Whose Story?: Re-Integrating Self and Community through Narratives of Social Inclusion and Exclusion

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Psychology


The present project is for a team to spend four months to develop ideas and practical arrangements for a large study of 'social exclusion' and the role of stories in people's lives. The paragraph below describes the project we will be developing.

Social exclusion occurs when people fail to take up educational opportunities and employment, and find themselves instead living lives in which anti-social behaviour, crime, and poor health can come to play too large a role. This is a challenge for the communities where social exclusion has come to dominate the social and cultural fabric of life, but it is also a great challenge for society as a whole. "Whose Story?" is a project that aims to make a difference to society's understanding of social exclusion, by placing storytelling and narrative at the centre of its research methods. Our title captures the idea, first, that people living in the grip of social exclusion can feel voiceless and bereft of an identity; and, second, the idea that social exclusion and inclusion can define the same peoples and communities at different times. Our project is alert to communities as places and ways of belonging that have complicated histories. Our emphasis on stories and narratives also works with an important truth: that to tell a story is to share something, and reflect one's self in a network of social and cultural relationships. Storytelling is a form of action that can begin to challenge social exclusion. The data collected from storytelling can tell us a great deal about the terms in which exclusion is felt and understood; it also provides the means of changing behaviours and horizons of expectation. Our project has assembled a team of researchers from diverse geographical locations in the UK, enabling us to construct a representative range of perspectives on exclusion and inclusion in community life; while also, and crucially, providing us with the basis for using action research to connect communities in innovative and beneficial ways. Our team of researchers also comes from diverse academic-disciplinary and practice-led backgrounds: from expertise in medical humanities, the history of psychiatry, community arts organisation, management studies and cultural entrepreneurship; to the more traditional academic disciplines of philosophy, literary criticism and theory, and cultural history. This rich mix of expertise will enable us to develop an innovative range of methods for intervening to improve community connectedness. Our methods will range from quasi-experimental design (a technique widely used in psychological and social scientific experimentation), to critical theories of narrative analysis pioneered by philosophers, theorists and cultural historians such as Mikhail Bakhtin, Paul Ricoeur and Patrick Joyce. They will be brought together to produce critically innovative interdisciplinary methods of working. Our commitment to using narrative to make a difference and achieve positive social impact is grounded in our commitment to storytelling in cognitive behavioural therapies, where the emphasis is on understanding behaviour with a view to changing it, positively. Our ways of working will be grounded in action research, and we will begin by fully involving our third sector partners and community representatives in the discussion and design of our methods, interventions, and strategies for data collection and analysis.

Planned Impact

For this project development project, impact will be limited to the impact of Outputs as specified above. Clearly, our discussions in the workshops will give prominence, as appropriate, to a careful consideration of the ways in which pathways to impact will be developed and managed as an integral contribution to the larger project grant (if successful).


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