University of Suffolk: Storytelling Conference 2018
Some notes for:
Six Stories in Search of a Better World: On Narrative Power
Stories and narratives are the wealth of nations. They look inwards to the workings of the self and outwards to the workings of society, playing very definite roles in shaping our lives, both regulating us and empowering us.
In this lecture I will draw from a forthcoming book, Narrative Power (Polity Press, 2018) which highlights this social role of stories. I will explore six contrasting contemporary stories of suffering in the modern world, using them to introduce a range of issues including narrative power, narrative actions, narrative inequality, narrative digitalism and narrative sustainability. I ask: How can we build stories that support the progress of a world for all?
Introduction: Stories and themes
Values, Flourishing and Sustainable Stories
Narrative Action: The dominant approach to storytelling is narratology: the study of narratives, texts and their structures. A supplementary approach comes from sociology and pragmatism and asks not just what stories tell us but what stories do. It looks at narrative actions.
Narrative Power: All narrative is about power relations. A simple opening distinction is between the power of stories (cultural, relational, personal) and the stories of power (economic, governmental, cultural, digital, locational, everyday). Narrative Power inspects the dialogue between power and narrative in everyday experience.
Narratives are the wealth of nations: they animate life, sustain culture and cultivate humanity. They regulate and empower us, bringing both joy and discontent. And they are always embedded in ubiquitous power: stories shape power and power shapes story
Yousafazi, Malali (2014) I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, London: Phoenix.
‘One child, one pen, one teacher, one book can change our world’
Story of Power and the Power of Story; Mediated Narrative, Iconic Narrative
Ken Plummer (1995) Telling Sexual Stories
Stories of Suffering, Surviving, Surpassing.
Stories of Coming Out, Rape Surviving and the politics
of social movements
Douglass, Frederick (eds William A Andrews & William S.McFeely (1997 /1884?) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself.New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Narrative Exclusion, Narrative Inequality, Narrative Standpoint, Narrative Othering.
Sinha, Indrha (2007) Animal’s People, NY Simon and Schuster.
My story you wanted, said you’d put it in a book. I did not want to talk about it. I said it is a big deal, to have my story in a book? I said, I am a small person not even human, what difference will my story make? You told me that sometimes the stories of small people in this world can achieve big things, this is the way you buggers always talk.. p3
Narrative Fiction, Narrative Documentary; Slow Violence ; Narrative Environmentalism
Nunns, Alexander & Nadia Idle (2011) Tweets from Tahrir, New York: Or Books.
Gsquare86 Gigi Ibrahim
The Tunisian Revolution is being twitterized… history is being written by the people! Slash???sidibouzid slash? Tuinisia p28
Narrative Digitalims: Can a tweet be a story?
Stein, Arlene. (2014) Reluctant Witnesses: Survivors, Their Children and the Rise of Holocaust Consciousness, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
‘How did we get from there- a time when speaking of the Holocaust was mainly a private activity… to here, the rise of a robust Holocaust memorial culture that has broad resonance?’ (Stein, 2014:3)
Narrative Contingencies, Narrative Memory, Narratuve Ghosts, The Story of a Story.
Narrative Wisdom. Narrative Sustainability. The truggle for Human Value
- Some Resources
Table1: Four Sources of Dialogic Narrative Power
|Sources of Narrative Power||Examples||Focus on|
|1||Institutional||Stories of power: Economic, political, violence, cultural, religion etc
|Social institutions like economy and government|
|2||Communication||The language, writing, print, media and digitalism of stories
|3||Locational||Stories situated at the intersections of class, gender, ethnicity, age, disability, sexuality, nation etc….
|Social divisions, Inequalities and social movements|
|4||Everyday||The Lived Stories of Everyday life: at home, prison, work, street etc…
|Situations and encounters|
Table 2 Living with Locational Power and Narrative Standpoints: An Ecology of Stories
The Other faces me and puts me in question and obliges me. (Levinas: Totality and Infinity 207)
Who am I?
Who is other?
|Emergent Standpoints: their tensions and movements|
|1||Economic||Poor/Rich||e.g. Work narratives, Class narratives, trade union narratives, slave narratives, caste narratives –|
|2||Gender||Male/Female||e.g. Women’s narratives, Gender Narratives from De Beauvior to Beard|
|3||Ethnicity||Black/White||e.g Ethnic narratives : Blacks and others|
|Young/Old||e.g. Generational narratives; stories told historically by different age cohorts. Also: narratives of youth, old etc. and their social movements|
|5||Sexuality||Hetero/Queer||e.g. Queer politics and their stories. The rise of Trans. and their social movements|
|Religious stories of all kinds, and their movements including Fundamentalist narratives|
|e.g Disabled/Crip Stories ; Health Storoes – AIDS Movements, Cancer Stories etc. ( and their health movements)|
|8||Family and Community||Local/ Outsider||Stories of belonging to ‘my primary group’ and their social movements|
|9||Nation||Citizen/Immigrant||e.g Nationalism and their social movements
War narratives Post Colonial Narratives
|10||Environment & Universe||Nature/Technology||e.g. Stories of nature v technology
Narratives of sustainability and humanity and their social movements
Table 3: Exclusion: The Stories of the Subordinated Standpoints
Looking back over history, we find an extraordinary parade of people whose narratives have been marginalized, silenced and inferiorized. These are stories that could not initially be told but that eventually found a way to be told in art and poetics, literature and film, documentary and research. Here are a few of the multitudes of moving and often elegantly told stories of how people react to the power of extreme situations of brute power: the subordinated standpoints of:
The Peasants (Scott, 1985,1999); the Indigenous Peoples (Samson & Gigoux, 2017:Ch6); the Colonized (Fanon, 1961); the Slaves (Douglass, 1984; Botkin, 1992); the Poor (Sainath, 1996); the Working Class (Bourdieu, 1989); the Refugees, Immigrants and Displaced (Sayad, 2004; Nguyen, 2018); the Homosexuals and Queers (Plummer, 1995; ADD Sedgwick,1990;Weeks, 2017); the Inmates (Goffman, 1961); the Prisoners (Sykes, 2007); the Disabled; the Roma; the Welfare Claimants (Tyler 2013); the Women (De Beauvoir, 1949) – veiled (Abu-Lugod, 1986/2000), raped (Brownmiller, 1975 ), abused (Woodiwiss, 2009, 2017); the Young ( Willis, 1978; Skeggs, 1997) ; and the Survivors – of the Holocaust (Levi, 1979), the Gulag (Solzhenitsyn, 2003), Stalin’s Russia ( Figes, 2008), and the rest. Of those living with the everyday racism around the world (Lamont et al, 2016).
Clicking Culture and its Micro Narrative Actions
From hyptertext to selfies, a new world of digital stories has arrived: our new digital narrative actions have turned us into the Clicking Animal. Whether we engaging with Tweets, Facebook messages, E-mails, Instagrams, Google searches, Wikipedia searches, YouTube, or Hash tagging, we are never far from a digital click. The puzzle is whether these lead us to narratives as we have known them in the past. Are digital actions really narrative actions? Is the digit and the logarithm taking over from the story, or are these just new forms? Are we starting to live in a world of Quasi- narrative and story factoids? As we click away, a narrative metamorphoses is happening which is rendering our newer mediated stories increasingly:
- Fragmented – from tweets to soap operas, stories increasingly come to us in little bits; a wider or deeper visions, ‘whole stories’ get lost …
- Formulaic – stories often follow established algorithms, memes and hash tags to fix patterns, logics and styles …
- Fast, speedy – stories come in rapid succession, there is little time to ever ‘let stories breathe’. Tweets are 140 characters, Vine sends six second messages; and Snapshot deletes an image within ten seconds…
- Overloaded, saturated – stories pile up and we can become overwhelmed with it all, there seems no end. There is ‘ a catastrophe of abundance’ )Keen, …
- Open ended and never ending – stories become less finite. Unlike classic novels, poems or films, there are no longer finite beginnings, middles and ends. They are often never ending: soap operas roll on for ever, box sets never end, when does a tweet cease? The classic linear form of narrative dies …
- Connected and participatory – stories become less fixed and ‘out there’. Through social media, world wide web, hyper-texting etc, a new mode of connectivity and relating our stories to each other appears …
- Segmented – stories come to live in ‘bubbles’ of multi-media, segmented, niche ‘narrowcasting’ geared to very specific audiences. More and more of the same things are followed by the same limited people – decline of diversities …
And with these comes a new shape of politics for the future: fragmented, formulaic, fast, connective, participatory, segmented. Ultimately these transformative stories set up new challenges with new risks.
Table 5 Human Sources of Narrative Value
|(1) ExistentialOur being- agency, capabilities vulnerability
|At birth we are surrounded by problems posed by the human condition: of body, relationships, environment and living. How to be in the world? How to exist?||Ways of being-in-the world
|De Beauvoir, 1948
|(2)Relationships & attachments with self, others and community||From birth to death we live and connect with other people. How best to live with others?||Empathy- Compassion
|Smith, 1759, 2000
Yuval- Davis, 2011
With state, economy and society
|We live in a society. What is a good society, and good governance? How might this be achieved?||The Golden Rule
|(4) Human Flourishing
the best in life and society
|How to do our best in one’s time on earth? What is the good?
Truth, beauty and the good life
|Besser and Slote (2018)|
other cultures and world, being in the pluriverse
|How to live with others across human variety, cultures and nations? How should we live in the cosmos?||Environmental Ethics
Table 6 Grounded Utopia?
A Society Fit For all Human Beings: A Politics Of Humanity
1 a politics that values human difference, uniqueness, dignity and hope for all
2 a politics based on care, compassion and love; a ‘politics of the other’
3 a politics of global social justice: equality and rights
4 a politics of human flourishing
5 a cosmopolitan politics
6 an environmental and existential politics – that makes a good habitat for a small animal in a vast history and pluriverse
We think we understand each other, but we never really do –
…Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author
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 ???
Stories serve as the foundations and pillars of human societies.
Yuval Noah Harari (2016: p178) Homo Deus
Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Children will listen
… Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods, 1986
We only become what we are by the radical deep –seated refusal of that which others have made of us.
Sartre Preface to the Wretched of the Earth 1968:17
Every conflict is in part a battle over the story we tell, or who tells and who is heard.
… Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark (2016 3rded) pxiv
That every individual life between birth and death can eventually be told as a story with beginning and end is the prepolitical and prehistorical condition of history, the great story without end. But the reason why each human life tells its story and why history ultimately becomes the storybook of mankind, with many actors and speakers and yet without any tangible authors is that both are the outcomes of action …Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition p184