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Thoughts and Hallucinations

Narrative workshop abstract for Skaraborg

A regional center in Sweden dedicated to the integration of research and practice invited me to give a workshop in April. This is the abstract.

Narrative Workshop
Skaraborg Institute
Michael Agar, workshop coordinator

“Narrative” is now a concept of interest in numerous fields. Even analysis of quantitative data, for example, can include the question of what kind of “story” the numbers tell. An interesting example from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard is at http://niemanstoryboard.us/2009/12/15/statistics-as-story-narrative-journalism-by-the-numbers/. Another example from medicine is the Columbia University medical school program in “narrative medicine” (http://www.narrativemedicine.org/).

Things have apparently changed since Aristotle’s Poetics. Or have they? In this workshop we’ll explore what “narrative”--and the related concept of “story”--mean. We’ll explore reasons for the exponential growth in interest, with a focus for Skaraborg on relevance of the concepts for human/social research on medical issues. And we’ll take a look at a few narratives to explore how they might be put to work for both practice and for research.

Workshop participants are asked to do two things. Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon is available in the Institute. (Wikipedia has an essay at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashomon_%28film%29, if you want a quick overview of the story). The film is famous in social research for the phrase “the Rashomon effect,” meaning that different people tell different stories about the “same” event. This is seen as a major problem for traditional social research and a major advantage for narrative analysis because narratives reveal rich patterns of subjective difference.

A second request. Workshop discussions will be more meaningful if each participant has an example in mind. One kind of example that you can obtain for yourself before the workshop: Ask for a “story” from a patient/client/research subject in your working world. It can be as straightforward as “a day in the life,” or focused on some specific concept or action a person mentions (“can you tell me an example of when that happened?”), or something specific that you both work on (“tell me about what you were doing when you first noticed that you felt X” or “tell me what made you decide to go to the clinic”). Anything that interests you and the potential narrator is fine. If possible tape the story so you can listen to it a few times and bring it with you to the workshop.

Another option might be to read a first person narrative of someone writing about their experience with a medical issue that interests you. There are many of these. One classic personal memoir in mental health is Kay Jamison’s book An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. There are now examples of physician stories as well, perhaps because of the influence of “narrative medicine.” One popular example is Danielle Ofri’s Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue. These two examples--there are many others--are only meant to show the amount of activity underway now. The Amazon pages on the web offer summaries of and comments on the books if you’re curious.

Just one more thing, as Colombo used to say: If you have the chance, take a look at a recent article in a research or practitioner journal that you regularly look at, an article that uses the concept of “narrative” and/or “story,” and think about how that concept is used. Or, if you use the terms yourself in your own work, bring some examples to show what role it plays in your project.

The language of the workshop will be in English to accommodate the presenter’s lack of Swedish. Stories brought in by participants and many conversations in the workshop will of course be in Swedish. No problem, we’ll help each other out.
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