Narrative Practices Across Durham

December 19, 2023
An array of pink and orange post-it notes on a purple background

Earlier this year, the Narrative Practices Lab (NPL) within the Discovery Research Platform for Medical Humanities held its first event. 

Led by NPL Co-leads Laura Mazzoli-Smith and Veronica Heney, ‘Narrative Practices Across Durham’ took place in the Confluence Building on 18 October 2023. It was facilitated by Mary Robson and Bentley Crudgington from the Creative Facilitation Unit.

The purpose of the workshop was to develop an understanding of how the Lab can support Durham University researchers working on narratives or storytelling and health, illness and disability, reaching beyond staff and students who are already affiliated with the Institute for Medical Humanities.

Participants came from a variety of fields. However, there were many points of connection between those in disciplines traditionally focused on the narrative articulation of experience, those working in community or educational settings with marginalised groups whose ‘stories’ are often neglected, and researchers who work with quantitative data and recognise its limitations in accounting for subjectivity.  This included a shared interest in the critical articulation of the possible uses and abuses of narrative, the need to attend to voices and experiences that may be disregarded as too complex and a sense of the urgency of interdisciplinary methods. The group also shared a sense of the potential for narrative research to make interdisciplinary collaborations more meaningful and convivial, and a commitment to understanding subjectivity as a vital component in clinical and health outcomes.

Members of the workshop explained that in their more positive experiences of interdisciplinary research they felt confident they could do justice to the distinctive expertise and knowledge brought by research participants and collaborators. Together, we identified barriers to producing meaningful research on or with narrative, including time constraints, intolerance of the complexity of engaging with people as authorities on their own experiences, and concern for mistranslation across sectors. Our other group discussions focused on identifying the skills we believe we need to bring to interdisciplinary research with narrative, and what we need from the institution and its systems in order for this to happen.  We also discovered many overlapping themes and questions that we are trying to address in our work.

With this in mind, we discussed the practical support the Lab should offer. The responses included an enthusiastic request for more spaces and structures to meet with those outside our own disciplines who are working on health challenges through narrative methods and mentoring around partnership working, nurturing productive collaborations and interdisciplinarity. We were asked to create spaces for workshopping ideas for projects or grant proposals and support for making connections with stakeholders beyond the University.

Our first newsletter will go out in January 2024 and this will provide a space for continuing interdisciplinary conversations about narrative methods both within and beyond the university.    

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