“…But is doing nothing worse than risking something? ..”

I’m a researcher, a student, a teaching assistant (and many other things too). In these capacities, I spend a lot of time hearing other people’s stories.  In so many multiple ways, they shape my work academically and professionally, as well as the way I see the world. I tell stories of places I have been, people I have worked with and learned from. So, so many stories.
In my research methods class, we have been talking a lot about stories – from the dangers of a single story, the stories we each have and the stories we collect in our capacity as researchers.
As we talk about these things, the questions come more easily than the answers.  Who owns these stories? Who tells them? Who hears them?  James Dawes wrote a whole book exploring this – and other – questions about stories, and speaking in the context of some of the world’s biggest atrocities:
“‘Isn’t that a sacrilege-to use someone else’s story…?’ Yet what are the consequences of respectful silence? There are so many ways to hurt others when trying to speak for them, so many and so unexpected. But is doing nothing worse than risking something? ‘How else would it get out?’” –James Dawes, ‘That The World May Know’
These questions are just as relevant for the stories of daily life, whatever those stories may hold, and we, as researchers, as people in this world, must engage with them and be sure the stories we tell are not sacrilegious.  This is a lesson I can never hear too often.

2 thoughts on ““…But is doing nothing worse than risking something? ..”

  1. Pingback: The problem with Kony 2012? Its a single story. « Everything I Learned

  2. Reblogged this on Everything I Learned and commented:

    I first wrote this in the fall but in the wake of the conversations that are going on in response to the video from Invisible Children, I thought it was worth reposting. Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, the dangers of a single story (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg), highlights the problems that can arise when people who are so far removed from a situation are the ones that get to tell the story. The Kony 2012 video is the perfect example: Globe and Mail (amongst others) reported there are no Africans involved in Invisible Children which means the people writing this story – and distilling a longstanding conflict with causes that run deep and wide and far beyond resources (colonialism and capitalism, ahem) into 29 minutes or less – are not the people closest to the situation, living in it, or actively advancing solutions that have the most benefit to people on the ground. While there is a place, sometimes and in some contexts, and in very carefully undertaken ways, to tell other people’s stories (see the James Dawes quote below), it is important to be clear about your position as the story teller: positioning oneself, implicitly or explicitly, as the expert when really, you are a world away, presents a major opportunity for criticism. That is certainly the case here.
    In addition to Adichie’s talk, consider the following posts if you are thinking about Invisible Children:
    -This isn’t the first time they have taken some severe criticism from the development community, http://www.wrongingrights.com/2009/03/worst-idea-ever.html/
    -This isn’t the first example of bad writing when it comes to talking about ‘Africa’: How Not To Write About Africa http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QDWlMX2ToSc
    And, so as not to be a hypocrite: even more importantly than the words of many, many of my peers and colleagues who are writing critically about Kony 2012, this blog run by African youth focused on music, fashion and film has also posted about the topic: http://afripopmag.com/2012/03/african-reactions-to-the-kony-2012-campaign/. If you read one thing, this link is the place to start.
    This doesn’t mean we should not be paying attention to this issue – just that we should be very sure that we are paying attention to the relevant parts of this issue, and supporting political, advocacy and humanitarian efforts to create change in ways that are meaningful for those most directly affected.
    Keep using your words – and engaging with those of others,
    Sidenote: Africa has 50+ countries. It is not all the same – even though a few of the links I have posted here have taken it up as such.

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