I am excerpting here Marshall Ganz’s The Power of Story In Social Movements as explored in Cathryn Wellner’s Story Route (@storyroute). Ganz, of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, is widely credited with the grassroots organizing model for President Obama’s 2008 campaign. Bolds are mine, as are deletions of references. Full draft can be read here. Just wanted to share this right away, will add my own thoughts on further reflection.
Inspiring, and proof again that storytelling is science within which art can move!
A newer generation of scholars has begun to go beyond framing, recognizing that story telling may be what most distinguishes social movements from interest groups and other forms of collective action. Storytelling is central to social movements because it constructs agency, shapes identity, and motivates action.
- Story telling is how we learn to exercise agency to deal with new challenges, mindful of the past, yet conscious of alternative futures. It is not about following a script, but about choosing how to handle deviations from a script. Story telling engages us in an “emplotted” account of actors proceeding in legitimate ways toward valued goals who meet unexpected trouble, to which they must respond with innovative action leading to resolution along a new pathway, toward a new goal, or go down to defeat, from which a “moral” is drawn. They teach us how to deal with the unexpected, improvising alternative futures even while maintaining continuity with our past.
- Story telling is how we develop individual and collective identities that define the ends we seek and among whom we seek them. Our identity can be understood as a story we weave from the lifetime of stories in which we have participated as tellers or listeners, learning how to act in the world. When we tell our story we do identity work, reenacting who we have been and forging the persons we become. As an interaction among speakers and listeners, storytelling is culture forging activity, constructing shared understandings of how to manage the risks of uncertainty, anomaly, and unpredictability grounded in recollection of how we dealt with past challenges. Our individual identities are thus linked with those with whom we share stories - our families, communities, colleagues, faith traditions, nationalities - and with whom we enact them at our family dinners, worship services, holidays, and other cultural celebrations that institutionalize - or transform - their retelling
- Story telling is how we access the emotional – or moral - resources for the motivation to act on those ends. Inherently normative, stories map positive and negative valance onto different kinds of behavior. They thus become what Charles Taylor calls our “moral sources” – sources of emotional learning we can access for the courage, love, hope we need to deal with the fear, loneliness and despair that inhibits our action. As St. Augustine taught “knowing the good” is insufficient to produce a change in behavior that requires “loving the good.” Story telling is both a way to “frame” our experience as purposive (making things “add up”) and of “regulating our emotions” (retaining confidence, keeping our anxiety under control, having a story we can believe in).