Strategic Narratives, Agency and Ontological Security: The Strategic Negotiation of German Identity Narratives around Terrorist Crisis Events between 1976 and 2019

Pauline Heinrichs

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Rather than asking what constitutes change or continuity in state identity, this thesis examines how political actors narrate change and continuity to state identity narratives. In doing so, this thesis seeks to contribute to the burgeoning literature in ontological security research. Ontological security research acknowledges the importance of identity narratives carried forward by actors, particularly in the face of uncertainty. However, ontological security research has so far insufficiently addressed the strategic negotiation of the state’s ontological status. Ontological security research needs to account for and explicitly theorise agency in the process of identity narrative construction. For an agentic reading of ontological security, this thesis links scholarship in ontological security to scholarship in strategic narratives and develops the concept of movement narratives, i.e. strategic narratives forged by actors to narrate movement to existing identity narrative structures. Drawing on three cases studies and multi-method data examination of terrorist crisis events relevant to German policymakers – the Schleyer kidnapping of 1977, 9/11, and the Berlin truck attack – this thesis examines the political negotiation of Germany’s identity narratives around these events. This thesis contends with the assumption in ontological security research that actors seek to smoothen out identity narratives and carry them through time in the face of uncertainty. Instead, German policymakers were able to harness the contestational power of these events to narrate changes to German identity narratives through settling anchors around event groups. When anchors also settle identity narratives around them, agency enables identity narrative negotiation.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Bentley, Michelle, Supervisor
  • Goldthau, Andreas, Supervisor
  • Miskimmon, Alister, Advisor, External person
Award date1 Dec 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020


  • Ontological Security
  • Agency
  • Strategic Narratives
  • Crisis Events
  • Germany

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