Oral History Blog Sue Hsu

October 2004


Update on Farenheit 9/11

This movie has definitely generated a lot of heat, especially with the upcoming elections in the States. Michael Moore is using it as a mission to recruit more voters, I wonder if he's getting paid by the Democrats for this?

Anyway, I have searched high and low on the website of Farenheit 9/11 as well as Michael Moore's website and the only thing I could find that was a little collaborative was a meetup group. There is actually a website called Meetup.com and they have several categories that you can browse through, each of these categories have hundreds of different topics. You can join a specific topic you are interested in, in your area (they have a search engine to locate the closest group to you, internationally) and each of these topic groups get together once a month to discuss the issue. So there's a Michael Moore group and a 9/11 questions group. There's even a group in Johannesburg, but consists only of 3 members. There are bulletin boards to place discussion and notices, but these are not widely used, so I did not get an idea of exactly what these groups get together to discuss.

There are endless news articles about Michael Moore and his most recent film, stating what is happening and the hype generated around the whole thing. Interestingly, Michael Moore's film has broken various blockbuster records in terms of revenue generated and viewership. I am still trying to figure out what this says about society - is it because the film was so controversial? is it because the elections are so close so this issue is very much on the public's minds? probably a combination of everything. Nevertheless, the film received the publicity and audience numbers Michael Moore hoped for.

M-net has secured the rights to air Farenheit 9/11 on the 1st November, this is like the first time a film is being aired on TV (internationally) before it comes off the movie circuit. There will also be a discussion after the viewing of the movie by Carte Blanche (Derek Watts). Will try to remember to watch that. The state of the world's currently most powerful nation is clearly of interest to many and it will be interesting to see the outcome of all this.

Posted by Sue Hsu on 28 Oct 2004 [url]


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The "superstar activist" phenomenon is really interesting, isn't it? Very telling that there seems to be so little opportunity for people to talk back... I guess one should bear in mind though that the online world has in the last few years become even more of a distributed discussion place with people writing things about 911 on blogs, websites, discussion fora all over the place - as you have done on this blog. So maybe Michael Moore doesn't necessarily have to provide talk-back opportunities himself. Another "superstar activist" I can think of is Naomi Klein of No Logo fame. Her website nologo.org used to be very interactive, but no more. Here's what somebody had to say about that: "It's very disappointing to note here that the No Logo site, which was a discussion forum based on SlashDot's Slash software, has been redesigned as a one way communication medium from Naomi to us. She has good things to say, and her reports are interesting but this sucks." - http:/ / www.nooranch.com/ synaesmedia/ wiki/ wiki.cgi?NoLogo - Martin (28 Oct 2004)

Online Projects Review

1. Russian nominated blogs (http:/ / blog.mathemagenic.com/ 2004/ 10/ 17.html#a1390)

Unfortunately both of the sites are in Russian and did not have an English translation page. From what I could gather, both these sites are very similar to that provided on the BBC website for WWII stories. However, they are more directed at the computer literate population, with it being a blog. Also, it is less formally organised and allows perhaps for more casual and less pressurised participation. Although it is a great idea for the BBC site to provide assistance and tips on how to write and upload stories etc. it gives off a more serious and formal kind of feeling which may be off-putting to some.

The "Moscow that do not exist" site talks about historical buildings in Moscow that are becoming run-down and lost, and the stories connected to those various buildings. The site has generated some action, in that there is a link to another site that records the various renovations and restorations taking place for some of the mentioned buildings. The "We are successors of our victory" site provide Russians the space to talk about their experiences in WWII.

I think the analyses for these sites will be similar to that of the BBC website provided for WWII stories, so I will not repeat it here. It is unfortunate that it is only available in Russian as there may be details we are not aware of that is available on the site. I think that these 3 Internet sites gives us a good idea of how these projects are positioned in terms of being bottom-up and collaborative.

2. Storycorps (http:/ / eogn.typepad.com/ eastmans_online_genealogy/ 2004/ 10/ storycorps.html) or www.storycorps.com

This is a very interesting project. This projects aims to collect stories, any stories, of anyone in America who wants to tell it. It is established by a company that specialises in making documentaries, focusing on voices of the people. The project began in September 2003, and in October 2003, they installed a Story Booth at the New York Grand Central terminal. This booth allows people to record their interviews with significant others in high quality sound-proof room. An facilitator at the booth will assist with the recording session and also with generating of questions for the interview. You can choose to interview anyone, or you can even just record your own story. The cost is $10 per 45 minute recording session, and at the end of it, they give you the interview on CD, and with your permission, they keep a copy at the American Folklife Centre Congress Library. The aim is to collect as many stories as possible from the public. They have so far collected 1600 interviews. The project will be launching more Storybooths in the future, and they will also provide mobile booths that will travel around the country collecting interviews. One can also contact Storycorps and organise to rent a Storykit, which includes a minidisk recorder, microphone, and headphones (this is posted to you) and you can use it to record anyone, anywhere. You then post the kit back to Storycorps who will then send you a copy of your interview on CD. Storycorps is also in partnership with a radio station in NY who will air the best recorded material from time to time. Who decides what is the best material is not mentioned. They are also planning to compile a CD for distribution which will include chosen excerpts from various interivews.

This is really quite a large and creative initiative. I listened to some excerpts they provided on the site and found them extremely touching and interesting. It really does make a difference listening to a person's voice rather than reading a transcribed interview. However, I did notice that when a recording gets too long, I started losing interest and my mind wondered off elsewhere.

Although I found the project creative and exciting, it did make me think "why?" and "for what?". There is not a particular purpose or theme of collecting stories, anything will do. So how will it be useful socially on a larger scale? I do recognise that it has a therapeutic effect because talking about your own stories reaffirms your experience and existence, but is there a larger social effect?

I will try to analyse this project according to our categories:

Open-endedness: extremely open-ended, to the point of directionless perhaps. A bottom-up approach where the public is given full reign on what they want to talk about. They choose the content, but there are no mechanisms to generate conversation with others. Your story is recorded and indexed and archived, what now? It will perhaps facilitate discussions between the interviewer and interviewee after the recording session however, and change their perceptions and understandings of each other. There was no mechanism provided for making contact with people whose interviews we heard - which was what I wanted to do after hearing a homeless woman talk about her experiences on the street, how do I reach out?

Mechanisms for collaborative authoring: there are no mechanisms for this besides for the interviewer and interviewee. The relationship is kept between the intimate individuals and extended to the public only through radio airtime and maybe a CD (one-way only and only selected stories).

Relationship to other social meaning making systems: this is difficult as there is not a particular social meaning targeted. Perhaps listening to the homeless woman gave me a different understanding of homeless people? but I happened to listen to her interview, it was not deliberate. This may therefore depend on how interviews collected are catalogued and who retrieves the interviews to listen to. This will also depend on which interviews are chosen for radio airtime and for the CD to be compiled. Perhpas those chosen will be related to whatever is the pressing social issues at a particular point in time in order to generate interest. So in this way, depending on interview content, there is a larger possibility of changing social meaning making systems.

Theory of how social meaning systems can be changed: No mention of this on the site, it is not their primary goal, which is to create a meaningful personal experience for participants. Although the project has a public component, they do not clarify how they wish to impact on social meaning or society in general. Perhaps to bring attention to everyone's unique experiences and importance, that your story counts no matter what.

Pervasiveness and accessibility: it appears that they are trying to make it as accessible as possible for all that is interested. With the installation of Storybooths and hiring of Storykits, they make it possible for anyone who is interested to make a recording of interviews. They have also tried to make their services as affordable as possible. I am unsure as to how pervasive this is, it will depend on subjective perceptions and needs; whether you just happen to walk past a Storybooth or it is your mission to record your story.

Continuation or duration: if the project receives support and funding, I see it continuing for a very long time. It's possible that it might become so pervasive that eventually everyone will know how to use the Storybooth (like an ATM machine) and the system will be linked to some central server in the future that automatically records and archives your story that you wish to tell in the Storybooths. Wouldn't that be interesting? like something out of a sci-fi movie. But I think it is very possible, if people begin to attach importance to personal stories and interviews and as technology becomes more affordable and accessible. The project coordinators have planned the project for 10 years.

Posted by Sue Hsu on 28 Oct 2004 [url]


Loved and fully agree with your analysis of Storycorps. Collecting actual sound recordings of what "ordinary people" have to say is great, but it is a pity that they seem to be stuck in a purely archival mode. I'm not saying there needs to be a big agenda behind it, but that the mechanisms should be created for various competing agendas to emerge. (28 Oct 2004)

The Oral History Reader - R. Perks & A. Thomson (Eds). 1998

Been doing some more reading - had started it before evaluating projects and could not leave it unfinished... being my usual anal self. This book is a collection of essays covering various aspects of OH. So not all the articles are relevant for our purposes, but some I found interesting.

Introduction (Perks, R. & Thomson, A.)

Definitio of Oral History: "The interviewing of eye-witness participants in the events of the past for the purposes of historical reconstruction". For some practitioners however, OH has not just been about making histories, but also to empower individuals or social groups through the process of remembering and reinterpreting the past, with an emphasis on the value of process as much as historical product. (Very much what we are researching and trying to recommend).

OH can be a powerful tool for discovering, exploring, and evaluating the nature of the process of historical memory - how people make sense of their past, how they connect individual experience and its social context, how the past becomes part of the present, and how people use it to interpret their lives and the world around them. (Pg 2).

Chapter 2 - The Voices of the Past (Paul Thompson)

"All history depends ultimately upon its social purpose." (Pg 21). Through history, everyday people seek to understand the upheavals and changes which they experience in their own lives such as wars, social transformations etc. Oral history however is not necessarily an instrument for change; it depends upon the spirit in which it is used.  

Oral history is limited by the number of interviews, the people interviewd, and also those who read the interviews. The group interviewed rarely fully represent the community. Stories heard are mainly those of middle-class background. Yet history should not merely comfort; it should provide a challenge, and understanding which helps towards change. A history is reuqired which leads to action: not to confirm, but to change the world (pg 27).

"The relationship between history and the community should not be one-sided in either direction: but rather a series of exchanges, a dialectic, between information and interpretation, between educationists and their localities, between classes and generations. There will be room for many kinds of oral history and it will have many different social consequences. But at bottom they are all related". "Oral history offers a challenge to the accepted myths of history, to the authoritarian judgement inherent in its tradition. It provides a means for radical transformation of the social meaning of history" (Pg 28).

Chapter 3 - Oral History and Hard Times (Michael Frisch)

Reading oral history depends, more than in most historical writing, on the deeper assumptions one has about the nature of the evidence and the form. (this goes back to our intial theme of 'truth'). (pg 31).

In Western society, where culture is so penetrated by literacy, communication, and self-consciousness as to make such notions of oral tradition of dubious application, oral history has not gone much beyond the traditional focus of historical work. Most of us therefore assumes that OH does one of two things: 1) functions as a source of historical information and insights, to be used in traditional ways in the formulaiton of historical generalizations and narratives; 2) a way of bypassing historical interpretation itself, avoiding all the attendant elitist and contextual dangers, to provide a way to communicate with the past more directly, to be presented with a purer image of direct experience. (pg 32).

OH is able to penetrate questions that most other fields cannot: what happens to experience on the way to becoming memory? what happens to experience on the way to becoming history? as an era of intense collective experience recedes into the past, what is the relationship of memory to historical generalisation?

Chapter 6 - What Makes Oral History Difference (Alessandro Portelli)

Oral history as narrative - Oral history interviews result in narratives in which the boundary between what taks place outside the narrator and what happens inside, between what concerns the individual and what concerns the group, become more elusive than in established written genres, so that personal 'truth' may conincide with shared 'imagination'. (pg 66).

Oral history is different from other tellings in that it tells us less about events than about their meaning. It tells us not just what people did, but what they wanted to do, what they believed they were doing, and what they now think they did. Oral sources provide much about psychological costs of events rather than material costs. The organisation of the narrative reveals a lot about the speakers' relationships to their history. (pg 67).

It is important to note that memory is not a passive depository of facts, but an active process of creation of meanings. Changes in memory reveal the nearrators' effort to make sense of the past and to give a form to their lives, and set the interview and the narrative in their historical context. (pg 69).

The documents of OH are always the result of a relationship, of a shared project in which both the interviewer and the interviewee are involved together, if not necessarily in harmony. (pg 70).

Chapter 7 - Popular Memory: Theory, Politics, Method (Popular Memory Group: Richard Johnson & Graham Dawson)

There are two ways in which a sense of past is produced; throgh public representation, and private memory. With public presentation, what is presented is the dominant memory, illustrating the power and pervasiveness of historical representations, their connections with dominant instutions and the part they play in winning consent and building alliances in the processes of formal politics. However, all these representations are open to contestation. Truth is not the criteria for dominant memory, but rather representations that are most ideological , most obviously conforming to the flattened stereotypes of myth. To make a dominant memory dominant, it has sometimes been achieved by direct control such as censorship, and by a violent recasting or obliteration of whole feilds of public history. Today the more common sites are formal political debates an public media. This may make several monographs seem insignificant in comparison. Another way to see social production of memory is in everyday life through individual narratives and comparisons. This is a history under extreme pressures and privations, and is held to the level of private remembrance which is often silenced and not offered the occasion to speak. OH aims to recover these stories through popular autobiography and community-based publishing. But public representations and private memories are linked and neither can be studied alone. Private memories cannot be readily unscrambled from the efforts of dominant historical discourses. They are relational. (pg 76-78).

Popular memory is concerned with 2 sets of relations: 1) between dominant memory and oppositional form across the whole public field, 2) between public discourses in their contemporary state of play and the more privatised sense of the past which is generated within a lived culture.

Difficulties blocking popular memory from impacting on politics:

  1. epistemological - historical objects of study are defined in such a way that it blocks political progress. Not seen as related or relevant to each other.
  2. the problem with individual testimony , narraitve or autobiography - not representative, not objective, cannot be a basis for political decisions.
  3. object of history is identified as the past - no longer relevant, must look to the future.
  4. social relational difficulties - the power the oral historian has in reproducing and interpreting the story - the academic power. The researcher is recognised and rewarded rather than the individual narrator of his/her story. The narrator is left untouched and unchanged, not involved yet having given up a part of him/herself.  

Posted by Sue Hsu on 26 Oct 2004 [url]


Farenheit 9/11

Watched this movie/documentary yesterday and think it is a good example of another way of social and collective meaning making. The movie is done as a documentary with actual footage and interviews with relevant political figures and everyday people affected by the 9/11 incident. The movie essentially "exposes" George W Bush and shows the American public and the world that the most powerful president in the world is actually an idiot that is only after power and money. It portrayed issues with ironic humour and sadness - I think trying to instil a sense of "realness" and "humaneness". I was truly shocked by some of the implications and saddened by the possible reality of matters and agendas of people in power. The documentary provides evidence of on-going and very lucrative relationship between the Bush and the Bin Laden family, and how the public's attention was diverted away from Afghanistan to Iraq, and also away from the business deals being completed between companies both Bush and Bin Laden family have interests in to the war in Iraq. It also showed how media can be used to mislead the public so completely, and how those in power use the strategy to blind the public while pursuing their own interests. It really made the audience (at least me) very weary and disappointed - a disbelief and disempoweredness perhaps. It must however be kept in mind that this is the perspective of one controversial and persistent journalist (Michael Moore) who may have agendas of his own, whether constructive or destructive.

Open-endedness: This film seems to have tried to use both an bottom-up (interviews and comments from the American and Iraqian public) as well as a top-down (interviews with mid-level influentiall political figures who oppose Bush) approach. Open-endedness was obviously limited due to the one-way interaction with the viewing audience. There is an underlying assumption of truth, one that is finally being revealed to the public and challenges the public to believe the "real" truth behind the scenes - a sense of discovery, a shocking one which I think will lead to either total belief or total disregard.

Mechanisms for collaborative authoring: Clearly not much with the one-sided presentation nature of a movie, but it appears that collaboration was done before the final product, in the research phase. However still very one-sided as no opinions of those favouring Bush was heard.

Relationship to other social meaning making systems: The documentary actually instils doubt for all social meaning making systems, implying that everything presented to us should be questioned and that the "truth" is never as it is presented. This is confusing because the movie itself is also a presentation of a truth and how much of it can we really believe? So it makes us think, which is great, but no answers... It reminds me of the definition of truth given by Nietsche, how important is it really? how does it affect us? can we really then be consistent in our values, or is it just when it suits us? why then are we blaming those in power? are we not essentially the same?

Theory of how social meaning systems can be changed: There is clearly no theory proposed in this documentary, only that social meaning can be changed and should be changed when what we believed in initially is not the actual truth. This is essentially what this documentary tries to do - change collective meaning of 9/11 and events surrounding it.

Pervasiveness and accessibility: This movie format is definitely a lot more accessible and therefore more pervasive than the other two projects we have reviewed so far. The message is relatively easy to understand and visual stimulation have a certain lasting impression than written. I think this is part of the reasons why this particular format was chosen for the presentation of this discovered truth. Its controversial reputation also increases interest, therefore expanding public viewership from those interested in 9/11 and American politics to those interested in anything controversial and shocking.

Continuation or duration: this is obviously limited as it was a 2 hour film and thats it. But whether it generates conversations, forums, websites, societies, etc. will be interesting to monitor.

Posted by Sue Hsu on 15 Oct 2004 [url]


Two interesting projects in Russia are described here - http:/ / blog.mathemagenic.com/ 2004/ 10/ 17.html#a1390 (18 Oct 2004)

You may be interested in StoryCorps "a national project to instruct and inspire people to record each others' stories in sound" and which "hopes to compile 300 000 interviews over 10 years". Details here: http:/ / eogn.typepad.com/ eastmans_online_genealogy/ 2004/ 10/ storycorps.html (15 Oct 2004)

Great case study! Very different from the others, but lots of parallels. I like all of your analysis. One very practical issue that is starting to really interest me is the great variability there seems to be in the degree to which there are mechanisms for collaborative authoring and talking back. In some ways of course everything does feed into the broader public discourse, especially a popular media intervention like Michael Moore's, and people can talk back in via the "conversations, forums, websites, societies" that you rightly say it will generate. But I'm starting to wonder if people like Michael Moore cannot be more creative in providing immediate and tangible ways of talking back. E.g. a notice at the end saying "what do you think?" and a website where you can give your opinion. Or something more creative - e.g. making an arrangement with local coffee shops where people are invited to have a discounted cup of coffee after the movie and chat to other movie goers about what they made of it. Maybe with each coffee-shop group invited to send two postcards - one to Michael Moore and one to George Bush saying something pithy that everybody in the group can agree with. Or something. Maybe we're still too captivated by the idea that mass media needs to be only a one-way thing. (15 Oct 2004)

Comments on Projects

The following comment on TRC by Martin serves as an example of what we are meant to do as we read about projects relevant to collective meaning.

1. TRC

First entry for a catalogue of initiatives aiming to change social meanings

TRC victims testimony

As part of the larger TRC process victims were invited to submit and then publicly present their stories to the commission - as testimony about what happened but also with a view to possible compensation. Victims were asked to recall what happened to them and to describe their present situation, but not always encouraged to try and relate their individual narratives to larger social processes. Extracts from the testimonies received much coverage in the mass media at the time, were quoted in the commission's final report, and has since been analysed in many academic and popular texts. In keeping with the rest of the TRC process, the purpose was to establish a plausible truth about what really happened, but also to encourage apology, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Some issues/dimensions to consider in "placing" this initiative

Open-endedness: Clearly not just a top-down, prescriptive, educational agenda, but a more open-ended, organic process. However, not entirely open either - they wanted people to provide some kind of truth from the past and for this to be useful for some kind of reconciliation in the present.

Mechanisms for collaborative authoring: Not much. People mostly presented their testimony once-off and as individuals. There were no mechanisms for commenting on, annotating, or elaborating upon other victims' narratives. Non-victims also had no means of participating in the authoring and re-authoring of the narratives.

Relationship to other social meaning making systems: TRC victim narratives were from the start taken up into a complex network of other systems, particularly the mass media and the world of academic publication.

Theory of how social meaning systems can be changed: Official TRC texts and others who have written about the TRC have outlined many different theoretical explanations, but there appears not to have been a single, coherent understanding of how it changed (or attempted to change) social meanings.

2. BBC History Website

This site raised interest initially due to the site they have for WWII stories and testimonies. However, this was actually in the midst of an even wider network incorporating all kinds of history from prehistoric to modern society. The WWII link is particularly elaborate with a whole project dedicated to it on its own, and it has its log-on own system of how to contribute to stories, research assistance for those doing research on WWII, and even a help desk that will assist with writing tips and uploading of your information onto the Internet. On the periphery, the public can access various topics on history and also join discussion forums by leaving messages with specific headings, and others who are interested can reply to the message. Discussion topics are wide ranging from how pyramids were built to evaluating politicians and their agendas. There are no guidelines with regards to where various stories lead, except for the categories they might be classified into. There are also no conclusions provided, but rather an open field for interested parties to contribute and discuss, and hopefully draw their own conclusions when they are satifisfied with the amount of information they have received.

Using the categories Martin had for TRC, these are the positions I think this website holds:

Open-endedness: definitely a bottom-up approach and open-ended, with very little structure and much flexibility. The stories are from the public to the public with the aim of sharing and understanding, not that of gaining the absolute truth (at least, I didn't get that idea).

Mechanisms for collaborative authoring: this project allows very much for collaborative authoring, where members can firstly change their stories as many times and in any way they wish, and others can reply to their stories, providing a different point of view or adding to the story themselves. There is space for a sharable narrative, but it must be initiated by interested individuals.

Relationship to other social meaning making systems: it seems that the site assumes there are recorded "facts" and then there are individual stories, so it feels that what the site tries to do is to somehow find a mid-point that connects the two, by allowing people to contribute and comment. The site has reference links to actual facts and also to expert opinions and the public is welcome to send comments or questions.

Theory of how social meaning systems can be changed: The site makes no mention of wanting to change social meaning or the actual meaning behind various historical events. It seems to be left up to individual contributors and readers to evolve their own meaning from what they read. It is therefore difficult to ascertain the type and amount of change in social meaning, perhaps only in a from generally less tolerant and open to a more open and understanding one as one reads more stories? Will have to read some stories and comments to decide on this.

Pervasiveness and accessibility: I am unsure as to how this site is marketed or alerted to the public, but it has Internet access only and participation is also only through the Internet, although they do have a help desk to assist those who cannot access the Internet. So accessibility is limited to computers as well as literacy. The idea that this is a permanent and public archive that will retain information for future generations is attractive as Internet access will become a norm for more people in the near future, and the younger generations will be able to read personal stories instead of history textbooks seems to be important for varied collective meaning and understanding of the past.

Continuation or duration: this site will continue for as long as the public contribute to it, there is no "ending" or "conclusion" as such, like the TRC. Stories therefore are able to change and evolve, allowing readers to follow contributor's thinking which reflects current social climates.

Posted by Sue Hsu on 14 Oct 2004 [url]


NIce! I like the BBC write-up and analysis relative to my TRC categories and especially also the new categories you came up with. - Martin (14 Oct 2004)

Streamlining Direction for Eventual Paper...

Just to quickly summarise discussion points before I forget

1. focus on projects, efforts, anything, that has an impact on social meaning and changing it. Identify these programs or projects and cataloging them according to various dimensions. This will add "meat" to the article, and will also assist in making suggestions for the future.

2. The paper is to focus on collective meaning making and whether it is deliberate. Psychologists in therapy emphasise meaning changing and making, but when taken into community fields, projects become more dictative and top-down, rather than bottom-up and from community itself. Therefore how can we approach this activity of meaning making that is most beneficial for community and social change. Keep in mind that audience for paper will be others in the psychology field rather than those in the OH field.

3. when enough projects or programs have been categorised and dimensionalised, we will move forward with creating a skeleton of the article and then filling in the spaces.

Martin, please add to this if I have left out anything.

Posted by Sue Hsu on 7 Oct 2004 [url]


This looks right to me. The only thing I'd want to change is "focus on collective meaning making and whether it is deliberate". As I understand it we want to focus on efforts that deliberately try to change collective meanings. We know that many kinds of social meaning shifts are not deliberate, but we want to examine instances where it is deliberate. (7 Oct 2004)


The more I read, the more I get confused. So just want to put a few thoughts down before I get side-tracked again. Was thinking about the article and from what direction and to what end can we tackle it. I've read again Martin's comments and have looked through the TRC's website, but I feel that finding more sites where OH is recorded to be commented or added to may be limited in that firstly I will get sidetracked by the stories, and secondly how useful these sites really because how many people really log on and read them? Is this not restrictive in the sense of that only people who are interested will read these sites or add to the stories? But then we cannot force people to be interested in issues they have no concerns about either.... catch 21.

I am thinking in the lines of incorporating OH into community programs, whether it is in the form of speakers of personal experience, drama, songs, etc. This is because for OH to have impact in SA, it can't be limited to the Internet and technology, due to the high amount of illiteracy and access problems. Instead, perhaps we can have certain OH programs aimed at community cohesion building or bridging of two very different communities (e.g. a town and the township right outside it like Sandton and Alexandra) or even just school life skills programs where specific OH themes can be discussed and enacted in some way by the students.

So the article would go in the lines of introducing OH and psychology/ psychotherapy and discussing the similarities between the two, particularly between OH and narrative therapy. Moving onto how OH and psychology can be combined to assist society and community. Perhaps I can look for examples of where this may have worked, like search for some community projects with a similar slant. Ending with making suggestions of how this integration can be done? If you read this Martin, please give me your thoughts. Thanks!

Posted by Sue Hsu on 1 Oct 2004 [url]


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I keep getting confused too! But I do also think there is sense in what we're doing. As I understand it we want to look at how psychology can move beyond individual narratives to working with shared narratives. Oral History is one example of how people attempt to do this, but maybe we shouldn't worry too much on just sticking with stuff that calls itself oral history - all sorts of approaches that work with shared memories and narratives are of interest. I also think we now understand that we're primarily interested in how the (public) sharing (and re-creating) actually happens - and less so in issues around "collecting" and "archiving" material (which many oral historians are concerned about). So it is in that sense that the TRC and a lot of what happens on the internet is of interest - because there is so much focus on making stories public, on commenting on them, on re-writing them. But I take your point that one can get sidetracked by the stories themselves. Our focus in looking at such things should be on trying to see interesting patterns and examples of how they make it possible for people to create shared narratives, not so much on the stories themselves. Your point about not sticking to internet examples only is also well taken, although I wouldn't want to exclude internet stuff - many millions of people in SA have internet access and this is increasingly rapidly, even though the majority still do not. So looking at drama stuff and the various vibrant new forms in which traditional African story-telling have been developing into is great! There is lots of interesting work being done around drama and issues such as AIDS for example. What has always bothered me a bit about many of these initiatives, however, is that they may be too top-down. There is almost always some workshopping with participants to give the drama a more authentic feel, but one gets the impression that the basic didactic message has been pre-decided by those who are really in control. So in looking at various examples one of the issues one could look out for could be the extent to which there really is an open agenda to re-imagine things and to what extent a specific pre-determined purpose is being pushed. You mention "OH programs aimed at community cohesion building", which seems to me to be somewhere in the middle of the two poles. At one end would be traditional OH projects that just want to collect memories and preserve them, in the middle would be something like the TRC that wants to actually bring about some kind of social change (such as "build cohesion") but do it in a fairly open-ended non-prescriptive way, and at the other end are psycho-educational dramas that want to teach people something definite (such as wear condoms) and tries to sugar-coat the pill somewhat by including an element of community participation in the writing of the drama. I'm not sure that the above is the best possible typology of "shared narrative" types of initiatives, but I think it would be useful for us to construct some sort of typology to characterise the various examples you find. That would then also allow us to say something about what the dangers and challenges and opportunities associated with each type of "shared narrative" intervention is and what kinds of practical mechanisms are used by each. Phew! Hope that didn't just add more confusion... - Martin (1 Oct 2004)