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What are you (un)doing with that story?

Elysée Nouvet, Christina Sinding, Catherine Graham

This paper contributes to growing inter-disciplinary discussion on what and how arts-informed community-engaged research can add to critical engagements with social inequalities. It is based on workshops facilitated by an inter-disciplinary university research group with the Women’s Housing Planning Collaborative Advisory in Hamilton, a funded housing project and self-advocacy group in a mid-sized Canadian city. In theoretically informed and carefully crafted exercises, workshop participants performed stories they felt compelled to tell in order to secure resources and empathy from social service professionals. These performances made visible the draining nature and practical limitations of interactions between clients and social service professionals in which only particular affective postures and stories of need qualify clients as worthy of concern. The women then used first-person narrative and image theatre to evoke the worlds they are imagining for themselves and others in their advocacy work. Drawing on feminist, post-colonial, anthropological, and performance studies literature, we describe and analyze how the workshops methods of dramatic ‘play’ enable nuanced, powerful, and collectively energizing critical engagements with painful norms of social (mis)recognition.

 

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Personal stories, public voices: Performance for public-making

Christina Sinding, Catherine Graham, Elysée Nouvet, Jennie Vengris

The project described in this paper rests on a belief in the power and significance of storytelling in social change processes. It also takes seriously worries and critique about ‘what happens’ when personal stories of troubles or suffering are told to strangers, particularly as they revolve around contradictory claims about empathy. Over several months our research team worked with a group of women who have experienced homelessness and who are advocates for themselves and other women in our community. The women participated in a series of storytelling and image theatre workshops and exercises that formed the basis of a 20-minute dramatic vignette centered on their interactions with social services in the city. The creative process was designed to value the knowledge carried in personal stories of lived experience, while harnessing the power of the arts to evade some of the problematics of personal storytelling in public spaces. The women performed the vignette for social work students. In this paper we reflect on comments from students who witnessed the performance and offer our analysis of their responses in relation to specific features of the drama. In a discursive context that holds individuals responsible for all manner of social problems, we consider the potential of projects like this one for summoning and mobilizing publics and publicness.

 

Read: Personal stories, public voices: Performance for public-making