What is story-based strategy?

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Re: limits of storytelling

Very good comments, Jen and Keyhanarina!

Re the limits to storytelling, a very wise friend recently said that one doesn't know what they wrote (or said) until a reader (or listener) explains what they got out of it. The point is that sentences and paragraphs do not have some objectively determined truth … rather each of us interprets what we hear thru our own very personal filters.

That said, there are more or less universal themes and symbols that resonate deeply with a given audience. Joseph Campbell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces" discussed this in terms of how the same basic myth shows up in different forms in almost every culture.


Thanks for those examples

Thanks for those examples Barry and Keyhan - I think the South Africa example is an especially chilling cautionary tale because that is happening in less obvious ways in our movement right now.  

Keyhan I wish I could get the book from a library but there are not really any public libraries in Puerto Rico (so sad) but that is another story :-)

And yes the fact that storytelling and all communications works more as a feedback loop and not just linear transmission is something that I think social media has helped us remember that legacy media and old-school advertising models made us forget.  

Seismic Shift: When the old story evaporates

Hi everyone, good to be here and see this lively discussion!

I am wondering about people's experiences (particularly internationally...I am here in the US and working in this context primarily) with the strategic and tactical opportunities of a fluid dominant narrative....there are moments when suddenly the old story of the status quo shifts, and there is room - even a burning need - for something new to break through. For example, in 2008 when the US economic crisis hit -the dominant narrative about infinate economic growth was suddenly hollow and millions were looking for answers - a new story about what the economy is and could be. I think of it like a seismic shift in the politically possible that opens up a window of opportunity. But far to often (as in this example) that window of opportunity closes as regressive forces step in to frame the discussion, while progresive forces are still trying to scramble a strategy.

Have you ever had this experience?

Were you able to seize a moment of opportuntiy to change the story - and how?

Looking forward to your replies !

Re Seismic shift

Seems to me the current moment with the collapse of the Tea Party "shut the govt down" strategy might be such a moment. The establishment is always going to try to redo the story to their benefit and, given that they own the mass media, they will generally manage to make the biggest noise. Nevertheless, I think that these "teachable moments" can and usually do result in significant numbers of people adopting a new and more progressive story. At the very least, these moments lead lots of people to question the dominant narrative and that in itself is valuable ... it means those people are open to a new story.

It seems that the big mainline right wing groups (Chamber of Commerce, Manufacturers Assoc, even the Koch brothers, etc.) are dismayed by what they have created in the Tea Party. Meantime the rabid right wing is furiously trying to excommincate (and defeat at the polls) all those who are not sufficiently pure in their ideology and extreme in their tactics. Moderate republicans meanwhile seem both embarrassed and terrified by all the passion and political in-fighting within their own party. All this chaos within the right perhaps provides an opportunity for a new progressive story to gain traction.  All we need is a really good story.

Good question, Doyle, and

Good question, Doyle, and kinda to the heart of what this is all about - i.e. how can new narratives take centre stage, as it were. I differ a wee bit in how you suggest that "suddenly the old story of the status quo shifts". Rather, i see a variety of kinds of moments when the "old story" becomes vulnerable in particular ways. Perhaps this is what you imply with "shifts". I suspect we agree more than not. So, for sure, i think there are particular moments that we need to learn to anticipate, detect, analyze, intervene in and, possibly, claim control of. How this happens is what all of our many theories of change are all about (and i noticed that Danielle gave a shout out to Beautiful Trouble which has great lists of different theories and principles that could assist people in much fruitful education).

To your question of examples, i'm afraid i can only think of failures or, at least, not-quite-successes - albeit very interesting ones. In Canada, starting in the mid-to late 80s a vigorous social movement arose to resist first the FTA (the Free Trade Agreement with the US) and, later, NAFTA. An incredible array of groups and sectors of Canadian civil society mobilized against the FTA (and for economic justice amongst other things). Reams of paper (we're talking pre-internet) resources were produced. Links between international solidarity work (notably with Nicaragua and the anti-apartheid movement) and domestic struggles were forged, policy papers were produced by NGOs and trade unions and churches. And it pretty much all came to naught. Certainly part of that was due to the structure of Canadian parliamentary democracy which is fairly immune to social movement pressures. But it was also, in large part, a failure of the different better stories we were telling (from social movements) to move into the spaces of uncertainty and upset the what was, at that moment, the spectre of neo-liberal economic reform. Many of us who had been involved in resisting the IMF/WB double-teaming of countries to enforce structural adjustment programs saw it coming. And if there was any doubt about the shape of things to come at that time we just had to look south of the border to see what Reagan was doing to education in the US and so much else. Alas… neoliberalism rolled over us. And we suffer the consequences still.

A more recent example - not exactly a social movement one - was the last federal election campaign which, on the one hand, elected a conservative majority government, but which also elected for the first time in Canadian history an NDP "Official Opposition." (That's the New Democratic Party who are left-of-centre social democrats.) This represented a trouncing of the one of the two traditional ruling parties, the Liberals. And so you could say there was certainly some shifting going on. And i would say that the NDP victory was owed in large measure to the signalling of different political narrative that was vigorously promoted by the leader of the NDP in that moment Jack Layton. I think he surprised a lot of people with what a remarkably positive campaign he waged. He avoided the negative attack ad strategy and, instead, put a positive face on things - talking at least as much about what we should be as nation that cares for its citizens as he did about what the NDP was resisting of the other parties policies. Jack's health was not great during the campaign and he was diagnosed with cancer towards the end as well. But if anything, this inspired him and others to imagine a more humane political culture. And it did, for a moment, shift the dominant narrative - ever so slightly. As i mentioned, the Conservatives won. And they're a nasty and contemptuous bunch of conservatives at that (though the US GOP and the Tea Party have set a new bar for contemptuous and nasty). Now, i'm afraid things have pretty much shifted back to where they were and the fortunes of the NDP in the next Federal election are not at all certain.

I appreciate your use of the term "moment", Doyle, as it is one that we have used deliberately in a couple of methods called Naming the Moment and Seizing the Moment which are forms of popular education participatory social movement analysis in which we kinda do exactly what your asking about here - identify a moment into which we can intervene in order to shift the narrative. I shared one modest example in this conversation already (about our effort around the 1992 Columbus Quincentenary).

i am also reminded of one important work worth citing in response to your question: Todd Gitlin's The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left. In this book Gitlin makes a powerful case for how the US popular consensus on the Vietnam war shifted, ultimately, to a slightly anti-war position - and which he, in part,  attributes to the change in mass media coverage. I think it a significant study of such shifting.

Finally, apropos of Barry's mention of the Tea Party shenanigans this past couple of weeks, i was interested to read yesterday and today (in HuffPost) of Orrin Hatch saying, "The right is a multiplicity of various groups, some of which aren't even Republicans but who think they can control the Republican Party…" How's that for a crack that could lead to a shift? Interesting, hmmm?