claims, in the course of telling his wife’s story, Dostoevsky’s narrator silences her. Sneider’s reading of 19th-century Russian fiction demonstrates that our ways of telling stories have material consequences.

Stories, of course, are generative as well as destructive. Just as Sneider argues that Leskov’s foregoing of psychological realism or interiority grants his female protagonist more agency, Valadez, in his study of HIV/AIDS stigma in San Antonio, Texas and the Baku area of Azerbaijan, claims that members of these communities have the opportunity to tell stories that will aid in caring for each other. Researchers have noted the role of stigma in exacerbating the spread of HIV and making it more difficult for HIV-positive people to access care. For people living with HIV and AIDS, the confluence of cultural narratives around the disease--related to class, sexuality, gender, and religious practice--can be especially difficult to navigate. Valadez’s paper points to the imperative of considering HIV/AIDS from multiple perspectives in order to understand the complex and culturally-specific forms of stigma accompanying the disease.

Stories may inflict suffering or provide care; they may point toward new imaginative possibilities or keep us stuck. Sarah Haidar’s personal narrative recounts the difficulty of contending with cultural narratives about women’s beauty, especially in the cruel middle-school years. Haidar’s piece points astutely to the way that the construction of gender is inextricable from race and ethnicity, and her powerful account of coming to terms with her body hair resonates with Sneider and Valadez’s projects. All three shed light on the vibrant lives of stories: their limitations and possibilities and their synergy with human culture.


Kathleen Reeves & Emily George



Jullian Valadez

Focusing on HIV/AIDS cases from two particular sites – San Antonio, Texas and the Baku, Azerbaijan – Valadez’s work explores both the psychological and emotional stigmas which fuel the damaging narratives of the disease. These narratives are deeply rooted in the cultural norms, religions, traditions and social structures of these two vastly different regions. Drawing on the theories of world-renowned sociologist Erving Goffman, Valadez situates their study of HIV/AIDS narratives at the origin point of infection as the marker of how stigmas form and develop – often causing psychic and bodily trauma to those living with the disease. The case studies Valadez employs structure a comparative analysis of how HIV/AIDS narratives are both constructed by, and have the capacity to adapt to, changing cultural values around the globe.

Until Death Do Us Part: Making Space for Female Subjectivity in Nikolai Leskov and Fyodor Dostoevsky

Eve Sneider

In a comparative analysis of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Meek One” and Nikolai Leskov’s “The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” Sneider argues that silencing women’s voices, even in narrative fiction, has dire political and cultural repercussions. Both Dostoevsky’s and Leskov’s plots lend themselves to an investigation of the fraught rhetorical context of gendered storytelling in 19th-century Russian fiction. Sneider’s position on Leskov’s style and storytelling choices simultaneously reveals potential spaces of negotiated agency for female protagonists and throws into stark relief the psychically damaging power of silencing women in Dostoevsky’s work.

Image credit: Birds of Joy and Sorrow – Sirin and Alkonost by Viktor Vasnetsov, Wikimedia Commons

Does My Hair Look Okay?

Sarah Haidar

Haidar’s creative narrative makes connections between the racial, cultural, and familial implications and challenges of changing body hair during the often-tumultuous period of adolescence. In chronicling her evolution towards acceptance, both on an individual and community level, Haidar’s work explores the difficulties associated with self-love in a world in which commercial beauty standards colonize and control the female body. As a child of Lebanese immigrants to the  US, Haidar has a unique perspective on narratives of “belonging” (culturally, socially, and as part of a family) at the site of the body.