NARRATIVE HUMANITIES AND CRITICAL STORY TELLING IN RESEARCH AND HEALTH
Ken Plummer

 MA Degree in Research and Nursing Care for Vulnerable Populations
Qualitative Research Course

University Autónoma de Madrid

Thursday, 24th November, 2016

 Overview

There will be two sessions:

16:00-16:20

Introduction:  Pilar Serrano, Juan Zarco
16:20-17:10

An Introduction to Narrative Humanities and Critical Story Telling in which Ken Plummer will speak about the methods and value of life stories, how his interest in this method has developed, and how it links to critical humanism.
17:10-17:30 followed by question and discussion.
17:30-18:00  Coffee break
18:00-18:50

On Narrative Medicine and Auto/Ethnography: Tales of a Transplant Patient in which Ken Plummer will introduce an auto/ethnography of his own illness ten years ago; and raise the wider issue of narrative medicine and the problems of such research.
18:50-19:15 followed by question and discussion
19:15-19:30

Closing of the seminar.

 

PART ONE: AN INTRODUCTION TO NARRATIVE HUMANITIES AND CRITICAL STORY TELLING

 

Once Upon a Time There was a Story…..
Orienting quotes and books

All sorrows can be born if you put them in a story or tell a story about them….Hannah Arendt: The Human Condition citing Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen (1885-1962), Danish author.

 

I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?” if I can answer the prior question: “Of what story or stories so I find myself a part “… Alasdair MacIntyre, After  Virtue

 

You just have to look. People are telling stories everywhere to change the world…   Solinger, Fox & Irani, Telling stories to change the world. 2008: p11
[There is].. a powerful argument for the efficacy of storytelling in advancing the ongoing and constantly transforming pursuit of social justice…. Schaffer and Smith, Human Rights and Narrated Lives. p233.

 

Stories animate human life: that is their work. Stories work with people, for people, and always stories work on people, affecting what people are able to see as real, as possible, and as worth doing or best avoided…..  A good life requires living well with stories. When life goes badly, a story is often behind this too….Narrative makes the earth habitable for human beings….. Arthur Frank Letting Stories Breathe 2010 p1, p47

 

We tell ourselves stories in order to live Joan Didion (title of 2006 book)

 

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (2013) Jonathan Gottschall  (Title of 2013 book)

 

Careful the tale we tell, children will listen…Stephen Sondheim Into the Woods,1986

 

We only have one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never ending contest in ourselves of good and evil… John Steinbeck, East of Eden, 1952

 

I am a writer and I understand the power of the stories we tell. Everything starts as a story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Every political movement begins as a counter-narrative to an existing narrative. Jeanette Winteron

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/24/we-need-to-build-a-new-left-labour-means-nothing-jeanette-winterson

 

 

The Background Tale
From Documents of Life (1981, 2001) to Telling Sexual Stories (1995) and Cosmopolitan Sexualities (2015); From Symbolic Interaction to Critical Humanism; From Gay to Queer to Transplants and Humanities; From Life Story research through Auto-Ethnography and ‘Back to Narrative’
Major areas of research: Narrative and Story. Working on study of Narrative Power.
The Classic Narrative Research Tale

 

Researching the meanings and multiplicities of Stories, and there are now many strategies for doing this. I will briefly review these. They range from classic narrative analysis (Plot, Characters, Themes ) to content analysis, argumentation analysis, semiotic analysis, rhetorical analysis, interpretive phenomenological analysis, discourse analysis, critical discourse analysis, situational analysis, conversational analysis, free associational analysis, biographic-narrative analysis, thematic analysis, visual analysis and many others.
Critical Humanism and the Building of Narrative Humanities and Critical Storytelling: On Narrative Trouble and their complexities

 

My main concern now moves beyond this: to developing a humanistic, reflexive sociology of storied narrative realities: Critical Storytelling.

Narrative Troubles and their Complexities

 

  1. Narrative Differences, Narrative Multiplicities: Narrative Life
    What are the complexities of the uniquely different life? How do we make sense of our unique lives and worlds through stories? How do they connect us to language, embodiment, emotion, cognition, identities, habitus? How do stories make for coherent personhood?
  2. Narrative Communities, Narrative Structures: Public Narratives
    What are the pre-existing worlds of narratives we dwell in?

 

  1. Narrative Empathy, Narrative Dialogue: Narrative Others

What is the dynamic of ‘othering’ and how do we cultivate empathy towards ‘others’? How do we get ‘under the skin’ of the other?

 

  1. Narrative Dominance, Narrative Resistance: Narrative Inequalities and Intersections?

Whose voices are heard and whose voice are not? How does power shape narrative and how does narrative shape power? How do stories intersect with class, race, gender, age, sexuality, health and nation?

  1. Narrative Flows, Narrative Moments: Narrative Contingencies
    What are the shifting factors that shape story telling?

 

  1. Narrative Media, Narrative Digitalism: Narrative Communicative Media Power
    How has media come to dominate our story telling?

 

  1. Narrative Truth, Narrative Limits: Narrative Wisdom
    How do we evaluate our stories?

In search of Epistemological Wisdom: what is narrative knowledge?

In search of Aesthetic Wisdom: what is narrative beauty?

In search of Ethical Wisdom: what is the good narrative life

 

Good Narratives of
Care Ethics
Recognition and Dialogic Ethics
Dignity and Rights Ethics
Social Justice
Human Flourishing

Narrative Pragmatism and the limits of narrative

 

The inevitability of disappointment and the importance of hope

Narrative Hope: optimism, pessimism and Future Narratives
Narrative Futures: Good Narratives Drive Out Bad Narratives?
Sustainable Cosmopolitan Stories for a better world for all

And they all lived happily ever after!

 

 

PART TWO: ON NARRATIVE MEDICINE AND AUTOETHNOGRAPHY: TALES OF A TRANSPLANT PATIENT

“To seize the opportunities offered by illness, we must live actively: we must think about it and talk about it, and some, like me, must write about it. Through thinking, talking and writings we can begin, as individuals and as a society, to accept illness fully. Only then can we learn that it is nothing special. Being ill is just another way of living, but by the time we have lived through illness we are living differently…  For all you lose, you have an opportunity to gain: closer relationships, more poignant appreciations, clarified values…You are embarking on a dangerous opportunity. Do not curse your fate: count your possibilities …” Arthur Frank, At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness1991/2002: p3; p7).

 

Core Reading

Arthur W Frank (1995) The Wounded Story Teller: Body Illness and ethics, University of Chicago

— (1991/2002) At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness  Boston: A Mariner Book

— (2004) The Renewal of Generosity: Illness, Medicine and How to Live, University of Chicago Press

 

Background
Between 2004 and 2007, I was diagnosed with ‘end stage alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver’ and had successful transplant surgery. My aim in this informal talk will be to bridge my personal experiences of the body in illness with my sociological research awareness (a sociological imagination).  It will sketch an ‘auto/ ethnography’ of a total life episode of my illness providing an example of narrative medicine. If you want to take it further, you could look at my recently published article ‘My Multiple Sick Bodies’ which can be found in Bryan Turner’s Routledge Handbook of Body Studies (2012) and which is also on line – see below.
Some Story Themes
Telling the Tale: What is Auto/ethnography?
Puzzling Sickness? The Rise of Narrative Medicine/Illness Narratives

Illness as Medical Knowledge/ Illness as Social Meanings
A Theoretical Story? Why Symbolic Interactionism?

 

The Story of Illness as Meaning

The Story of Illness as Process
The Story of Illness as Others

 

The Power of Stories: Stories as Coherence? The Body and its meanings

 

Note: The Multiple Story Meanings of Illness:

Illness can be seen as:

 

AS AN ILLNESS AS A MEANING AS A NARRATIVE/ STORY
AS SOCIAL WORLDS AS UNCERTAINTY AS IDENTITY/SELF
AS A DIARY AS AN OPPORTUNITY AS MOMENTS
AS A POETIC AS TIME AS PLACE
AS A CAREER AS STAGES AS FATEFUL MOMENTS
AS PRIVILIGE AS CONTINGENCIES AS EMBODIMENT
AS HOSPITALIZATION AS HALLUCINATIONS AS MEETINGS
AS OTHER PEOPLE AS ALTRUISM AS AN ADVENTURE
AS STIGMA AS CRIME AS A WEB SITE
AS FATE AS A TIME FOR THINKING AS DEATH
AS A  MARKET AS REMISSION AS EXPLOITATION
AS CITZENSHIP AS HABIT AS GENEROSITY
AS HUMOUR AS PROGRESS AS OPTIMISM
AS GOOD DAYS AND BAD DAYS AS A TOTAL LIFE EPISODE AS ETHICAL NARRATIVE
AS MUSIC AS SUFFERING AS EVERYDAY LIFE
AS DESPAIR AS ANGER AS JOY
AS MONEY AS CYBORG And more…….. you add!

 

 

APPENDIX: Narrative Imaginaries

Derived from Ken Plummer: Sociology: The Basic 2nd edition 2016

Table 8.1 Future Social Imaginaries: Towards Everyday Grounded Utopias?

 

 

Narratives of the sociology, ethics and politics of ‘Grounded Human Values’ Cultivating grounded institutions for ‘Better Worlds For All People’
CARE:
looking after ourselves, each other and the world we live in
A Caring Democracy (Tronto, 2013)

A Peace Making Society (Brewer, 2010)

A Low Carbon Society (Urry, 2011)

JUSTICE, FREEDOM AND EQUALITY

“being fair and making a more equal world”

A Fair, Just and Democratic Society
(Alexander, 2006; Sandel, 2012;Sayer, 2015; Standing, 2015 ; Urry, 2014; Unger, 2007)
RECOGNITION, DIALOGUES AND EMPATHY

“ recognizing, appreciating  and living with human differences”

A Compassionate Society (Sznaider, 2001)
An Empathic Civilization (Rifkin, 2009)
A Dialogic Society (Bakhtin, 1982)

A Multicultural Society (Taylor, 1994)
A Cosmopolitan Society (Beck, 2006; Plummer, 2015)

A Society of Belonging (Yuval-Davis. 2011)

HUMAN CAPABILITIES AND FLOURISHING

“encouraging human potentials for all”

A Development, Flourishing, Actualizing Society (Sen1999; Nussbaum, 2011)
HUMAN RIGHTS, CITIZENSHIP AND DIGNITY

living with dignity and respecting the rights of all to an equal dignity

A Human Society with citizenships, human rights and dignity (Marshall, 1950; Isin and Turner, 2002; Plummer, 2003; Turner, 2006b)
HOPE
“appreciating the inevitability of disappointment but the importance of hope”
Real Utopias   (Wright, 2010)

Utopian Methods (Levitas, 2013)


BACKGROUND WEB SITE READING
Some relevant web site material from Ken Plummer is:
Manifesto for Stories

https://kenplummer.com/manifestos/a-manifesto-for-stories/
Manifesto for Critical Humanism

https://kenplummer.com/manifestos/a-manifesto-for-a-critical-humanism-in-sociology/
On Transplant writing, see:

https://kenplummer.com/transplants/

 

I also have extensive bibliographies on my web site. See: Bibliographies:

On narrative research and critical humanism

https://kenplummer.com/resources-2/bibliographies/critical-humanism-and-narrative-research-bibliography/

On narratives and illness

https://kenplummer.com/resources-2/bibliographies/narratives-and-illness-select-bibliography/

 

A NOTE ON KEN PLUMMER

 

Ken Plummer is Emeritus Professor in the Sociology Department at the University of Essex where he taught and researched between 1975 and 2005. He has researched and published widely in the fields of Critical Humanism, Narrative, Lesbian and Gay Studies, and Critical Sexualities Studies. He retired in 2005 because of ill health and now – in retirement- ‘writes and talks a little’.  His key texts on narratives are Documents of Life (1981; 2nd ed 2001, Sage) and Telling Sexual Stories (1995, Routledge). His most recent works include: Sociology: The Basics, 2016 , 2nd ed., Routledge; Cosmopolitan Sexualities, 2015, Polity Press; ‘Afterword: Liberating Generations: Continuities And Change in The Radical Queer Western Era’ in David Paternotte and Manon Tremblay, eds, Ashgate Companion to Lesbian and Gay Activism, 2015, Ashgate; ‘A Manifesto for Social Stories’ in Liz Stanley ed Documents of Life for the 21st Century, 2013, Ashgate; ‘ A Manifesto for Critical Humanism in Sociology’ in Daniel Nehring: Sociology – a Text and Reader, 2013, Routledge; and ‘My Multiple Sick Bodies: Symbolic Interaction, Auto/ethnography and the Sick Body’ in Bryan S. Turner ed Routledge Handbook of the Body, 2012,Routledge. He was the founder editor of the journal Sexualities, and was its editor for fifteen years. He is currently very perplexed with the world; but is trying to write a book on Narrative Power for Polity Press.
See https://kenplummer.com/