RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017


27 Transformative Stories: Trauma, Therapeutic Geographies and Hope
Affiliation Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group
Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group
Convenor(s) Jo Little (University of Exeter, UK)
Lia Bryant (University of South Australia, Australia)
Chair(s) Jo Little (University of Exeter, UK)
Lia Bryant (University of South Australia, Australia)
Timetable Wednesday 30 August 2017, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Session abstract Geographers have become very familiar with the use of story telling as a methodology for engaging with the everyday detail of people’s lives, for giving voice to those ignored in the research process and for highlighting the importance of emotion in geographical understanding. Feminist geographers in particular have drawn on stories to articulate powerlessness and exclusion. The telling and re-telling of stories is encouraged as therapeutic to the story teller and as transformative in harnessing a politics of hope. As has been observed, however, there are risks involved in the telling of traumatic stories. As Parr and Stevenson (2014) note, there is always a fear that such stories may render the researcher complicit in promoting a voyeuristic interest which could help create and reinforce ‘wound cultures’, valorizing trauma and encouraging the re-circulation of stigma. In this session we wish to explore the transformative potential of stories and look at ways in which stories and storytelling uncover new geographical insights into difficult lives. We wish to draw attention, potentially, to the unpredictable nature and outcomes of story telling both for the subject and the researcher.

Possible papers might explore:

• Stories, pain and emotion
• Gender, story telling and feminist methodologies
• Stories of violence and abuse
• Hopeful stories and the role of stories in transformative politics
• Concerns about audiencing and the ‘use’ of difficult stories
• The potential of storytelling in understanding different worlds
• Wellbeing and the therapeutic role of storytelling
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
‘Where Sophie’s story went next’: the banal geographies of public trauma tales
Hester Parr (University of Glasgow, UK)
‘Sophie’s story’ was a creative narrative testimonial account of a suicide attempt, a textual representation of a crisis-led journey of a woman reported as missing. Sophie’s story was written and shared publically in 2013 online, in print, in professional police knowledge exchange events and in academic writing and conferences (Parr and Stevenson, 2014). As part of the ‘Missing people: missing voices’ collection [www.geographiesofmissingpeople.org.uk`], this tale, and others like it, is a public print and audio resource, which, in 2017, is currently mobilised in policy processes, attracts the attention of theatre producers and various journalists from various radio, print and television media and is hosted on an NGO website. This paper will discuss how these stories and other narrative resources have been mobilised, referenced and discussed in and through different communities of interest. In response to the concerns of trauma scholarships that worry over the risks and responsibilities of writing wounds, the paper will offer partial insights into the banal geographies of story circulations in order to think though what happens to trauma tales over time.
Carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives – poetry, the home and wellbeing for other worlds
Julia Zielke (University of Liverpool, UK)
“First made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action […] Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives” (Magrane, 2015, p. 97). This methodological paper explores the use of poem houses as a way of conceptualising wellbeing in a world of adversity and multiple inequalities via the poetic metaphor of ‘home’. I reinterpret poem houses as a feminist research method that invites participants to build three-dimensional objects of cardboard and decorate them with pictures, colours, textures, words, phrases or poems; these houses can tell a multimedia story about people’s intimate ways of making sense of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, ‘absence’ and ‘presence’, ‘active’ and ‘passive’ to name but a few dichotomies relevant to the wellbeing discourse (Long, 2013). These seeming opposites, however, quickly unravel: theoretically speaking, a feminist focus on the house and the home, taken in its widest sense, invites new ways of looking at wellbeing as the everyday act of dwelling (Todres & Galvin, 2010) and allows insight into the multi-modal, multi-vocal and poly-centric ways of ‘being in the world’; while methodologically speaking, a shared reflection on tragedy, the never perfect ways we cope with the things that are happening to us, diverts attention from pre-established and singular explanation. Story-telling through poetry is not necessarily radical in the classical sense, it is instead minor or weak functioning as a vehicle for expressing and sharing plural experiences, perspectives and difficult to express emotions. It is at this interface where poetry becomes a vehicle for translating feelings into words and actions, where plural ontologies are shared, and other worlds are thought of.
The power of the displaced interview: stor(e)ying as therapeutic practice
Jennifer Owen (Cardiff University, UK)
This paper draws upon research undertaken in order to understand the role of self-storage in the lives of those who use it. The project seeks to find out what motivates it usage and what the displacement of personal possessions away from the home can tell us about the constantly evolving nature of identity. The research explores how self-storage is viewed as a temporary solution by those renting it at a time of stress and/or transformation in their lives. These events can be out of the control of those effected and self-storage acts as a vessel to pick up (and store) the pieces.

In order to understand the nature of shifting identities, as exposed by the stored materialities, a sensitive interview strategy was employed. This involved asking questions about the practicalities and mundane qualities of the storage and objects within, which brushed up against rather than cut through the issue. In essence, questions were posed about the consequence of the event, rather than the event itself. The participant then, sparked by reengagement with their possessions, related back to the greater issue at play. This displaced interview – both from the original location of the incident, and through talking about trauma circuitously, enabled the participants to sift through the objects and related hardship without the prerequisite expectation of confronting their feelings, and to a depth that they felt comfortable with. After the interview it was noted that most participants felt it had been cathartic.

This paper argues that the displacement of triggering possessions from the place/moment/relations of trauma creates the space and time necessary to deal with them, and the displaced interview enables the co-production of narratives that act as therapeutic practice.
WITHDRAWN BY AUTHOR - Bodymapping as therapeutic storytelling? Reflections on care ethics and emotion work
Ruth Evans (University of Reading, UK)
Texturing Biographies
Lia Bryant (University of South Australia, Australia)
To attempt to uncover life stories is to uncover the partial and fragmented. Whilst biographical research encompasses a range of techniques social geographers have most commonly used ‘open questioning’ and verbal storytelling. In more recent times there has been an increase in the introduction of visual and arts-based methods to bring forth stories about the self. In this presentation I argue for a ‘layered account’ to elicit lived experiences of trauma, grief and care. I discuss the processes and approach of ‘memory work’ (Haug, 1987) as an auto/ethnographic method used alongside photography and diaries.

I will draw on examples of the ‘layering method’ in relation to biographies of gender and caring. I focus on practices of care through the medium of the mobile phone as care and telephony brings forth the complexities of biographies situated in location and unlocation and allow emotions and experiences that may shift from moment to moment to be captured. Memory work (writing memories to a topic or question in the third person) enabled retrospective glimpses of experiences, thoughts and emotions showing how these are linked to time, space and location and helped to elicit the non-linear and unexpected. Diaries documenting telephone calls their content, emotions and location provided context and detailed ‘mundane’ data about the everyday. Photographs taken in place after telephone calls captured specific moments in time and allowed the sensory to emerge. Combined these methods provided a texturing to biographies as fragmented, situated and on the move which may have remained obscured though the use of a single method or ‘open questioning’ alone.
WITHDRAWN BY AUTHOR - Methodologies for researching geographies of trauma and recovery
Lia Bryant (University of South Australia, Australia)
Jo Little (University of Exeter, UK)
We wish to use this paper to open up discussion of the issues raised in the session and, in particular, to initiate a discussion on the value of storytelling as a methodology. The paper incorporates the work of Lia and Jo in thinking through the potential of storytelling for uncovering the complex geographies of emotion, trauma and recovery. We draw on Lia’s work on the layering of biographies of gender and care in which she explores memory work (writing memories to a topic or question in the third person) to enable retrospective glimpses of experiences, thoughts and emotions showing how these are linked to time, space and location and helped to elicit the non-linear and unexpected. We also use Jo’s work on stories of domestic abuse to start to think through the ways in which stories of trauma are employed in the policy making process, asking questions about the ways in which listening to traumatic stories impacts on the work of those involved in service provision.
Domestic violence and the transformative potential of working with stories.
Jo Little (University of Exeter, UK)
This paper explores the use of story telling in research into domestic and sexual violence and abuse (DSVA). Where geographical and other social scientific work has drawn attention to the role of narrative approaches in the investigation of trauma it has, understandably, tended to focus on the potential of difficult stories to contribute to the wellbeing of victims and survivors and to their role in the development of therapeutic strategies to support the story teller. Here I seek to add to that work in exploring story telling as a methodology from the perspective of the researcher/practitioner. The paper reports on the recent development and implementation of story telling as a research method by a local authority in England as part of their DSVA strategy. It explores the motivation behind the collection of DVSA stories and, in particular, the desire to move from a risk based approach to supporting those facing violence. The paper shows how story telling helped to improve understanding amongst the researchers and to empower them to better communicate the complex needs of victims to other professionals, service users and wider communities.