Counter narratives and controversial crimes: a cross-cultural comparison of revisions to the Wikipedia article, "The Murder of Meredith Kercher"

Tuesday 22nd October 2013 (16:15-17:30)
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  • English Language research seminar series: The sociolinguistics of writing

Speaker: Ruth Page, University of Leicester

Venue: Muirhead Tower, Room 121

Narrative analysis has long recognised that there is more than one way to tell a story, which may alter according to its teller, audience, social or historical context. But multiple versions of the ‘same’ events are not always valued in the same way: some versions may become established as dominant accounts, whilst others may be marginalised as counter narratives (Bamberg and Andrews, 2004). This paper explores Wikipedia as a site for positioning counter and dominant narratives. Through the analysis of linearity and tellership (Ochs and Capps, 2001) as exemplified through revisions of a particular article (‘The Murder of Meredith Kercher’), I show how structural choices (open versus closed sequences) and tellership (single versus multiple narrators) function as mechanisms to prioritise different dominant narratives over time and across different cultural contexts. In the ‘Murder of Meredith Kercher’, the counter narratives of the suspects’ guilt or innocence (specifically the position of Amanda Knox as villain or victim) depended on national context, and changed over time. The changes in the macro-social narratives are charted in the micro-linguistic analysis of narrative structure, use of citations and reported speech in four selected versions of the article, taken from the English and Italian Wikipedias in 2007 and 2013 respectively. The analysis shows that in the early English and Italian accounts, Knox was constructed as a villain through sensationalised British media headlines and as an unreliable narrator through the forms of reported speech included in the article. In the later English Wikipedia (but not the Italian version), the citations shift from British to American sources, and the controversial examples of reported speech minimised and recontextualised as evidence of her victimisation by the Italian media and police.