Title

Constructive storytelling: Building community, building peace

Date of Award

5-2000

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Social Sciences

Advisor(s)

Susan Snow Wadley

Keywords

Narrative, Gender, Folklore, Storytelling, Community, Peace

Subject Categories

Civic and Community Engagement | Folklore | Sociology of Culture | Women's Studies

Abstract

In the United States, in the past thirty years, there has been a self-conscious storytelling renaissance. Increasingly, people who embrace the label of storyteller tell stories in public settings. Many storytellers use stories in intentional ways towards goals of personal and social change.

This study examines how these storytellers think about what they do. Storytellers themselves are central to the analysis, which involves in-depth interviews with forty storytellers from diverse ethnic, geographic, economic, religious, and educational backgrounds. These storytellers are seen as transcultural storytellers: While their storytelling may be grounded by a particular cultural background, they perform in cross-cultural contexts.

A theoretical background in the sociology of language, folklore, gender studies, and peace studies informs this study. Storytelling is understood as cultural production involving a negotiation of meaning among storyteller, social context, story text, and audience. The storyteller is seen as a position of influence in the social construction of meaning. This study examines the role of language and the arts--here, storytelling--in the exercise of personal and social power.

Folk stories, personal history, and cultural narratives encode meaning that has intellectual, emotional, and moral import. The development of such narratives is analysis and is a means to negotiate and establish collective understandings of identity, history, and desires. Participation in this process is empowering and is deep democracy.

The findings of this study are significant for facilitating cultural spaces where people can participate in building relationships and defining their communities. Storytelling provides an accessible method by which people can inductively create projects that are self-driven and responsive to their contexts. This allows for storytellers to develop their agency and to address issues that are important to them.

Further, storytellers use storytelling to develop relationships across identity barriers and to express aspects of their experience that they have been unable to express because of social constraints associated with a particular identity--whether that be a gender, ethnic, or class identity. Storytellers call for a shared identity as humans. This is not to erase cultural differences, but rather to argue for the full inclusion of all groups in public life.

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