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Organizing Fellows: Andrea Hairston (Theatre) & Bill Peterson (Psychology)

In narrative we enter imagined, constructed, performed worlds. Through narrative we translate ourselves into others, and translate others into our terms. This process inevitably interrogates the normative principles of the world we inhabit. Storytellers' engagement with otherness allows for Communitas — transcending individual boundaries, shedding 'I' for 'we,' and with the interweaving of multiple stories, we collectively conjure a universe, a master narrative that, in turn, has an impact on personal identity. Storytellers who may be anthropologists and novelists, psychologists and historians, filmmakers, solo performance artists, and biographers, all collect life experiences and, among other things, transform them into a performance of identity and community. By narrating the lives of others, we discover ourselves.

The capacity to transport ourselves beyond our own experience, to translate ourselves into narrative subjects, is a fundamental element of any story we want to tell. The Fellows of this project investigated how storytellers — broadly conceived — go about translating themselves across difference in order to make meaning of their own lived experiences and the experiences of others. The questions that such an investigation raised included the following:

What does it mean to narrate or perform the life of another?

What are the limits that are imposed on who or what can be written about?

What strategies are employed to identify with our subjects?

What are the factors that determine which narratives are regarded as "authentic" or "representative?"

The work of this project had relevance to scholars working with oral histories, case studies, life narratives, as well as those undertaking fictional creative writing projects. In our weekly research colloquia, we discussed and challenged both theoretical texts and other narratives; we critiqued each other's writing; and engaged visiting writers and theorists around the basic questions of our project.


Final Project Report

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