CNR Postgraduate Associate Certificate: Narrative Research by Distance Learning

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Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London

Postgraduate Associate Certificate (30 Masters credits) 2020-21:

Narrative Research by Distance Learning

September 2020-January 2021.  Course code: SC7301

Distance learningonline tutorials, group e-meetings. 30 Masters credits

The Postgraduate Associate Certificate in Narrative Research by Distance Learning at the Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London, is a unique interdisciplinary programme, drawing on social sciences and the humanities to provide graduate-level education in narrative theories and methods. gives students experience in the application of narrative concepts and analysis to particular fields. In addition, the programme develops more general skills of review, criticism, and team and individual research, all within the context of narrative research.

This  Postgraduate Associate Certificate  programme provides 30 UK postgraduate Masters (Level 7) credits. It can be taken singly or in combination, alongside other UEL Masters’ level modules. The module is suitable for participants from many disciplinary backgrounds. Participants take it as part of Masters programmes, as part of PhD training, as skills development for research in applied and community settings, and in order to expand their methodological range as academic researchers.

This module provides students with an overview of the range of narrative research methodologies. Beginning with an exploration of the meaning of narrative, the module outlines Labovian methods, biographical methods and context-oriented methods. It then considers three key fields of narrative research: oral, personal narratives; written narratives (including autobiographies and letters); visual narratives; digital narratives; and process or activity narratives. Through a range of theoretical perspectives, we shall be attempting to address a number of questions; for instance: How do people come to see themselves as distinct subjects about whom a story can be told? What role do memory, ideology, sense of audience, etc. play in people’s accounts of their lives? How do class, ethnicity, gender and other social characteristics shape the stories people tell? What do we look for when we analyze accounts of people’s lives? What are the forms and effects of decolonizing approaches to narrative research?

The module content is all available online and can be downloaded and worked on offline, for those with limited internet access. We will also have Teams, Zoom or other platform group seminars and individual tutorial meetings,  as requested by students. 

For more details, please see – this page also provides an application link

For academic information, please email Corinne Squire,

For administrative help, please email or

Narrative projects relating to COVID-19

A collection of individual, collective and institutional narrative projects on the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic taking place across the world. Most of the projects are open to contributions. Please click on each project for more information. If you know of similar projects, please e-mail the link to CNR

Collated by Hannah Flint

Institutional projects

COVID19 ARCHIVE | Mass Observation

Mass Observation is collecting journals from individuals, community groups and schools to record experiences of COVID-19.


Some colleagues at Edinburgh Sociology, including Liz Stanley and Emilia Sereva of the Whites Writing Whiteness project, have created a website devoted to coronavirus pandemic stories and perspectives.

LETTERS OF CONSTRAINT | National Justice Museum

This collection of letters offers individual experiences of isolation to provide an insight into the COVID-19 lockdown.


This collection of letters offers individual experiences of isolation to provide an insight into the COVID-19 lockdown.

NYC COVID-19 ORAL HISTORY, NARRATIVE AND MEMORY ARCHIVE |Columbia Centre for Oral History Research

Columbia University’s INCITE, alongside the Oral History Archives are creating an archive documenting New York City’s experience of the pandemic.

POST-CORONA LETTERS | Storylab University of Twente

An international consortium is conducting a longitudinal study on how people envision what the future should look like after the pandemic and how their future perspectives evolve over time.

RISING UP TO THE CHALLENGE | Barking & Dagenham Giving

Barking & Dagenham Giving have teamed up with the council and You Press to document stories through the eyes of young creatives through a series of illustrations.


This project seeks to understand how people are making sense of their lives as they are being transformed by the pandemic.


This storytelling initiative is part of UNESCO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is meant to put the spotlight on young people 


On this page you will find narrative responses to the pandemic that have originated in Australia, Turkey, China, Brazil and Rwanda.

Collective Projects

COMMUNITIES 2020 | Rose Rickford, PhD at University of York

Rose Rickford collects narratives from members of community organisations to shine a light on UK communities in 2020.


A collaborative investigation on housing conditions and wellbeing in times of COVID19 containment.

CORONAVIRUS LOST & FOUND | Independent project

Many people have suffered significant losses throughout the pandemic, and Coronavirus Lost and Found is an archive for those losses, big or small.

GREAT DIARY PROJECT | Independent project

Originally launched in 2007, the Great Diary Project is now collecting diary entries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

JOURNALS OF A PANDEMIC | Independent project

A project collecting journal entries of life under COVID-19, gathering personal impressions and experiences of the pandemic.


A project taking creative writings from systemic people across transdisciplinary communities.

®TIMES SHIFTING | Imagining History Programme UK

Created and guided by Alan Caig Wilson, Elizabeth Ferretti and Dr Dina Gusejnova, Times Shifting brings together young writers to explore the living history of our time.


This project gathers personal stories from persons with disabilities about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives.


An Instagram project by a group of photographers in Spain. They collect visual narratives to document daily life during pandemic.

Individual Projects


Kathy Feest writes every day about personal experiences of lockdown in Bristol.


In episode 13, Anthea Lesch focusses on her experience of adjusting lockdown in Cape Town, South Africa.

Covid-19 and the global intensification of inequalities: An e-symposium

Joint event between CNR and UEL’s Centre for Social Justice and Change: free registration at Eventbrite (link below!)

Covid-19 and the global intensification of inequalities: An e-symposium

Friday July 3, 2020, 3-4.30pm

Centre for Social Justice and Change, and Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London

Chair: Dr. Meera Tiwari

Presentations on and discussion about Covid-19 and its effects on economies, livelihoods, education and health, in relation to women, poor communities, and HIV positive people, in India, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, and the UK.

Presenters: Elaine Unterhalter (UCL), Sanny Mulubale (University of Zambia), Adriana Prates (Federal University of Bahia), Corinne Squire (UEL), Meera Tiwari (UEL), and Alan Whiteside (Balsillie School of International Affairs/Wilfred Laurier University).

To attend, please book here on Eventbrite and you will then receive your invitation:


Elaine Unterhalter is Professor of Education and International Development at the Institute of Education, UCL. She is also the Co-Director of the Centre for Education and International Development. Prof Unterhalter will be drawing on her extensive research in South Africa and Nigeria to reflect on how the Covid pandemic has impacted education for the poorest cohorts and girls in those countries.

Dr Sanny Mulubale is a University of Zambia lecturer and researcher who obtained a PhD from UEL as a Commonwealth Scholar. Adriana Prates has extensive experience as a community health worker, researcher and activist, and is completing a PhD at the Federal University of Bahia, Salvador, brazil. Corinne Squire is Professor of Social Sciences and Co-Chair, Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London. Sanny, Corinne and Adriana will be talking about their research on Covid-19 and the intensification of lived HIV inequalities in Brazil, the UK and Zambia.

Prof Alan Whiteside is CIGI Chair in Global Health Policy, School of International Policy and Governance, Wilfrid Laurier University and Balsillie School of International Affairs, Waterloo, Canada, and is currently on sabbatical at UEL. He will be talking about the Covid-19 responses in South Africa and how people living with HIV are being affected.

Dr. Meera Tiwari is Reader in Global Development at UE where she leads the EADI accredited Masters in NGO and Development Management. She will situate the complex impact of Covid-19 in India within her extensive research on livelihoods and multidimensional poverty in India.

TCRU-CNR Graduate Research Seminar June 2020 Hidden in plain sight: Exploring Notting Hill Carnival’s narratives of rights, resistance and being Michelle Harewood, University of East London

Tuesday 9 June 2020, 5–6.30pm 

Audio file of the seminar:

From the 1500’s, captives from Africa were taken to the Americas and enslaved by Europeans. To dehumanise them, attempts were made to erode their culture, religion, and language. Their traditional forms of communication were forbidden and their sense of self forcibly eroded. The enslaved people used these same cultural resources in resistance. Knowledge was encoded and transferred through the generations using oral, artistic, and performance traditions. This was a fight to keep history, culture, and identity alive; it was a fight to remain human. Subsequently, Caribbean carnival became a propagator for this knowledge.  As a decolonial project it is a space for silenced voices to be heard. Narratives of Notting Hill Carnival are used to explore hidden expressions of rights, resistance and being present within Caribbean carnival arts and performance.

Biographical notes Michelle Harewood is a PhD researcher at the University of East London. Her research focuses on political and counternarratives embedded in cultural practises. She has fifteen years of experience working globally in the fields of international development and human rights with non-governmental organisations. As an accredited trainer Michelle has educated professionals in the effective use of culture within these fields.


For further details, please contact Corinne Squire at or Brenda Hayanga, Thomas Coram Research Unit graduate partner, . Details are also on the CNR blog and the CNR website

Audio files of keynote speeches from the conference ‘The Psychology of Global Crisis‘

Thanks to Maria Medved and the conference team for giving CNR permission to post the files here.

The Psychology of Global Crisis

May 20th – 30th 2020

#PGC2020 Virtual Conference

Conference website

Molly Andrews

Global Crisis and the Failure of the Narrative Imagination

Michael Bamberg:

Uncertainty – Stress – Anxiety — Have we ever been Certain?

Q & A

Sunil Bhatia

The Pandemic is a Mirror: Race, Poverty and Radical Care in Times of Crisis

Q & A

Jens Brockmeier

The Self and Its Crises

Q & A

Erica Burman

Lockdown Vistas: Space, Time, Action

Q & A

Alessandra Fasulo

The Apocalypse and the Children. A Mediatic Journey Around the Space/Time Crisis in Family Homes

Q & A

Michelle Fine & Puleng Segalo:

Critical Inquiry on Gendered Violence in the Global North and South: A Conversation Between Puleng Segalo and Michelle Fine

Mark Freeman

The (Al)lure of Narrative: Information, Misinformation, and Disinformation in the Time of Coronavirus

Roger Frie

Living with Vulnerability: Fear and Resilience in the Age of Coronavirus and Social Trauma

Kenneth Gergen:

Crisis and Consequence: The Relational Imperative

Ruthellen Josselson

Plotless stories and unthought knowns: Aspects of psychological life with Covid-19

Q & A

Amia Lieblich

Covid-19 and the Person: Big and Small Stories

Q & A

Dan McAdams

Stories of Crisis: Denial, Redemption, and Radical Acceptance in the Time of Covid-19

Q & A

Maria Medved

De-Individuation and De-Personalization in the Times of Covid-19

Hanna Meretoja:

Narrative Agency, Pandemic Imagination and the Story of War

Q & A

Ian Parker

“Viral Resistance”

Q & A

Brian Schiff

The Hermeneutics of Crisis and the Crisis of Interpretation

Q & A

Corinne Squire:

Curves and Numbers, Silence and Noise: Counteracting Covid-19 Narratives

Resources on political narratives by Molly Andrews

“The Promise and Limits of Political Forgiveness”

Inaugural Lecture of Erkko Visiting Professor
in Studies on Contemporary Society

22 October 2019

Although there is widespread agreement with the argument that Hannah Arendt made more than half a century ago, that forgiveness is ‘one of the human faculties that make social change possible’, beyond this, there is little consensus of what it means. Applying a narrative structure to this discussion, there is a lack of clarity around questions of who, what, where, when, and why to forgive. This paper will explore the politics of forgiveness in East Germany, where these issues have been hotly contested for more than twenty-five years.  The data examined in this article suggest that the fraught process of forgiveness embodies not consensus but contest, as people disagree on key questions such who has the right to forgive whom, for what, how long the window for the opportunity of forgiveness stays open, and even why these questions matter, not only for individuals but for the whole of society.  

Kollegium Talks: Panel on Ethics of Research Design

12 March 2019

Speakers:  Molly Andrews (Professor of Political Psychology at University of East London & Jane and Aatos Erkko Professor at HCAS), Erika  Löfström  (Professor of Education, University of Helsinki),  Pirjo  Kristiina Virtanen (Assistant Professor of Indigenous Studies, University of Helsinki)  Moderation: Veronica  Walker Vadillo (HCAS Core Fellow) 

When academics intending to conduct responsible research prepare a research proposal, they have to pose numerous ethical questions, especially if they plan to do fieldwork. When you are working with live participants, have you considered if your work is in need of ethical clearance? Have you planned ways of obtaining informed consent? Have you considered your participants’ safety? How will you store the data to ensure anonymity when required? What about ownership of the data? Are your participants entitled to ownership? Have you considered the ethics of working with Indigenous communities and how your work can impact their lives?  

Pinnalla: The Fall of the Berlin Wall

November 14, 2019

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this discussion explores the effects of this momentous event which perhaps more than any other single occurrence has come to epitomize the change of the world order at the end of the 20th century. With interviews gathered from a longitudinal study with former East German activists, from a new Finnish non-fiction book on everyday life in East Germany, to a discussion of lives lost at the Berlin Wall, this event explores the significance of the fall of the Berlin Wall three decades later. The speakers are Professor Pertti Ahonen, University of Jyväskylä, Professor Molly Andrews, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies and Kati Koivikko, journalist, photographer, nonfiction writer. The event is hosted by Kaisa Kaakinen, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.

Radical Therapist, in conversation with Dr. Chris Hoff

October 20, 2019–-narrative-and-forgiveness-w-dr-molly-andrews/

In episode #071 Dr. Chris Hoff and Professor Molly Andrews discuss the politics of forgiveness, and explore the relationship between narrative, apology, and time, and the moral and ethical boundaries between them. 

CNR-TCRU postgraduate seminar – 12 May 2020

CNR-TCRU Postgraduate Narrative Research Seminars 2019-2020                           

Organised by the Centre for Narrative Research (CNR), University of East London   

and the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU), UCL Institute of Education        

           Online seminar:

We Are Not Ourselves All of the Time and We Are Not All of Ourselves at Any Time; Heteronyms, Personas and Contemporary Art

Jeroen van Dooren, Royal College of Art 

Tuesday 12 May 2020, 5–6.30pm

All welcome, particularly graduate students

TTITE 2020

To Think is To Experiment, Postgraduate Research Day                                             

Wednesday, 29th April, 2020, Online

You can listen to the audio recording of the event here


Session 1

What can life stories tell the researcher?                 Chair Corinne Squire

Jill Bradbury, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Siyanda Ndlovu Memorial Talk

To Think in Unthinkable Times

Hanna Fontana, University of the Arts, Finland

Vissi d’Arte – work as calling and passion

Fontana TTITE 2020

Lewis Fogarty, Brunel University

Constructing a Shared Understanding of the Essence & Expertise of Leadership in Early Childhood Education and Care


Michelle Harewood, University of East London

Exploring narratives of power and resistance in Notting Hill Carnival

Harewood TTITE 2020

Session Two

Using a dialogical approach         Chair: Molly Andrews

Cheryl Hunter, University of East London

“The telling is a burden”: Collective Narrative Practice around experiences of ongoing suicidality

Hunter TTITE 2020

Brenda Hayanga, UCL Institute of Education

Using dialogic/performance analysis to assess the suitability and acceptability of social isolation and loneliness interventions for older minoritised people living in the UK: A reflection on the benefits and drawbacks.


Session Three

Countering and Resisting with Personal Narratives        Chair: Aura Lounasmaa

Philip Connolly, Leonard Cheshire Disability.

Telling a better story on disability

Connolly TTITE 2020

Spyridon Papadopoulos, University of East London

Collective Resistance as a Means to Healing. A Collective Narrative Participatory Project with Black and Ethnic Minority LGBT Refugee & AsylumSeeking People.

Papadopoulos TTITE 2020

TCRU-CNR graduate seminar, 12.5.20, online: We Are Not Ourselves All of the Time and We Are Not All of Ourselves at Any Time; Heteronyms, Personas and Contemporary Art. Jeroen van Dooren, Royal College of Art

CNR-TCRU Postgraduate Narrative Research Seminars 2019-2020                           

Organised by the Centre for Narrative Research (CNR), University of East London   

and the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU), UCL Institute of Education        

           Online seminar:

We Are Not Ourselves All of the Time and We Are Not All of Ourselves at Any Time; Heteronyms, Personas and Contemporary Art

Jeroen van Dooren, Royal College of Art 

Tuesday 12 May 2020, 5–6.30pm

 Please book at this Eventbrite link:

All welcome, particularly graduate students

The Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu (4th century BC) once had a dream. He dreamed he was a butterfly, flying around as butterflies do. He was conscious that he was a butterfly and not himself, a man. Upon awakening he questioned his existence. He was confused about whether he was the butterfly or whether the butterfly was him. 
How does the adaptation of the literary concept of the heteronym from fictional writing to contemporary art practice affect the artist’s identity and resulting narratives? What does it mean to create and embody a fictional artist who is separate from the self, and how does this alter our perceptions of selfhood? We Are Not Ourselves All of the Time and We Are Not All of Ourselves at Any Time brings together the literary concept of the heteronym, contemporary art, fictional writing and considerations of the relationship between the self and other, originating from a personal experience of mental health issues relating to divided subjectivities. The research creates fictional worlds within contemporary art in order to offer a new perspective on practice-led enquiries into the relations between heteronyms, transparency, fiction and the presentations of the self in everyday life and art.
Dreaming my reality as I go along, different voices express my opinions through a practice of writing and art-making. In Fernando Pessoa I found my guide, my tutor from an earlier era. The schism between the rational and the absurd, the hiding and exposing of what is personal and what is public, has been integral to this research. Accompanied by Pessoa and his transparent approach of showing the separate existence of his heteronyms and his orthonym, I took his hand and walked alongside. This practice-led investigation does not intend to provide a specific method for the creation of a heteronym; however, it does offer an approach to understanding potential methods or perspectives for creating a heteronym or a separate self within contemporary art practice. Through the presentation of multiple artistic personas, the research investigates, through the process of making and fictional writing, the possibility of creating an aesthetic iteration of Pessoa’s heteronyms.
The use of the idea of heteronyms within this artistic research offers a way to investigate working from a multitude of different perspectives and personal narrations. It is also a form of depersonalisation and simulation, moving from the self to the other and back again. In doing so, this research understands how the heteronym can function within contemporary art. Autobiografictional characters are invented, their personas are assumed and artworks are produced according to their own separate voices and ways of being. Making work as the fictional personas, these characters come alive via performances, text and audio pieces. The fictional characters are not there as a tool for hiding or for masking but are used as an instrument to investigate character development and the potential for multiple artistic personas within contemporary art. How can a similar world, as Pessoa’s literary work, be created in contemporary art? 
We Are Not Ourselves All of the Time and We Are Not All of Ourselves at Any Time does not shy away from using pastiche, irony and absurdity to form the fictional artists contained within it. We Are Not Ourselves All of the Time and We Are Not All of Ourselves at Any Time is offering a practice-led enquiry into contemporary notions of subjectivity, performativity and the role of the contemporary artist. Through the generation and demonstration of these multiple selves and personas, this research offers a new way of thinking about the freedom and constraints of an aesthetics of the heteronym, where the world of contemporary art becomes a stage where heteronyms perform.
Biographical notes: In 2008 I graduated with a BFA at Academie Minerva, Groningen (The Netherlands), during which I studied as an exchange student at Hunter College New York. I received my MA in Print from the Royal College of Art (RCA) in 2014 and I my PhD in fine art performance at the RCA in 2020.  I exhibited in ao: El Leyak, The Intuitive Machine, 2019 (Santiago de Chile), Five Trillian Times, 2019 (China Academy of Art Hangzhou museum), The masters screen and stone, The Royal Society for Painter-Printmakers, 2019 (London) Pontificia Universidad Catholica de Chile, 2018 (Santiago de Chile) Tulca Festival of Visual Arts, 2016 (Galway), Sensei gallery, 2016 (London), The Square Gallery, 2016 (London), Fluorescent Arts Festival Soho, 2015 (London), Christies, 2014 (London), Royal Academy Summer Show, 2014 and 2016 (London), Chiaki Kamikawa Contemporary Art Gallery, 2014 (Cyprus), Opperclaes, 2013 (Rotterdam), Temple Bar Gallery, 2012 (Dublin), RuaRed, 2011 (Dublin) and participated in Dublin Contemporary 2011 (Dublin). I received various awards including; The Art House RCA student competition (2016) Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds young talent award (2015), RCA Riverlight Student Award 2014 organised by St. James, FutureCity and the RCA, Thames Barrier Print Studio Graduate Award 2014, Royal College of Art, Secret Grant (2013/2014), Irish Arts Council Travel and Training Award (2012), Groot Brugmansfonds (2007).  Commissions include: National University Galway, Ireland, St James Berkely Group FutureCity and private collectors. Collections include: Royal College of Art, FutureCity, The Art House, St James Berkeley Group, Office of Public Works National Collection Ireland, National University Galway Ireland.

For further details, please contact Corinne Squire at or Brenda Hayanga, Thomas Coram Research Unit graduate partner, . Details are also on the CNR blog  and the CNR website

Ethical positioning in co-constructing narrative spaces with refugee-storytellers in the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp Cigdem Esin & Aura Lounasmaa

Based on the article:  Esin, C. and Lounasmaa, A., 2020. Narrative and ethical (in) action: creating spaces of resistance with refugee-storytellers in the Calais ‘Jungle’camp.   International Journal of Social Research Methodology, pp.1-13.

Between November 2015 and September 2016, under the University of East London civic engagement and impact schemes, the authors, together with Corinne Squire, colleagues and students who volunteered their time, ran overlapping projects with the refugee residents of the ‘Jungle’, the unrecognised refugee camp in Calais. The aim of the projects was to encourage refugee participants to tell their life stories using multiple modalities, and to consider their education in their new countries. The space of the projects based on ethical hesitancy enabled the team to co-construct a relational field. The argument of the broader paper is that it was within this relational space refugee storytellers resisted and/or challenged the mainstream refugee narratives, whilst giving rise to ethically important questions.

The work included a short, accredited university course called Life Stories, which consisted of photography and visual storytelling workshops, film-making sessions, workshops on opportunities in higher education in Europe and a co-authored book, entitled ‘Voices from the ‘Jungle’.

There has been an increase in the number of educational and research projects as the populations flee the countries of conflict and violence to move to safer countries of the world. All these projects have been part of the endeavor which aims to understand the conditions of refugees and/or support them in their journeys. For example, Sanyal (2017) analyses photography and videos from the Calais ‘Jungle’ with a view to understanding the biopolitics of resistance which includes an interplay between humanitarian action and the refugee as a ’body to be managed’ (p. 5).

The projects that the authors drew on the paper were included into this collective effort. When the team started the projects in the Calais ‘Jungle’, it was a response to an ethical demand, which arose from their political responsibility and obligation towards one another, as Butler (2016) puts it. When displaced populations walked their way to reach a safer place and lives, the authors and the team made an ethical decision to be in solidarity with some of the refugees, to help them to channel their resources into an embodied and embedded practice.

The projects were neither framed as research nor research impact but as an instance of public engagement. The engagement provided a framework for work shaped by solidarity, and to secure ongoing support beyond a one-off intervention. The discussion and questions in the broader paper have been informed by the authors’ reflections as facilitators in the projects. They were aware of the public scrutiny that the refugee participants were subjected to, and the limits of narratives, being personal or public. The projects were not categorised as research, yet, the authors believed that their work with narratives and refugee communities had influenced their position in the space.

Throughout the project sessions, the authors collaborated with the refugee participants, they kept asking questions to explore the narrative practices that refugee participants built up to make sense of their lives, and to connect them to their present and imagined future. The narratives produced by the participants themselves are all available publicly, and where they are not, the authors have granted the team the permission to use them.

The authors positioned themselves as facilitators of the projects rather than ‘experts’, imposing good/right decisions about the lives of refugee-participants. In terms of their ethical position, ‘they have drawn on the work of Kofoed and Staunæs (2015), who deploy hesitancy as an ethical strategy. According to Kofoed and Staunæs (2015) in zones of high intensity, there are moments when researchers are required to intervene to do what is right. Ethical hesitancy may be a useful strategy in those instances. They describe hesitancy as ‘a momentary suspension of action due to an embodied sense of thoughtfulness and engaged capability of interrupting one’s own immediate incentives to response and enact embedded normativities and judgements’ (p.25)’ (Esin &Lounasmaa, 2020, online)

Hesitancy as an ethical position enabled the facilitators in the projects to consider their long-term contribution to the development of a solution without rapid intervention. In the context of the Calais ‘Jungle’, the collaboration included taking up an ethical position without falling into the trap of making the ‘right’ decision from a privileged position.

Some of the participatory projects

A short course in the Calais ‘Jungle’. The course was called Life Stories. It offered five credits at level 3 in Social Sciences for those who attended three teaching sessions and completed assessment in the form of their own life story. The assessment could be completed by writing a life story, through oral presentation, a recording, a visual life story or through combination of these. Translation was also facilitated, where possible, for some who wished to complete the assessment in a different language. University studies could have not been a reality for some of the participants even though they were able to seek asylum in Europe later. However, the classes provided an emotional support for the participants by encouraging to think of their lives beyond the material needs of the camp.

Participatory photography workshops. The workshops were organized as a part of the Life Histories course. They were led by photographers Gideon Mendel and Crispin Hughes. They were both experienced in participatory community photography, worked with residents to create visual narratives of their lives, particularly of their lives in the camp.

According to Gomez and Vannini (2017), working with photography has three functions in work with migrants. These are: using photography can enable participants to control of what they can share visually; photographs can open up the space of interaction between facilitators and participants; and making photographs can enable participant to consider complex emotions in context, beyond the power imbalances surrounding their lives. The rationale from a more narrative perspective was to provide emancipatory possibilities for participants to tell their stories (Squire et al., 2014, p. 43), in transnational, transcultural and multilingual contexts (O’Neill, 2008), where life stories are ever relational and never singular.

Teaching and workshops ran in makeshift classrooms, in the schools of the camp, the Jungle Books library, in tents, where was available, sometimes one to one, other times with groups.

The participants told stories about their lives at home and in the camp; their journeys; their difficulties and friendships in the ‘Jungle’; their attempts to cross the border to reach Britain. They introduced the camp to the team. Their families and members of the ‘Jungle’ community became part of the conversations. The authors told participants about their lives in and before London, their own journeys; they answered the questions on the educational system in Britain, with the fear of giving the participants false hope on a positive future life in Europe. The conversation continued over tea and food in the camp.

Life narratives

O’Neill and Harindranath (2006) point out an interesting fact about narratives gathered in participatory projects. That is their potential to reconstitute the boundaries of citizenship for communities of displaced people. Migration researchers (see Doná, 2007; Erel, Reynolds, & Kaptani, 2017; Gomez & Vannini, 2017; Holgate et al., 2012) have been aiming to increase the participation in the processes and to examine power imbalances in their work.

The projects that the authors draw on in the paper, explore the possibility of creating a participatory space; to challenge the exclusive practices through the production of biographical narratives. Using a multimodal methodology allowed the use of different forms, such as visual and verbal stories, social mediaposts, poetry or other types of written narratives. Multimodality helped to work in a multilingual and multicultural field.

Refugees were usually asked to tell about particular parts of their lives and journeys, as their narratives become part of the claims for safety, citizenship and human rights. If the biographical narratives respond to legal claims, the content and structure become more strict (see Millibank, 2009 for a detailed argument). In the Calais projects, the goal was to constitute a space in which storytellers told biographical narratives in a powerful context that marginalized (if not exclude) displaced populations.

What does it mean for the refugee-storytellers to tell their personal narratives? Narratives are political projects themselves (Meretoja, 2018). Meanings are constructed as each individual encounter leads to new stories. The potential in narrative practices make it possible to re-constitute the narrative. In this way, each biographical narrative becomes a political project to reveal social injustice, to mobilise solidarity and transformation.

The interconnections between personal and communal narratives should also be considered as part of the political world, how storytellers and hearers make sense of that world (Andrews, 2014, p. 85). Examining the interrelation between micro ad macro narratives enhances the ability to scrutinize narratives as political practices that are constructed within a network of power relations.

In addition to offering tools for the refugee storytellers to re-build the sphere of politics related to migration and displacement, biographical narratives could provide storytellers with resources to re-construct meanings as individuals and communities. Additionally, the micro narratives could be functional to reveal the levels of power relations that form them (see Tamboukou, 2003, pp. 94–102). The personal stories may be the ‘technologies of resistance’, tools for storytellers to move between the constraining reality of their lives and the dream of limitless freedom, at times, forming precarious positions in between.

Forging narratives of resistance

Majid Adin – finding beauty

When the refugee storytellers created narratives in the camp, the conditions were complicated. The Calais ‘Jungle’ was an unrecognized refugee camp. The legal and political frameworks set limits to its refugee residents’ right to citizenship and human rights. The same frameworks shaped the interaction through projects and the way personal narratives were shared.

The ‘Jungle’s reputation at the time meant that many participants felt constrained to tell their families that they lived in the camp. These storytellers created visual narratives about a nice new life in France rather than exposing the camp conditions and project a version of the self. That produced a contradiction to think about.

You will see one of the two shorts extracts by Majid Adin that the authors used in the broader paper below. The narrative was constituted during Majid’s participation in the ‘Displaces’ photography project. It is available online*. The narrative, formed across modalities (written and visual), allowed the authors to read parts of the narratives together. Majid’s narrative was one of the frequent responses to the living conditions of the ‘Jungle’– one highlighting the humanity of the camp’s residents. Majid spent several months in the ‘Jungle’ and participated in various projects, producing arts and working with art-based groups. Majid’s narrative portrayed the shared material space and its meaning to him.


‘This was beautiful for me. The main street in the Jungle. I pass this way a lot, some thousand times. This area for us has not a very good feeling, not good memories. We all have dreams and wishes. 99% of us don’t want to be here. But sometimes in a place you hate you can find something interesting and beautiful. I find a beauty in this place.’

Majid Adin*

In his narrative, Majid links his hate for the material conditions of the camp to his dreams for the future. Majid does not romanticise or deliver an unrealistic narrative about the living conditions or his emotions. Instead, he crafts his narrative as a path for resistance, between the unbearable materiality of his present and his desire for a better future. Other participants who wanted to show beauty in the ‘Jungle’ often spoke about the community building that was taking place and the offers of help and hospitality that made the ‘Jungle’ beautiful. The community spirit of the ‘Jungle’ was also more than a narrative of resistance to some. Majid’s search for beauty seeks to change that narrative and hence the authors’ views of both the ‘Jungle’ and its inhabitants.’ (Esin & Lounasmaa, 2020, online)

Life narratives make sense within the local complexity of social relations. Why does Majid’s narrative seeking beauty of the camp have the potential of resistance? Riessman’s (2000) study of the destigmatizing practices of South Indian women in reaction to childlessness was useful to understand the form of resistance embedded in Majid’s story. Riessman discusses more subtle aspects of resistance rather than considering it as changing social structures of gender and patriarchy.

Similarly, as in Majid’s narrative, there were narratives that counter the reputation of the camp as a place of violence, reassuring their families and building their claims for citizenship. The narrative itself should be examined as a technology of resistance that emerged within the relational space of such non-invasive projects.

Ethical questions, reflections

Being facilitators in such projects necessitated deploying an ethical position beyond the baseline of ‘do no harm’. Being in solidarity with refugee residents (participants), framing the work as education and participatory storytelling opened up the space to all possible outcomes, or indeed none at all. Not engaging with institutional ethics for the “Jungle’ projects does not mean that they are not helpful while researching vulnerable populations. The point within the context was that the residents in the ‘Jungle’ should not be turned into objects of knowledge. The objective was to explore ways in which participants could benefit from the work more directly. The authors deployed ethical positions to participate in a dialogue with storytellers and audiences, and to recognize the limitations of the work.

Levels of confidentiality and privacy were not the same for the facilitators and participants at all times although there were negotiations on different levels. In telling visual narratives, the participant-storytellers were in a position to use digital cameras and edit their story with the photographers. There were disagreements on some of the compositions. While the storytellers wanted to tell their stories as they wished to, the facilitators were concerned about the anonymity of visual narratives. They did not want to risk anything about the asylum seeking process for the participants, or they were alarmed about the violence that may come from various communities. The photographers and facilitators respected participants’ decision, where possible, if storytellers chose to post the same pictures on social media despite being aware of the potential harms.

Ethical questions throughout the process were asked. Gender, class and language differences shaped the interaction, power inequalities formed the hierarchies in relationships. English was the language of power while it was the main medium to communicate at times. At other times, another language shared by the participants took over. The forms of interaction and the use of time and space were negotiated in varied ways. For the facilitators, times of day were determined by daylight hours, when it was safe for them to stay in the camp, and Eurostar timetables. For most of the participants, times and spaces were framed by nightly trips to the port to ‘try’ for England, availability of food and supplies. The reality of police presence in the camp remained as a problem for all residents.

The commitment to ethical hesitancy (Kofoed & Staunæs, 2015), engaging in a ‘slow practice’ that resisted the urge to jump into action did not immune any of the facilitators from making decisions that were ethically questionable. Yet, all decisions included dialogue. Hesitancy as an ethical principle was also useful to examine interaction and moments of storytelling. What made narratives as political projects, which were linked to the relations of the practice; who told the story, under which circumstances it was told, and who heard it were the questions asked at the moments of hesitancy.

Among all of the complexities, the authors of the paper believe that the projects provide an important contribution to understanding ethical issues in work with refugee narratives, which can be, or at least become social action. They suggest that practitioners/researchers working with refugees and migrants could utilise ethical hesitancy as a principle to collaborate with the project participants in the development of long-term transformations.


*Source: Displaces- Photography narratives project with the residents of the Calais camp


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