What is the meaning of ‘sustaining narrative’ in this text? Does it mean ‘the narrative that we have had for a long time’, ‘the narrative that is entrenched for us’? I know the meaning of narrative and sustaining, but it seems this is a jargon in humanities and social sciences, if I am not wrong. Also, I have seen ‘suitability narrative’ which I think is something else.

“Every culture, every society, clings to a myth by which it lives. Ours is the myth of growth. For as long as the economy continues to expand, we feel assured that life is getting better. We believe that we are progressing – not just as individuals but as a society. We convince ourselves that the world tomorrow will be a brighter, shinier place for our children and for their children. When the opposite happens, disillusionment beckons. Collapse threatens our stability. Darkness looms on the horizon. And these demons – real as they may be in an economy dependent so entirely on growth – are rendered even more powerful by the loss of faith in our core sustaining narrative. The myth of growth.” (Excerpt From Post Growth Jackson, Tim)

2 Answers 2


There is a clue in the text:

our core sustaining narrative. The myth of growth

The core = central

sustaining = that keeps a given society alive

narrative (in an extended sense) = the memes by which society lives

OED Narrative:


2. a. An account of a series of events, facts, etc., given in order and with the establishing of connections between them; a narration, a story, an account.

1981 B. A. Farrell Standing of Psychoanalysis v. 68 Freud will then have good grounds to believe that at least the main part of this narrative about L. is true.


c. In structuralist and post-structuralist theory: a representation of a history, biography, process, etc., in which a sequence of events has been constructed into a story in accordance with a particular ideology;

1991 Past & Present Aug. 120 In historical accounts of Third World countries.., where there are data relating to the emergence of politics, they are generally concealed behind the dominant narratives of the state and nationalism.



a particular way of explaining or understanding events

A sustaining narrative is thus a way of explaining that sustains a particular interpretation. It presents events so as to maintain or augment the interpretation. It may reflect truth, but in its adherence to a particular interpretation it is prey to distortion of events and their causes, even if not to actual falsification.

Examples are plentiful. For a believer, the sustaining narrative is one that interprets everything as God’s will. For an ardent Trump supporter it is one that sees all events of the recent election as a fraud, part of a great conspiracy. For a Brexit supporter it can be the view that UK economic decline owes all to Covid and nothing to Brexit.

In your example, the growth narrative hides many distortions that may be revealed by the flow of events. People then lose faith in the viewpoint that has previously informed their perspective on the world.

  • I have tried for a simple answer. I also commend Greybeard’s more academic approach to the question.
    – Anton
    Jan 16, 2022 at 8:50
  • You switch, though, from a cultural or society-wide narrative to personal ones or ones of a particular group, which may be more confusing than simplifying. There is usually more diversity among people, even those who can be classified as “believers” or supporters of a particular political view, than are normally revealed by such classifications.
    – Xanne
    Jan 16, 2022 at 9:03
  • @Xanne I agree with your comment. I suppose the concept to apply at many levels from a whole society, as you rightly point out, all the way through groups to individuals.
    – Anton
    Jan 16, 2022 at 10:04

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