In the ‘Experiencing Education Partnerships’ Sub-theme at the BAICE 2022 conference, we will do a creative session on storytelling as a research approach, drawing on our experiences of using the approach in international research. Participants are invited to engage with a series of interactive and creative techniques like those that we have employed in our research with a view to exploring and reflecting on the collaborative processes of storytelling for learning and knowledge production in practice.
Using storytelling to understand how people make sense of their world is increasingly presented as a tool for providing richer insights into international education and development challenges. Advocates claim that it is inclusive, flattens hierarchies of power within research, connects elements of a situation, is enjoyable, therapeutic, sparks personal, social and political change, aligns with indigenous ontologies, exposes and challenges majority narratives and lifts research out of exclusionary academic spaces to engage wider publics. However, storytelling research also carries risks in relation to participant and facilitator well-being and the reproduction of static and potentially problematic ways of knowing. In this creative session at BAICE 2022, we aim to highlight and generate insights into this creative research approach.
We are a collective of academics and practitioners with extensive experience of leading and co-facilitating storytelling research projects, including our current AHRC-funded study that uses storytelling to explore commonalities and differences of how inclusion and exclusion are experienced across education systems in South Africa, Nigeria and the UK, combined with a critical, ethnographic evaluation of the storytelling research process. The study aims to understand how storytelling could be better and more ethically used in research, especially when working across socio-political and geographic boundaries.
Our session will draw on two key features of our work that connect to the conference theme of “Partnerships in Education”. The first is our multi-country make-up as a collective of researchers from South Africa, Nigeria and the UK, and our experiences of working together to develop ideas around storytelling research. In this respect our proposed session aligns with the subtheme “Experiencing Education Partnerships”. The second feature is the positioning of our work within a capability and sociocultural framing that draws on Etienne Wenger’s conceptualisation of learning as a participatory process of becoming. The conceptual notion of partnerships in research is also aligned with sociocultural understandings of learning in a collective such as ours which Boaventura de Sousa Santos refers to as a ‘translational contact zone’ involving the meeting, exchange, contestation and assimilation of ideas and knowledges from multiple cultural codes. It further ties into our storytelling approach itself which builds on our collaborator Joanna Wheeler’s work and focuses on lived experiences developed through an iterative group process. Crucially, our approach views storymaking and storytelling as sociocultural activities – that is, as collaborative processes, even when the story is inherently personal. The iterative process of story generation around a specific issue is part of a process of articulating one’s own identity in relation to this issue but at the same time, through the collective process, gaining insights into how these experiences relate to wider trends. Here too our work strongly aligns with the “Experiencing Education Partnerships” sub-theme, with its emphasis on personal and collective experiences of learning: in our storytelling research, partnership is framed as co-creation of knowledge through a group process.
The session is a 90-minute workshop designed to give participants an opportunity to use a series of creative techniques that are similar to those we use in in-depth storytelling processes. In taking a learning-by-doing approach, we intend for the session to generate reflections on the use of storytelling as a research approach, how creative techniques reflect different sociocultural understandings, and what a translational contact zone feels like in practice. These issues are especially relevant given a growing interest in working collaboratively across contexts.
Participants will be invited to join at least two interactive storymaking activities involving image association, telling stories from images, developing comic strips and making storycubes. Facilitators and participants will work together to engage in these fun, art-based exercises which incorporate story elements of character, place, and emotion to surface the different ways that we interpret images and how we put these into a story. We will also screen two digital stories produced through our previous research, to help inform the overall discussion about the methodology.
Overall, we are passionate about storytelling research and are particularly drawn to its collaborative nature. However, we recognise that more critical work needs to be done to support researchers to engage in storytelling research processes – and storytelling research partnerships – that are more epistemologically, geo-politically and ethically informed. This is crucial when working across contexts and more so, under the banner of so-called ‘development’ work – under which much international education research currently sits. In this session we aim to bring the core conversations that underpin our critical storytelling research study to the BAICE community, with the intention of enriching and furthering these conversations alongside fun and interactive practical activities.