Storytelling: Global Reflections on Narrative

A hand painted spirit art watercolor Sandy Sandy depicting the North American tribal legend of Long Arrow and Elk Dog.

Storytelling is central to human living. It is present in all that we do and in all that we experience. Telling and re-telling the stories that we live, helps us to know who we are and to make sense of our lives. Sharing stories with others is arguably the most important way we have of communicating what we care about and what we believe; what we are doing and have done; our hopes and fears; our interests and ambitions; what we value and what we don’t. Most of us live our lives in ways that try to create the stories we want to be able to tell about them and sometimes we manage to change our lives through the stories we tell.

What is Storytelling: global reflections on narrative about?
We tell stories every day, no matter who we are, no matter what we do. We tell them in different ways, for different reasons and in a wide range of contexts. For example, we tell them in conversations with friends and colleagues; in the emails we write and (for many of us) in the versions of our lives that we create through social media. For some people the curation of their life through their social media presence is central to who they are; others prefer to tell their stories up close, face to face.

Storytelling is a routine part of some people’s professional or work lives – whether, for example, they are social workers, police officers or teachers writing reports about the individuals with whom they engage, or engineers or architects writing reports about buildings and other structures that they have helped to design. Other people’s professional lives involve the telling of stories to inform and/or challenge and/or entertain people, whether they are fictional stories or factual ones, and whether, for example, they are shared through paper or digital news media; via theatrical performance; as literary outputs – say as short stories or novels, or in some other way.

Storytelling: global reflections on narrative is about stories of all these different kinds.

What are the goals of Storytelling: global reflections on narrative?
Storytelling: global reflections on narrative aims to encourage and facilitate reflection on the importance of storytelling in every area of human life, through the sharing of stories of all kinds, including academic and professional stories as well as personal ones. By welcoming a wide range of presentational styles from participants for whom storytelling is important, whatever their back ground, it provides an interdisciplinary home for discussion of ways in which story is used in, for example teaching; research; professional development, and therapy; in the development of persuasive arguments, and in engaging and informing people through social and news media. Alongside such discussions and intermeshing with them, it also provides an arena for reflection on the cultural importance of storytelling in literature, cinema, theatre, art, music of all kinds, including folk music, opera, popular music and heavy metal.

How is Storytelling: global reflections on narrative interdisciplinary?
Storytelling: global reflections on narrative is truly interdisciplinary in reach, both theoretically and practically, because it spans culture; professional life; politics and the law; social research and human care, and reaches both far into the past and into the future. Drawing as it does on stories of all kinds, without privileging any, simply because they emanate from particular academic or professional disciplines, or from particular countries or modes of storytelling, it is of interest to all for whom story is important, including, for example:

Storytellers of all kinds, including traditional storytellers, journalists, authors of all kinds of fiction; teachers, social workers, physicians, counsellors, nurses and therapists; visual artists including architects, photographers and designers; film makers, computer gamers and digital storytellers; advertisers, politicians and spin doctors; philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, historians and theologians; scientists, including cosmologists.

The importance of the stories we tell and the stories we hear is acknowledged in every culture, and this project begins with the recognition that participant’s lives are enriched by hearing and reflecting one another’s stories.

What issues will Storytelling: global reflections on narrative address?
Any story that can be told about human life, values and endeavours, will be of interest to Storytelling: global reflections on narrative, especially if it is told in a way that enables and encourages others to reflect on their own stories and their own lives in new and refreshing ways.

Alongside traditional conference papers, our first eight storytelling conferences included a wide range of presentations. For instance, in addition to ‘traditional’ conference papers, including tightly argued papers in favour of different ways of thinking about storytelling and its importance in different walks of life, participants have been engaged and challenged by:

• The telling and performance of traditional stories, including folk stories; fairy tales and urban stories (sometimes accompanied by music, enactment, and mime).
• Film screenings, including animated movies.
• Theatrical performances (including cabaret).
• Musical performances, both vocal and instrumental.
• Screenings of digital stories.
• Presentations of narrative research, including discussions of methods and/or results from research on a range of topics.
• Experiential workshops aimed at engaging participants in active learning about narrative methods in research, teaching and therapeutic work.
• The opportunity to share stories of a personal, professional, academic kind or from any culture, in an informal session that became a regular feature of each of the eight conferences in the original storytelling project.
• Virtual museum visits.
• Shared personal narratives/diaries, supported by visual material.
• Demonstrations of computer gaming.
• Presentations of architecture as story, using visual imagery.
• The use of both film and still photographs to tell stories about trauma in war veterans and in introducing and illustrating the ways in which the use of historical architectural settings can add to theatrical storytelling.
• Live interaction with interactive web pages.
• Discussions of narrative in teaching, research, therapy.
• Readings of narrative fiction.
• Performance art, utilizing music, live poetry reading and photographs.
• Virtual art exhibitions.

Who should get involved in the project?
Storytelling: global reflections on narrative is open to everyone, including academics, professionals, practitioners and lay people, who recognises the importance of storytelling and who demonstrate that they have something to contribute to interdisciplinary discussion. The project welcomes involvement by all who use storytelling in their work or in their everyday lives and who want both to share their experience of doing so and to learn from the experience of others who do so, including academics and professionals of all kinds, as well as artists and performers whose practice makes use of narrative ideas or narrative forms