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Inside/Out: using storytelling to understand the politics of exclusion in Europe and South Africa

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Stories (Inside/Out: using storytelling to understand the politics of exclusion in Europe and South Africa )

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-08-31

Contemporary political narratives in the UK and South Africa are explicitly orientated around ideas about who does, and does not, belong. The UK and South Africa, while different, share trends towards inequality and the othering of migrants as responsible for social problems. Both inside and outside groups express a powerful sense of alienation and hopelessness. Political narratives around who belongs are constructed through a range of interacting and reinforcing mechanisms. Digital technologies have made it possible for negative political narratives to be spread and amplified more quickly. Recent research points to an increasing inability to encounter and listen to perspectives from the ‘other’, suggesting that people tend to seek out information that confirms existing biases, even when confronted with clear countervailing evidence that they are wrong. Taken together, these factors give to the rise of powerful political narratives of exclusion, and the reinforcement of narrow categories of belonging.
Objectives:
• Use storytelling to allow people categorised politically as inside/outside to surface and articulate everyday experiences of inclusion and exclusion
• Develop arts-based and creative techniques of storytelling as a process of co-generation and co-production of knowledge that moves between personal experience and narratives of exclusion and inclusion.
• Evaluate how the research process can, itself, contribute to deepening the quality of dialogue across boundaries of exclusion and inclusion in the UK and South Africa
• In partnership with civil society organisations, to explore how digital technologies and communication can be used ethically and responsibly to create and share stories that build public engagement and trust between groups
• Advance the understanding of trust, belonging and social cohesion, specifically in terms of how stories can help people to build new shared narratives in a context of powerful narratives of exclusion

This project used storytelling to generate new bottom-up narratives with migrants from inside and outside groups. These stories have been used to to challenge dominant top down discursive politics of exclusion by challenging the existing stereotypes about migrants and creating new forms of dialogue across divisions. Through the research process and the stories it generated, research participants and other audiences have recognised how they are connected in spite of political narratives of exclusion. This had led to greater recognition of the commonalities between groups, and why these matter.
The fellow formed story groups with migrants in South Africa in partnership with Adonis Musati Project. Each story group produced 24 multi-media stories. The project used the research process to create new opportunities for dialogue through a ‘Story salon’ held in Cape Town, South Africa, in conjunction with World Refugee Day in June 2019, and a dialogue event held between storytelling groups in April 2019. These events were attended by over 600 people, including media and government officials. On the basis of these research activities, the fellow has submitted three peer-reviewed publications in high-quality publications.

The fellow used collaboration with scholars from other disciplines to develop the interdisciplinary nature of the research. This included the establishment of and participation in a reading and discussion group with psychologists, sociologists and political theorists on narratives and the development of funding proposals with scholars from these disciplines.

The fellow received mentoring and support to complete three large-scale funding proposals, totalling over GBP 4 million. The development of these funding proposals has enhanced the fellow’s capacity to lead a major research programme.

The project increased the credibility of the storytelling methodology with academic audiences by presenting the methodology at key conferences and other academic events and through publications.

The project increased the uptake of the methodology with practitioner/policy audiences through delivering webinars on using the methodology for the Institute of Voluntary Action Research, UK and Instituto Juconi, Mexico. These reached a practitioner audience with over 4000 views. In 2019, the fellow presented results of research and the methodological approach at formative workshop for the design of the Victoria Forum 2020, chaired by Lord Alderice at the Canadian High Commission. This presentation significantly informed the design of the Forum.

The project launched online versions of stories generated through research by adding a new section to Adonis Musati’s website to focus on storytelling (https://www.adonismusatiproject.org/storytelling).

The fellow expanded her blogging profile on storytelling by launching a new blog on open access version, and posted 9 blogs (www.medium.com/joanna_wheeler). _She also posted on a high profile blog, DiscoverSociety (https://discoversociety.org/2020/04/01/being-young-in-an-uncaring-city-the-personal-and-the-political-in-the-lives-of-south-africas-urban-young-people/). The blogs achieved over 3000 unique views and reads.

The fellow developed supplementary visual products and communication tools from creative products of research process. These were distributed via regular posts via the fellow’s Twitter account about research results and Adonis Musati’s social media accounts. This targeted a general public audience, achieving over 100,000 unique impressions across social media channels.

The fellow engaged policy makers with findings of research through a policy briefing (https://researchoutreach.org/articles/storytelling-across-social-divides/). It achieved 47,000 unique views, with the print copy distributed to over 200,000 subscribers including policy makers and other practitioners globally.
The fellowship has made an important contribution to the state of the art by mapping out and critically reflecting on the methodological process of using storytelling to understand narratives of exclusion, to support its replication. Critical reflections of the methodological process were developed through the academic outputs, and through feedback and engagement at key academic conferences as described in the activities section. In addition to academic outputs, these advances have been disseminated through blogs and webinars by the Fellow. By developing the use of storytelling as a form of research, this fellowship has advnced the state of the art, in that this research approach is gaining recognition and can now be applied to a greater range of settings and issues.The research process used storytelling to deepen dialogue across boundaries of exclusion and political alienation, by bringing together migrant groups and those positioned against them. This research, bringing together disciplines of politics, sociology and psychology, has the potential to generate new theoretical and grounded insights into trust, belonging and social cohesion as practical concepts for academic analysis and policy engagement.