Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Histoire is a mode of enunciation of narrations of past events in which there is no identifiable narrator.

explanatory context

Histoire refers to a mode of enunciation in a speech act. Histoire is that mode of address characteristic of narrations of past events. In such narrations there is no identifiable narrator. 'I' is not enunciated and the events are typically told in an indefinite past tense. In histoire, address is impersonal.


An examplary case of histoire would be a story beginning 'Once upon a time...'.


Histoire incorporates a number of forms of address, and three have been identified. First, the view from behind in which the narrator and readers/viewers know more than the characters. Second, the view with in which narrator/reader/viewer knows no more nor less than the characters. Third, the view from outside when narrator/reader/viewer knows less than the characters.


Film theorists argue that cinema operates mainly in the mode (or register) of histoire, in that they speak to spectators impersonally. Films, particularly those of dominant cinema, usually have no identifiable source of address and appear to unfold before the viewer. In this respect, dominant cinema hides its enunciation and gives the appearance of revealing a subject-less account or 'truth'. Further, the classic film form of histoire is the view from behind in that the spectator is in a privileged position of knowledge compared to the characters.

analytical review

Annonymous document referring to Christian Metz (1975) “Story/Discourse: A Note on Two Kinds of Voyeurisms.” In The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema.

Metz describes two modes of presentation, “histoire” (story) and “discours” (discourse), drawing on Emile Benveniste’s distinction between two different registers of speech acts, the “enounced” (what is said) and “enunciation” (how things are said).

Histoire and discours are separate forms of enunciation. The difference inheres in their point of emanation. In histoire the source of enunciation is hidden or suppressed; in discours it is present.

histoire .......................... discours

then,, now

he, she, it..........................I, you

past definite......................present

finished of construction (Baustelle)

voyeurism (unilateral)..... exhibitionism (bilateral)

impersonal address


The classical Hollywood narrative (“the traditional film”), according to Metz, presents itself mainly as story (histoire), not as discourse. Histoire maintains the illusion of the narrative’s completeness and self-sufficiency. It does not suggest that anything is lacking or that anything has to be sought--instead what we get appears to be plenitude and fulfillment. Events are depicted as past and immutable, not subject to the reconstructive work of the present or of a distinct intelligence--this would be discours.

associated issues


related areas

See also

Researching the Real World Section 5

Researching the Real World: CASE STUDY Women's Pictures


copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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