Recent Trends in Using Life Stories for Social and Political Activism

By Lenart-Cheng, Helga; Walker, Darija | Biography, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Recent Trends in Using Life Stories for Social and Political Activism


Lenart-Cheng, Helga, Walker, Darija, Biography


Together we are creating a global community and heritage by linking together Stories of everyone.

--Storyofmylife.com ("About Story")

Sharing our stories, those of our families and other people we meet, is a great way to learn the important lessons in life. It also helps remind us that we really are all here for the purpose of community.

--Your-Life-Your-Story.com (Gilbert)

There is a real power in sharing. Your story can make a difference.

--Here For Life ("Share")

A RECENT TREND

Communal lifestory-sharing sites,1 in which lifestories of particular individuals are shared for the benefit of communities, have never been as popular as today. Site organizers and contributors promote the act of sharing a lifestory as a form of communal endeavor. They call on us to "join forces to celebrate the power of stories to create change in ourselves and our communities' (Forti); they "encourage individuals to tell their life-stories while promoting democracy, diversity and dialogue" (Rutkowki).

The idea that shared lifestories can serve as vehicles of social and political transformation is not new. It dates back at least to the Enlightenment, but recent technological innovations have made possible what Enlightenment thinkers could only dream about. Today hundreds of lifestory-sharing networks exist whose members are not only willing and able to share their stories, but who are also conscious of the potential communal effects of their actions.

Participants in this movement believe in the transformative effect of shared lifestories. They recognize the value of social networking and the power of intimacy carried by individual lifestories. Participants also believe that just as the recent birth of online social networks has radically transformed the landscape of business and entertainment by introducing highly individualized marketing techniques and content delivery, the communal sharing of individual lifestories can lead to more effective, and more individualized, forms of participatory democracy.

One recent initiative, the International Day for Sharing Life Stories, illustrates well the energy, enthusiasm, and scope of this new movement. The project was founded in 2008 with the intention of "celebrating life story work in the context of social justice." In the words of the organizers, "We want this day to be especially dedicated to celebrating and promoting life story projects that have made a difference within neighborhoods, communities, and societies as a whole" (International). The 2008, 2009, and 2010 programs included story circles in people's homes and institutions, public open-microphone performances, conferences, open houses, theater performances, and online gatherings in virtual environments, among other activities. Hundreds of events were held worldwide each year, and this simultaneous celebration created a powerful sense of community among all those who use lifestories for the advancement of social or political justice. Organizers even set up a website with a clickable map to improve communication between participants, as well as to symbolize their common purpose.

While the International Day for Sharing Life Stories network illustrates well the scope of this new trend, many similar activist projects, facilitated by developing technologies, exist outside this network as well. For what changed dramatically in the last decade or so is not primarily the ways in which we create our lifestories, but the ever new ways in which we share them. Today's lifestory-tellers can share their stories instantaneously, without waiting for someone's authorization; they can share them in installments, without having completed them; they can share them through a great variety of media; they can share them with as wide an audience as they wish; and by deciding how, where, and with whom to share, they can choose the causes and networks they wish to support. …

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