Actantial analysis: Greimas's structural approach to the analysis of self-narratives

Yong Wang, Carl W. Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


This paper introduces a formal procedure for analyzing narratives that was developed by the French/Lithuanian structuralist, A. J. Greimas. The focus is on demonstrating the utility of Greimas's ideas for analyzing one aspect of personal narratives: identity-construction. Reconstructing the basic actantial. structure from self-narratives is shown to provide cues to power differentials among actants as perceived by the narrator. Distinguishing narrated events along conflict versus communication axes helps the analyst determine whether an experiential or a discursive domain is of primacy for the narrator. Moreover, investigation of communicative outcomes can be used to validate (or invalidate) findings on power relations. Analyses of narrative plots may afford insights into how people engage objects with cultural valuations within the various social contexts recounted in narrative data. Finally, Greimas's theory of modalities can be used to differentiate among these plots within narrative trajectories. This approach to narrative analysis differs from more traditional "denarrativization" and "renarrativization" approaches in that it affords the researcher a language (or discursive structure) according to which the narrator's, not the analyst's, understandings of character relations and reality conditions become the subject matter of one's research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-74
Number of pages24
JournalNarrative Inquiry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2005


  • Actantial model
  • Identity
  • Modality
  • Narrative
  • Self


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