Can narrative practices contribute to ‘social movement’? An invitation to join a project from David Denborough

G’day and welcome to this Friday afternoon video presentation from Dulwich Centre in which we invite you to join a project considering the challenges and possibilities in relation to narrative practices contributing to ‘social movement’. I’ve also included various links to texts and videos below. We hope to hear from you to continue the conversation!

References and further information:

I will include here the references to various texts and videos that I mention in the presentation.


  • Can we contribute to ‘social movement?’ by David Denborough. Chapter 6 from the book Collective Narrative Practice: Responding to individuals, groups and communities who have experienced trauma This includes the ‘checklist’ I refer to.
  • Kitzinger, C. & Perkins, R. (1993). Changing our minds: Lesbian feminism and psychology. New York: NYU Press.
  • The story of Richard, his mother and the box of fears appears in White, M. (2006). Narrative Practice with families and children: Externalising conversations revisited’ In White, M. & Morgan, A.: Narrative Therapy with Children and their Families. (chapter 1) pp. 1-56. Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications
  • The concepts of people representing social issues as well as themselves; enabling contribution; and people speaking through us not just to us; are all explored in Collective Narrative Practice: Responding to individuals, groups and communities who have experienced trauma
  • When I refer to my family/my ancestors contributing to great harm, I am referring to histories of colonisation and dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here in Australia – harms which continue in the present. I also have great respect for and gratitude to my ancestry. I hope my small efforts to join with others to redress past harms in no way dishonour my ancestry or my loving family. I also hope, collectively, that our descendants will try to redress harms which we as a nation are enacting now. How to both honour our ancestory and also come to terms with harms done is a profound question. I will attach here a letter I wrote to one of my ancestors about this.

Sustaining activists

  • The workshop with Burmese women rights workers/activists is documented here: Narrative responses to human rights abuses. This was a project of the International Women’s Development Agency and Dulwich Centre Foundation International with representatives from Shan Women’s Action Network, Women’s League of Burma, Palaung Women’s Organisation,Karen Women’s Organisation, Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand, Burmese Women’s Union, Lahu Women’s Organisation, Tavoyan Women’s Union.
  • Poh Lin Lee is a narrative therapist and member of Dulwich Centre faculty who has worked in Australia and overseas in the area of family violence, state violence, displacement and seeking asylum for individuals, families and children. She is currently based in Paris. We are collaborating on developing ways to sustain human rights workers and activists.
  • The work of Vikki Reynolds is also very relevant here.


Community Organizing

  • For those wanting to know more about the realm of community organizing in the Alinksy tradition, I’d recommend this recent book by David Walls: Community Organizing
  • To learn more about the work of Marshall Ganz click here
  • An overview of the work of Caleb Wahkungu and the Mt Elgon self-help community project which uses narrative practices to spark and sustain economic projects can be found here

Narrative methodologies being used within movements

  • To learn more about the work of PAH in Spain see their Facebook page In the near future we hope to publish some of the Team of Life work of Mònica Florensa and Jordi Freixas.
  • The collective narrative testimony in relation to the experience of West Papuan survivors of the Biak Massacre can be found here.

A clarification

I want to also clarify that in no way would I suggest that the field of narrative practice is a social movement. I think Michael White clarifies this, in no uncertain terms, in the interview Direction and discovery: A conversation about power and politics in narrative therapy:

Michael Hoyt: I want to ask another basic question, if I could. I hear these days some people referring to narrative therapy as a kind of social movement, or a kind of liberation philosophy. It is being identified in some circles as politically ‘left-wing’. Have you heard these sorts of things? Is it your intention for narrative therapy to be perceived in these ways?

Michael White: I have heard people reflect on narrative therapy in these ways and have some concern that such descriptions could be trivialising and diminishing of the courage expressed in, and of the very significant contributions and achievements of, various social movements. I do not know of any therapists who have risked their lives and the safety of their families, who have totally compromised their security, or who have been exiled due to their involvement in narrative therapy. And yet these experiences are often had by people who participate in social movements, and in initiatives that are informed by liberation philosophy.

And there are other reasons why the description of narrative therapy as a social movement does not fit for me. I don’t know how it is that narrative therapy could be constructed as a social movement, or as a kind of liberation philosophy. Social movements, in my understanding, are broad-based and issue focussed, very often addressing wider social justice issues from a variety of political platforms. In this sense, I don’t believe that there is anything about what I understand to be narrative therapy that would allow it to make any claim to be a social movement or a liberation philosophy.

As well, the liberation philosophies principally focus on the forces of oppression and repression. And, as an outcome of their association with liberal humanism, these movements usually incorporate a strong vision or narrative about how things could otherwise be in the world. Contrast this with the agenda that is explicit in narrative therapy. This is to engage in some local inquiry into what is happening, into how things are becoming other than what they were, or into the potential for things to become other than what they are. It is to engage in the rich description of the knowledges and skills of living expressed in this, and in an exploration of the possibilities, limitations and possible dangers associated with how things are and with how they are becoming other than what they were. Although I believe that this emphasis provides for a socially and politically sensitive practice, I want to reiterate that I don’t believe that there is anything about these practices that could constitute narrative therapy as a social movement. (White, 2000, pp. 112-113).

White, M. (2000). Direction and discovery: A conversation about power and politics in narrative therapy (Hoyt, M.F. & Zimmerman, J. interviewers). In White, M.: Reflections on Narrative Practice: Essays & interviews (chapter 6), pp.97-116. Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications.

Published March 2, 2015
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments