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THE DJ SET AS A NARRATIVE, OR: ONE NIGHT WITH HONEY DIJON. Adriana Prates, University of Bahia, Brazil.

Prates poster For the Many (1)Prates poster Honey Dijon (1)



Actor Network Theory (ANT) proposes a different way to look to what we call “reality” and a different way to do sociology. According to Bruno Latour (2012), ANT is an alternative social theory that, among other things, argues that the social must be “done”, gives primacy to associations and postulates the agency of objects. Instead of pre-defining the form of the social, ANT emphasizes that this form is “done” through the movement, flows and associations of actors (including non-humans) who participate in the process of the formation and transformation of networks. The “social” does not exist, hidden, in the world, waiting to be discovered or unveiled by the scientists: it is “done” continuously.

John Law (2009) understands ANT less as a theory (because it is more descriptive than explanatory) and more as an approach that is part of the family of tools, sensitivities, and methods of semiotic analyYis, which treats all things as effects generated continuously in the webs of relationships in which they are located. ANT studies, says Law (2009), explores and describes the networks and practices of these relationships. Finally, he summarizes: “material semiotics” (ANT studies) explores the promulgation of realities (the ontological) as well as describing the making of knowledge (epistemology). Referring the discussion to the field of ethics, Law (2009) states that goods (or evils), knowledge and realities, are all promulgated together. It is worth emphasizing that the ANT authors do not dissociate the enterprise of knowing the reality of the act from creating it. In this sense, researching / studying / writing also means making and drawing networks[1].

Annemarie Mol, considered by some as a post ANT theorist, invests in the aspect of performativity and speaks of ontological politics and multiple realities. According to Mol, there is not just one ontology, which precedes the practices of knowledge. For Mol, ontologies are “made” (performed or acted, instituted, implemented, occasioned) through the practices. And because there are many practices, there are many ontologies. On the other hand, the different realities coexist and relate, are linked, which poses the question of their coordination / organization, thus introducing the political dimension: which version of reality, for example, takes precedence over the others? What sustains such primacy? These are good questions to ask and very pertinent to the subject I wish to address in this text, where I try to initiate a reflection on narratives from the perspective of actor-network theory, considering the action of the materialities in the narrative process. In this sense, I propose that narrative can be thought of in a performative sense and that the materialities can be considered as active elements in the process.


In week 8 of the Narrative Research course at the Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London, in which I recently participated, one online discussion involved an interpretation of a poster called “For the Manydem”. I found the poster interesting but I was not able to understand the message, whose political meaning was admirably described by a colleague on the course[3]. I did not have the resources to understand the narrative in the poster because I did not know the signs implied in the message. I spent some time thinking about this and about the different kind of ‘narratives’, especially those related to art, that are not usually considered in these terms (that is, as narratives).

A few days after this episode I had a conversation with a professor, in which I told her that the DJ set is a narrative. She seemed a little disbelieving but I added that veterans DJs often say that good DJs “tell stories” through their sets. A week later I went to a London nightclub to see Honey Dijon, a House Music DJ who is active and popular in electronic music scenes at this moment. But, before I talk about the night I spent with Honey Dijon, for my purposes in this text it will be necessary to describe, at least briefly, the “evolution” of the electronic music scene in the world and the role of House Music in the story.

This story began in the 1970’s, in New York City locations/clubs frequented predominantly by black and latino queens, who danced to a combination of predominantly black rhythms (funk, soul, underground disco …). From the way the songs were performed and the mood that the combination of songs would bring to those places, originated the concept of House Music. Because of this background, House can be considered the first electronic genre of music produced for and on dancefloors.

From Chicago and New York, House Music crossed the Atlantic ocean in the mid-1980’ s to win the world and inspire the emergence of other styles of electronic music, which diversified in the 2000’ s, gaining a high level of influence and popularity.

But, just like any novelty full of creativity and spirit, House Music was appropriated, in large part, by the market([4]) in a process that has become even more violent in recent years due to two phenomena that I propose to consider together here: the development of the technology related to DJiing and producing music- which increased access to these two fields, specially the DJiing, because it has now becomes a very easy thing to do; and the fact that the DJ has become a kind of “pop idol”, which has provoked exclusion (from the market) of artists outside a certain body / age / racial pattern.

As a result, some producers and DJs have been making a lot of money from the creation and execution of songs destined for the dance music market, pasteurizing timbres and references to styles like House and Techno, inventing attractive labels to boost their pastiches in the market, without worrying about transmitting to the consumers anything about the history and foundation of this kind of music. This is how this market and scene are working nowadays. And the DJ, a key character in the scene, is becoming a brand and also a manager of social networks instead of an artist([5]). Nowadays, the electronic music derived from House moves fortunes, which meanwhile stay very far from the hands of the communities that gave House life. Likewise, this music of underground and libertarian origin, generated in contexts frequented by Black and Latino people (People of Color) belonging to the LGBT + segment of the population, now has an increasingly white and middle class audience.

DJ Honey Dijon is very critical of this marketing appropriation, which has as a consequence not only emptying out the artistic/aesthetic aspects of House Music, but also erasing the dimension of resistance that underlies the emergence of House. To exemplify her political position, I reproduce here one of her many public Facebook posts about thesubject:

And I’m gonna be the bitch to say it. I love House Music more than life itself. But shit these days is more about surface than substance and that´s why shit is stagnant as fuck. Everyone is staying in their own lane. It’s become entertainment as opposed to community. Motherfuckers consume rather than contribute. Bring back the freaks, the misfits, the odd balls and the kids that had nothing other than personality and a prayer. Also soul. Stop making house music about ticket sales and social media followers and agendas. Wasn’t it supposed to be about the music in the first fucking place?I#bringhousemusicback .

In interviews, Honey often mentions that she grew up in the 1970s and that her parents listened to a lot of soul and funk with political messages: “I grew up in a generation where music was attached to cultural and social change,” she says in an interview with Mixmag, and adds that much of the music she was listening to in her childhood was aligned with the civil rights movement.

I do not know if it is possible to say that House was originally created as a resistance music, but it has acquired this characteristic even if it is just due to the spaces where it was born and developed (ballrooms and clubs for black and Latino people LGBTQI +) together with its ethic of diversity and respect. In these spaces, such people, stigmatized by society in general, could socialize more freely and in protected ways and finally could recognize themselves as a community. For LGBTQI+ people, these contexts where House Music was the soundtrack, were the basis of the culture of these groups, simply because they provided for the coexistence of these people and for the exercise of an identity and expression related to their dissident sexualities (and/or genders, in some cases). Yes, I am saying that the party has a political dimension, as well as the property of gathering people and things, building communities and cultures.

For Honey Dijon, being a black and transsexual woman, and for a lot of LGBTQI + people, these places were not only sites of amusement. They represented a space where it was possible to be yourself without being threatened or attacked (psychologically or bodily). For people like Honey, as said in the Mixmag article, House Music culture was not only a passion but a necessity.

In spite of all this, if we take on the exercise of thinking as Bruno Latour and other ANT authors propose, arguing that ontologies, as well as realities, are multiple, we would have to assume that the origin of Eletronic Music scene is dispersed. And I must agree with those authors, because, how, for example, can we honestly say that an ultra-commercial festival like Tomorrowland is necessarily linked with 80’s Chicago? Or that The Continental Baths, a NY gay sauna where House Music founders Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles, two black homosexuals, started their careers in the 70´s – is linked to Fatboy Slim DJiing at carnival in Bahia, where he played for a huge crowd in the streets? Reasoning along other lines, how can we forget that the equipment for DJing was created and produced in parts of the globe sometimes very far from the places where they ended up being used([6])? It is precisely because of this kind of conclusion that I think that the narrative (here, the DJ set), in this sense, unites the points, and can be seen as a resistance to the just-mentioned dispersion. To narrate, or to play, from this perspective, would mean to draw or create a network where, according to the elements summoned to compose the narrative and the way in which the process of chaining takes place, the narrator may or may not recognize certain protagonisms. With this, to narrate becomes a political act.

HONEY DIJON´S NARRATIVE (or: Honey Dijon´s DJ Set)

Now let’s go back to the cold night in December of 2018, when I went to see Honey Dijon djiing at Corsica Studio, an alternative club in London, located in Elephant & Castle. I think that Corsica Studio cannot be considered a gay or queer venue, but it looks like any person is welcome there, since the club focus seems to be on music. That night, the room where the DJ performed was so crowded that I had to climb on a sofa since I, a small statured person, was at a disadvantage within the volcano in which the dancefloor became. Most of the people there were white and young (looking to be less than 30 years old). They paid between £8 (super-early bird) and £15 to be there (the club also sold two intermediary levels of tickets costing £10 and £ 12. £15 was the final price). Everybody looked to be at the club for the music: there was nothing about taking selfies or wasting time with flirting, just everyone wanting to enjoy the music.

With the Honey Dijon set, the crowd went insane. Using effects to add layers of sounds and vocals to the tracks, she declared, first and foremost, that House Music is queer and black. She declared that House came from Disco Music and is a relative of Techno([7]), too, especially Detroit Techno. That House is a sensual and spiritual music about being yourself and being part of a community, and that we must preserve the dream and utopia that House created.

Honey started the journey that night, of course, from Chicago. She opened her set with the track “I’ll be your friend” by Robert Owens, the legendary lead singer / producer of House’s early days, and went on to tell that audience where House Music came from and what its principles. She showed where the club culture came from, a culture which now generates fortunes that are going into very few hands. She did this through the choice of songs and their chaining, and through the addition of vocals and timbres, sometimes filtered through the effects provided by a machine (a sound table or mixer). It is also necessary to emphasize the role of the materialities in the narrative, like the Funktion One soundsystem of the club. Because electronic music has to be felt as a totality, it is not sufficient to listen to it loudly. The frequencies also have a role in this experience that should involve the whole body and (why not say it?) the spirit. And those are only provided by a good sound system, which involves a lot of different equipment and cables, for example.


The sax sounds that Honey Dijon put on the beats told us about the Latin and Jazz influences in House Music. Some vocals and melodies she inserted told us about tracks that became popular because they were born classic – and not because someone paid to inflate them in the market. Honey also took us repeatedly to New York, especially to the New York of the 90´s, through inserting the strong beats of Tribal, a substyle of House that used to move gay audiences around the world. She used the vocals of Celeda and Sylvester to remind us that transgender and nonconforming-gender people were there, at the base of the whole phenomenon’s DNA. And when she released, over the beats, a recording of “I have a dream,” she told us that she has a dream. But she also reminded us that, half a century later, Martin Luther King’s dream of an egalitarian society not only did not come true but still seems far away.

We, from the electronic music community, do not usually mention lyrics; we always talk in terms of vocals. Currently, playing songs with vocals ends up being something specific, because vocals were losing space in the kind of scene that Honey used to play[8]. But the vocals were there, at the beginning, especially in House Music from New York, which was very fond of virtuoso feminine voices, gospel-style. “Do not forget where we came from”, the DJ, playing those vocals, seemed to say.

Continuing to discuss materialities: nowadays, because of technological evolution, there are a large number of resources for Djiing. It does not mean that there has necessarily been an improvement in the art and techiques of DJiing. It can mean just the opposite, instead: today, a DJ can simply play the songs from a notebook computer, which does not require any specific ability; or can bring a ready-made DJ set from home and concentrate his/her performance on lifting the crowd using their nice look or exotic appearance, or a microphone. Modern equipment “allows” it. Besides, it´s not necessary, any more, to have (buy) physical records (vinyls or CD), for example.

Some people like to look cool and say that the DJ’s work is about “music”. This is true, in some sense, but, at the same time, it makes me think about Latour´s concepts of mediator and intermediator. For this author, mediators transform the meanings or elements they convey, while intermediaries convey meanings or forces without transformation (2012, p.65).

In this sense, certainly the equipment used by the DJ can be understood as an intermediary, but when I examine the networks in which these types of objects are inserted, the conclusion that stands out is that the multiplication of equipment for DJiing and the possibilities brought about by the internet changed completely a whole scene; and this highlights the ‘mediator’ characteristics of these elements. The equipment is not “passive”. The non-human elements act, too, in conjunction with the human elements.

We have to recognize that the advance of technology and the creation of a series of new equipment items has turned DJiing into a very easy thing to do, if we consider the technical aspects – and in terms of aesthetics, too, because it is possible to find ready-made sets, playlists, and so on, on the internet. Doing musical research is now very easy, too, and you can have the music in few minutes (the distance is just some few “clicks” away). In practical terms, a person does not need to have albums, either, or buy any music, if they do not want: they can download music from the internet, even without paying, in some cases. These facts are not good or bad in themselves, but they have brought some consequences to the market and to the artistic and aesthetic aspects of DJing.

So, the fact that, for example, a DJ chooses to play using vinyl records in an era where there are a huge number of new resources is something that helps to compose the narrative, because, in my view, that choice can include a message against the pasteurization of an entire scene, since vinyl mixing requires a specific presence and attention from the DJ, not to mention practice (which requires time to learn and improve ability). Of course there are DJs who play very well, with soul and even in a sophisticated way, using controllers and software; but, in practice([9]), what we have been seeing are people of “good appearance” pressing only three buttons on machines that offer millions of possibilities.


The Honey Dijon “DJ set” certainly wove a narrative network, in which she associated heterogeneous entities of different kinds, such as equipment, effects, and volumes, to tell a story. We must consider the tracks she chose to this narrative network, too! But I think there is another specificity to consider in a network woven through a narrative, especially an artistic narrative()[10]: its reception. How did my traveling companions, the people who were with me at the club, get the message from Honey? It is true that many people might have known who Honey Dijon is and what she proposes through her work, because this can be ascertained through journalists’ reports, interviews and the social media of the artist. Things does not exist in isolation, is what I mean to say. But, back to the beginning of the text, where I told of my inability to interpret the ‘For the Manydem’ poster: I thought that, similarly, maybe another student of the same course might not be able to understand a “DJ set” as a narrative or to build an interpretation of it. If the student were not a clubgoer, he or she might not even notice that there was a narrative there. Perhaps he/she would simply have thought that was a very noisy environment. Or maybe he or she would just have loved everything and danced a lot, which is, after all, the best way to understand a DJ narrative. Alternatively, I could just hang the poster on the wall of my room simply because I like the colours of it, for example. There are a lot of different possibilities of understanding.

I was thinking of finishing this piece by saying that it is necessary to have adequate tools to “properly understand” some narratives. But I concluded that it is better to problematize the category “understanding”, since we are talking about art and its understanding passes through affect, which is a powerful mediator, without any doubt. However, with this, I think that we are already entering into a new debate that maybe we could discuss in another text…

With special thanks for the advice of Corinne Squire.


LATOUR, Bruno. Reagregando o Social: uma introdução à Teoria do Ator-Rede. Salvador, Edufba, 2012.

LAW, John. Notas sobre a Teoria Do Ator-Rede: ordenamento, estratégia e heterogeneidade. (tradução de Fernando Manso)

LAW, John. (2009), “Actor network theory and material semiotics”, in B. Turner (ed.), The New Blackwell Companion to social theory, Malden, MA, Blackwell, pp. 141-158.

LAWRENCE, Tim. Love saves the day. A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-79. Duke University Press. EUA: 2003.

MARTIN, Denise; SPINK, Mary Jane; PEREIRA, Pedro Paulo Gomes. Corpos múltiplos, ontologias políticas e a lógica do cuidado: uma entrevista com Annemarie Mol.Interface (Botucatu), Botucatu, v. 22, n. 64, 295-305, Mar. 2018. Available from <;. access on 25 Dec. 2018.


Honey Dijon Social media: facebook




Poster “For the Manydem”.

Poster of the Rhythm Session Party with Honey Dijon.


[1]    This statement is interesting in thinking about this article as an actor-network, too.

[2]    We use “set” to describe the collection or array of music played by a DJ at one gig.


[3]    Thanks to Reginald Ajuonuma for starting and animating this discussion.

[4]          It is important to note that I do not use the term ‘market’ to name an entity whose action explains the situation described here. On the contrary: the market is also a network that needs to be explained. In this sense, a possible characterization of the market would be through the content of the connections that make up its features, such as the monetarized exchanges of products and services, combined with marketing and administration systems and the movements of financial capital. The market, in its larger dimensions, intertwines with smaller or local networks, including those belonging to other fields, such as art, for example.

[5]          Or maybe nowadays to be an artist means this?

[6]          I remember DJ Dolores mentioning, in a lecture held at the event called “Sound Landscapes”, held in 2017 in the city of Cachoeira-Bahia, that the rhythmic cell of Jamaican Dancehall originated from a Japanese keyboard.

[7]          The Techno influence is notable in Honey Dijon´s sets, too, since House and Techno have much in common, specially at the beginning. In this sense, it is necessary to mention Techno´s black roots, too.

[8]          She plays regularly, for example, at Berlin´s Berghein, considered one of the eletronic world’s meccas.

[9]          One of the main Latour´s (2012) recomendation is to pay attention to what happens “in practice”.


[10]         I sent an earlier version this text to Tim Lawrence, a writer and professor at the University of East London, in the United Kingdom, and he made an important comment: in his understanding, the advent of mixing, a practice that became, in his words, “semi-mandatory” in the second half of the 80’s, took away the storytelling aspect of the DJ´s set, because the DJs became more focused on the moment of the mix. In Lawrence´s view, the DJ´s storytelling had its peak between 1972 and 1987. I understand his point and passion for the time mentioned, but I prefer to consider the mix as an “actant”, that is, as a performative element that integrates and acts in the narrative of the DJ. After all, regardless of the fact that I really enjoy the mixing, my interest is not to establish what is better or worse, much less what is right or wrong, but to reflect on narratives from the ANT perspective.

To those that do not know, the mixing is the moment when the DJ puts two (or more, in some cases) pieces of music together. To do this, with the help of headphones, the DJ needs to use the pitch control at the turntables (or CDJs) to put the tracks at the same velocity and to use the mixer to open the two volumes and let the audience enjoy the moment that the tracks go along together. At least, older electronic music DJs needed to know how to mixing using the equipment I mentioned, but today any cheap software can do this for the DJ.


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April ’19 CNR-TCRU graduate research seminar: ‘Inside stories: A prison narrative.

CNR-TCRU Postgraduate Narrative Research Seminars, 2018-2019

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

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


Inside stories: A prison narrative

Peter Phillips, Cardiff Tuesday 2nd April 2019, 5 – 6.30pm

Library, Thomas Coram Research Unit, 27 – 28 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AA

All welcome, particularly graduate students.


Phillips seminar materials


Dr Peter Phillips conducted ethnographic research, largely through narrative, with chaplains in thirty-two prisons in England and Wales, approximately a quarter of the total. He himself had previously been a full time chaplain in prisons; he is therefore both a researcher and a practitioner. Since chaplains are both tellers and receivers of narrative, it was important to develop a methodology appropriate to the respondents. The chaplains’ experience and perception of themselves and the prison is frequently set in stories which are embedded in a wider narrative. The location of the researcher in relation to the respondent and to the dialogue site is a significant factor in contextualising narratives which are essentially co-constructed.

The session will offer an opportunity to augment or contest Peter’s own categories and analyses; sample vignettes will be available either online and/or on the day. All such narratives are potentially intertextual; they are therefore capable of playing into discourses of institutional power, ritual, status, gender, space/place, authority both formal and informal, even (occasionally) pastoral ministry.  You don’t need a personal religious belief, a familiarity with religion, or knowledge of prisons, to come and take part in this session.


Peter Phillips has a Master’s from Bristol University and a Master’s and a PhD from Cardiff University, where he is Honorary Research Associate in the School of History, Archaeology and Religion . His current research interest is taiko Japanese drumming in Wales. He has contributed a practical module on narrative analysis, Institutional Stories in Prisons, to a Sage online methodology database and has written the entry on Religious Studies and Qualitative Research for the up-coming Sage Research Methods Foundation.


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


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March 2019, TCRU-CNR graduate research seminar

CNR-TCRU Postgraduate Narrative Research Seminars, 2018-2019

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

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


‘The Family that’s Your Roots’ — A South Asian adolescent’s co-construction of identities

Anmeris Puscasu, TCRU, UCL Institute of Education

Room G1 (Seminar Room) 18 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AA

Tuesday 12th March 2019, 5 – 6.30pm

All welcome, particularly graduate students

It has become a commonplace that an important part of our autobiographical narratives is the construction, reconstruction and co-construction of the meaning of stories within the context of life experiences and the surrounding socio-cultural environment (Turunen et al., 2015; Frosh, S., Phoenix, A., & Pattman, R, 2002; Bamberg, M., De Fina, A. & Schiffrin, D 2011).  As such, identity construction has been found to be partly based on the reminiscences of others rather than being entirely based on events we experience first-hand (Fivush, 2008).  Through the process of memory and the creation, re-creation and co-creation of experiences, intergenerational narratives provide models for understanding our own experiences, and how our story fits into larger socio-historical frameworks (Fivush, et al., 2010; Bohanek et al., 2009; Turunen et al., 2015; Merrill et al., 2017).Thus, stories told to young people about their families, and recounted by them contribute to the processes of identity construction in much the way that Bruner and others have considered that story telling is interlinked with the construction of identities. This presentation draws on material collected for my PhD study (conducted in New York City, March 2018 – February 2019). In this presentation I will explore the family narratives of a young South Asian adolescent living in New York, how she co-constructs her family identity, and the meanings she attaches to her stories in relation to her identity and her own life.


Bamberg, M., De Fina, A., & Schiffrin, D. (2011). Discourse and identity construction. In S. J. Schwartz, K. Luyckx, & V. L. Vignoles (Eds.), Handbook of identity theory and research (pp. 177-199). New York, NY, US: Springer Science + Business Media.

Bohanek, J. G., Fivush, R., Zaman, W., Lepore, C. E., Merchant, S., & Duke, M. P. (2009). Narrative Interaction in Family Dinnertime Conversations. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (Wayne State University. Press)55(4), 488–515.

Fivush, R., Bohanek, J. G., & Duke, M. (2008). The intergenerational self: Subjective perspective and family history. Self Continuity: Individual and Collective Perspectives, 131-143.

Fivush, R., Duke, M., Bohanek J.G. (2010). “Do you know…” The power of family history in adolescent identity and well being. Journal of Family Life. Retrieved from

Frosh, S., Phoenix, A., and Pattman, R. (2002). Young masculinities: understanding boys in contemporary society. UK: Palgrave.

Merrill, N., Srinivas, E. & Fivush, R. (2017). Personal and intergenerational narratives of transgression and pride in emerging adulthood: Links to gender and Well-Being. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 31(2), 119-127.

Turunen, T.A., Dockett, S. & Perry, B. (2015). Researching memories about starting school: autobiographical narratives as a methodological approach.  European Early Childhood Education Research journal. 23(5), 635-644.

Amneris Puscasu is a violinist and a teacher by profession, whose volunteer work also involved managing a family history community centre in New York.  As a volunteer, she has worked with young people and adults collecting oral histories and teaching classes in genealogical research. Through her volunteer work she developed an interest in narratives as research and pedagogical tools which she made the central research interest of her PhD study at IOE. Amneris has a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Rutgers University in USA, and currently is a third year PhD candidate at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, UCL. 

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

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February CNR-TCRU graduate seminar


CNR-TCRU Postgraduate Narrative Research Seminars, 2018-2019

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

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

Mamabuelas’: Stories of grandmothers bringing up grandchildren in Chile

Carolina Gutierrez, Institute of Education, University College London

Tuesday 12th February 2019, 5 – 6.30pm

Library, Thomas Coram Research Unit, 27 – 28 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AA

All welcome, particularly graduate students.

Official data show that kin carers represent the highest percentage of foster carers in Chile, with grandparents being the most common caregivers within this group. However, very little is known about kinship care in Chile. Research on this topic has been mainly conducted in Western countries; only a few studies have focused on less wealthy nations, despite the importance of considering socio-cultural differences between countries to inform practice and improve care for children. Indeed, when literature about out-of-home care is explored, the vast majority of research is about countries such as the US, the UK and Australia, where currently kinship care is being increasingly used as the primary form of out-of-home care. One of the few studies on foster care carried out in Chile was a quantitative study that included kinship carers. The main findings are similar to those of research in Western countries; they suggest that children who are placed with extended family are mainly placed with caregivers who are women, a high percentage of whom are grandparents of the child. This research included only families in formal arrangements since, to date, there is no research on informal kinship families in Chile. Moreover, specific research focusing on the feelings of grandparents and the meanings they give to their parenting role is still insufficient; and research on children’s perspectives of kinship care is scarce. Gutierrez’s PhD aims to explore the experiences of grandparents who look after their grandchildren and those of their live-in grandchildren. More specifically, it intends to study: the conditions under which grandparents take on the care of their grandchildren; what it means to care or be cared for in the context of grandparent care; the family practices of grandparent-headed families; and the skills or competencies that grandparents and grandchildren employ in their daily lives to take care of each other. To achieve this, qualitative in-depth interviews were carried out with grandparents and their grandchildren in two Chilean cities. The sample included 18 families with children in formal or informal care, aged 7 to 15 years. At the moment, the research is at the stage of data analysis, and in this seminar, Gutierrez will be presenting the cases of three grandmothers, reflecting on the pathways they have followed to become carers and the meanings they attach to being a ‘mamabuela’ (a hybrid word combining the Spanish terms mamá: mother and abuela: grandmother). 

Carolina Gutierrez is a Chilean psychologist. She has worked for Chilean child services as a counsellor in a centre helping children victims of sexual abuse and their families. She has also worked as a researcher assistant at the University of Chile on projects related to the process of healing from child sexual abuse. She has a MA degree in Child Studies from King´s College London, and currently is a third year PhD student at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, UCL. 

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

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The UEL Poetry Reading Club – Sonia Quintero

The Uel Poetry Reading Club will be taking place at University of East London, Docklands campus:
Every Friday from 18th of January 2019
Archive room: DL G02
Nearly station: Cyprus DLR station.


Open for all the community of UEL and East London.

UEL Archives, Centre for Narrative Research (CNR) and Newham Poetry Group join their inspirations to bring the relaxing pleasure of reading poetry to all – students, Uel staff, and the East London community.

Thanks to the generous donation of a full collection of poetry, as well as fiction, criticism and theory from the estate of the poet and translator Sarah Maguire, UEL archives now have an amazing poetry collection in different languages, styles and publication types.

What to expect:

. We will be reading poetry written by authors from all around the world.

. We will enjoy friendly discussions about related topics (E.g. poetry translation, poetry and narrative, appropriated poetry)

. From time to time, we will have special guests to discuss specific topics.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Sonia Quintero, poet, Newham poetry workshop leader, UEL Psychosocial Studies student, and CNR intern

Thanks to UEL Student Union for their help and support.

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Gender-based violence inside refugee and displaced communities, 11.12.18

The Centre for Narrative Research (CNR) and the Centre for Cultural Studies Research (CCSR) with the Centre for Migration, Refugees and Belonging (CMRB), UEL, present:


Gender-based violence inside refugee and displaced communities

A panel discussion

Dr. Nazand Begikhani, University of Bristol, and other speakers, tbc

Chair: Professor Kate Hodgkin, University of East London

Tuesday December 11, 5.30-7.00pm, US2.44UEL University Square Stratford:

In recent years, war, persecution, poverty and natural disasters have created the biggest refugee and forced displacement crisis in the world. In the Middle East, the war in Iraq, the civil war in Syria and the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) led millions of people to flee their home and seek refuge in the neighbouring countries with many of them seeking to reach Europe with disastrous consequences. This process has affected women and men, shifted gender roles, and the representation of masculinity, impacting on gender relations within displaced and refugee communities. Gender-based violence is a growing concern for thousands of women, girls and also men and boys affected by migration and displacement.

The University of Bristol’s Centre for Gender and Violence Research in cooperation with the University of Sulaimani’s Gender and Violence Studies Centre and in partnership with several NGOs has finished a two-year research project into GBV and Displacement in Iraqi Kurdistan Region and the UK. The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council together with the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the Global challenges Research Fund. The purpose of the research was to get a better understanding of the process of displacement and its impact on experiences and perceptions of GBV along with the potential for disrupting pathways to perpetration. A team from Bristol and Iraqi Kurdistan Region will present the findings of the research


Dr Nazand Begikhani is Senior Research Fellow, University of Bristol.  She is part of an ESRC research programme on ‘Gender-based violence and displacement’ at Bristol.  Recent publications include ‘Theorising Women and War in Kurdistan. A feminist and critical perspective (with Wendelmoet Hamelink & Nerina Weiss). Kurdish Studies Journal. Vol: 6, N0 1, pp 1-10. May 2018.

‘Experiences of Honor-based Violence, and Moving Towards Action in Iraqi Kurdistan’ (with Hague). In The Kurdish Question Revisted. by Gareth Stansfield (Editor),‎ Mohammed Shareef (Editor). Oxford University Press. 2017. Begikhani is also a poet and literary scholar.


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TCRU-CNR graduate seminar, 4.12.18: Researching POPTRANS research

CNR-TCRU Postgraduate Narrative Research Seminars, 2017-2018

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

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

Problematizing the production of health knowledge about stigmatized people: POPTRANS research on transsexual women and transvestites

Adriana Prates, Federal University of Bahia

Tuesday 4th December 2018, 5 – 6.30pm

Library, Thomas Coram Research Unit, 27 – 28 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AA

All welcome, particularly graduate students.

We are witnessing the increase of voices that were ignored for a long time. Currently, minorities or / and stigmatized groups such as Black people, indigenous people, Women and LGBTQI+ people, among many others, want to talk about their realities, their problems, and so on. And more: they are problematizing the knowledge that is produced without representativeness or representation. In this sense, they are pointing, for example, to the university as a excluding place: misogynist, racist and transphobic, among other things. A place that objectifies dissident bodies in the name of a supposed neutrality of knowledge, with the goal of concentrating power. On one side, unfortunately, we know that is true; but we know that the university has been a ally of minorities, too, acting in defence of humans rights. Principles like neutrality are being questioned at universities, also, but this point of view poses some ethical, political, metodological and theoretical issues to researchers. With all this in mind, the idea came to me to research a research project in the Public Health arena, about trans women’s health, in which I, a cisgender woman, worked as a researcher. The research, called POPTRANS, combined quantitative and qualitative methods and occurred in Salvador-Bahia-Brazil during 2016/2017. The proposal of my study is to make explicit all the processes of doing this research, to discuss the political questions mentioned at the beginning, and to think about contributions that narrative studies can provide to the process of my research, including in relation to the Actor Network Theory approach that I am adopting.

Adriana Prates is a Brazilian sociologist who graduated from the Federal University of Bahia. She has a Masters degree in Sociology and a professional career in psychosocial support services in mental health, especially that related to drug users. She is currently doing a doctorate in Public Health at the same university where she graduated, and is a visitor at CNR for this academic year.. In her professional situation, she is guided by the perspective of harm reduction and psychosocial support, understanding that health is not only about body issues or absence of disease but involves cultural, social and subjective questions.

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

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The ’10 Years After’ austerity audit: Report

via The ’10 Years After’ austerity audit: Report

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by | November 18, 2018 · 11:33 pm

Elizabeth Chappell: What can we learn from talking to hibakusha (survivors of Hiroshima)? Narrative and the ethics of memory in hibakusha life stories.


Elizabeth Chappell, 13 November 2018

On Tuesday November 6th, I gave a talk at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, University College, London for TRCU and UEL’s Centre of Narrative Research. The talk was about hibakusha orphans of Hiroshima. In Japanese, hibakusha means ‘atomic bomb person’ and the word for orphan is, child without parents, ryoshin no nai ko.

These were evacuee children from central Hiroshima, who survived the atomic bombing; however, when they returned to Hiroshima, they found their parents had died.

I had encountered Shoso Kawamoto, who was orphaned by the atomic bombing, and is now aged 84, in 2012.

Seventy- eight years old when I interviewed him in 2012, he is one of the few hibakusha storytellers left alive, of those who originally experienced the atomic bomb in 1945.

The hibakusha tell their stories at Hiroshima Peace Memorial museum, which was the brainchild of a hibakusha – Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a protestant minister and one of the protagonists of John Hersey’s book, Hiroshima. By 1948, Tanimoto had become convinced that, as Hersey writes, the ‘collective memory of the hibakusha might be a potent force for peace in the world and that, in Hiroshima, there ought to be a centre where the experience of the bombing could become the focus of international studies of means to ensure that atomic weapons would never be used again.’

The museum is now the source of most hibakusha accounts passed down to us through the media – whether through radio or television.

As a storyteller, Shoso was accustomed to talking about his experience to children and tourists gathered at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum Peace memorial museum alongside many other hibakusha colleagues.

The format of such accounts would generally be that hibakusha would present their story as a lecture, standing on a dais in front of their audience in an auditorium. They would also use maps and slides as prompts. Starting with ‘This is my hibakusha experience’ as a way of bracketing off their story from the rest of their lives, they would list facts and numbers about hibakusha woven into their hibakusha experience of what is known in Hiroshima as ‘that day’, ‘ano hi’.

However, this time, I asked Kawamoto to focus his story on something slightly different. I said to him: ‘Could you tell me what your life was like as a child before the atomic bombing?’ Kawamoto paused for a moment, checking that he had understood correctly, with the interpreter Keiko Ogura.

As an interviewer of hibakusha I was helped by the fact I had worked in Japan and run interviews in that context before and that the interpreter for these interviews, was Keiko Ogura. She was the wife of the former director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial museum, Kaoru Ogura (b.1920 d.1979) and herself a hibakusha. She had lived with her family at Ushita, about 4 kilometres from ground zero — she also remembered ‘that day’ and could relate intimately to hibakusha experiences.

The story that emerged over the following three years came out of my growing rapport with Kawamoto was based on the fact that I had started my interview by asking about his childhood. In my study, ‘The Last Survivors of Hiroshima’, I argue that I could never have forged a rapport with those so different from myself – Japanese hibakusha – and had I not focused my first questions on childhood, and been lucky enough to find hibakusha who responded and warmed to this process of interview when I started out on my research.


A map of the centre of Hiroshima, which was bombed on 6th August 1945, showing the spread of blast and radiation

During follow-up interviews, Kawamoto revealed more and more about his life – about what it felt like to be a child in post-war Hiroshima. Before I met Kawamoto, I had no idea what being an atomic bomb orphan meant: I only had one image of children during the aftermath of the atomic bombing — a single photograph which was on display in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

The image was of a young Japanese boy polishing the shoes of American GIs during the occupation era (1945-52). These were evacuee children from before the bombing, whose parents had stayed in downtown Hiroshima. The parents had been mobilized to clear


A Japanese hibakusha describing his experience to an audience at Friends House in London, October 2016.

away wooden buildings for firebreaks (the men), or they ran neighbourhood associations for rations and collected foodstuffs, since rations were down to the barest minimum (the women). They were under the bomb which had been targeted at the central residential district of Hiroshima, where over 90 percent of the population died within a week of the atomic bombing.

Almost all the parents of the evacuated children died, in addition to the youngest children and teenagers. In general, only 6-11 year olds and the infirm had been evacuated. These orphan children usually lived for six months after the bombing and then died due to lack of food. It was very unusual to find a member of this age group who was alive to tell their story.

Kawamoto had been born on 27 January 1934. He had been brought up in a strict neo-Confucian household, where boys were told to just study and girls were taught to help around the house. His parents were of different classes.

Kawamoto had a samurai mother and a farmer father. He had been evacuated to Miyoshi, a neighbouring prefecture, when the atomic bomb was dropped. His 16-year-old sister Tokie, picked him up the day after the atomic bomb and the pair returned to live in the bombed-out building of Hiroshima station together. Tokie had a job as a caretaker with Japan railways.

In February 1946, Kawamoto’s sister Tokie died. Then, not long afterwards, in March 1946, Kawamoto was adopted by a soy sauce manufacturer, Mr Kawanaka.

I was to find out that Kawamoto wouldn’t talk much about his formative years, between the ages of 12 and 23. When he reached the age of 23, which would have been in 1957 — he had attempted to get married, but his fiance’s family blocked the engagement because he had, by that time, received a hibakusha health certificate.

This proved he had come to Hiroshima in the aftermath of the atomic bomb – when so many hibakusha had also returned to Hiroshima. So many hibakusha hid the fact they had been in the centre of Hiroshima, for fear of discrimination.

Kawamoto’s reticence about this period of his life showed that there was some difficulty and tension – which he wanted to avoid. But the silences as well as the speech, I found, were vital to his overall narrative identity – i.e. to the way he told his story in context.

Why would people discriminate against those who had been in the atomic bombing? asked one graduate participant in the research seminar I gave on Tuesday last.

The answer to that question lies both in the history and culture of Japan. When the atomic bomb was dropped, the Japanese authorities did their best to suppress any news about it: it would lower morale – after all Japan was still at war on 6th August 1945 and the authorities were not admitting defeat despite the desperate state of their empire and their people.

The cabinet – the ‘big six’ as they were known – sent a team to investigate and established, through one of their top physicists, that it was an atomic bomb; then they buried the news. But then Russia invaded the Japanese Empire by way of Manchuria and on August 8th and August 9th, the US dropped another atomic bomb over Nagasaki.

Now, it was impossible to bury the news. Instead, the Japanese used it to their advantage; they explained this was a ‘new type of bomb’ which ‘threatened to destroy civilisation’ – meaning that it was a particularly cruel weapon the enemy had developed, and therefore it offered an honourable way for the Japanese to surrender – for the sake of civilisation itself.

The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their atomic bomb victims became the icons of the ‘sacrifice’ the Japanese had made by surrendering. They were not forgotten — they had a peace memorial ceremony dedicated to the memory of the event every August 6th and 9th; but they were not specially helped either. Then, 12 years after the bomb, in 1957, an atomic bomb survivors’ relief law was passed.

By then, however, discrimination had set in.

What were the strange illnesses from which so many in the two cities had suffered and died? No one knew for certain. No diagnosis was given. Other hibakusha called the diseases ‘bomb disease’, but those who had not been in the bomb tended to use harsher terminology: ‘lazy person’s disease’.

The ‘pika’ was the name given to the bomb. No one mentioned the word ‘atomic bomb’ for years; the word was censored. The post-war memorial in Hiroshima to school-aged teenage children who were mobilized and died under the bomb was simply labelled E=MC2, an oblique reference to atomic energy.

The Allied forces, led by the US Occupying force, General McArthur, had censored all information, including the scientific and literary publications about the bombings – for instance film reels were confiscated, along with scientific specimens and doctors’ records. These were then shipped off to the US. The hibakusha, who were examined medically, for the famous Life Span study (the longest study of radiation effects in existence) were, in general, not interviewed for their experiences, except for a very few psychological studies.

Instead, the hibakusha were the unwelcome reminder of an unknown, unclassifiable event, something so unimaginable society tried to ignore it.

So, they kept quiet, often dying of multiple cancers, giving birth to deformed children, their bodies used for scientific research but not given proper respect. For a long time, until late 1950s, when the hibakusha health relief law was passed, they kept quiet.

Now of course, censorship has been lifted (formally in 1952-3 when the US pulled out of Japan), and so much has been done to publish memoirs and testimonies: meanwhile a genre called ‘atomic bomb culture’ has arisen.

So, it is very understandable that most hibakusha and/or their children do not want to talk about the experience. They have lived and suffered in silence so long.

Following this first interview, I went deeper into the interviewee process with Kawamoto. About six months after the atomic bombing, in August 2013, we re-visited the places Kawamoto had lived, played and studied as a child. The Japan bank, Kawamoto’s primary school, his family’s cemetery, as well as his family home were all within a square kilometre of ground zero – where 90-100 percent of the population had died. These stone buildings had survived the bomb, at least in part, so, working from these buildings outward, we could triangulate the area where Kawamoto had lived as a child.

Kawamoto responded best to my questions about his memories, on the spot, in the places where they had happened. Standing on the site of his former home, names of places from his childhood recurred to him. He remembered the restaurant near his home – it was called the Seiyoken. This was where he had bought a treat called ‘ice candee’; he also recalled the name of his father’s glass shop, the Miyazako.

He recalled his father’s war work was that of a fireman. Kawamoto senior was always on fire duty late at night. This was when the children enjoyed playing games at home, in his absence. They made toy guns and aeroplanes, they chewed up paper pellets to make bullets and shoved them into ‘toy guns’ with chopsticks.

Kawamoto had dreamt of becoming a zero-fighter. It was fun to drill: whenever there was an air-raid warning, children would run to the air-raid shelter, which consisted of a shallow hole dug into the street with room for about ten children.

At that point, a vicious ‘old woman’ had taught the boys how to use bamboo spears made out of laundry poles with which they attacked straw ‘American soldiers’.

There was strafing over the outskirts of the Hiroshima city: for instance, over the naval base of Kure. Kawamoto’s mother had encouraged Kawamoto to train. He would have liked to become a zero-fighter; but, as a child, when you trained for the military, there was no time left over to play games with your friends!

By the end of our walking conversation, Kawamoto looked relaxed and eager to tell me more. On a later occasion we shared lunch together with other hibakusha I had interviewed. All the hibakusha managed to share stories of their childhoods with one another and not only for my benefit. Kawamoto told me he had found his ‘ikigai’, his ‘reason to live’ in telling his story and was eager to go out and tell his story again. He was in high demand from schools far and wide, across Japan.

These interviews are part of many other memory-making practices which continue to this day. Surviving hibakusha in their 70s and 80s, work hard to remember parts of their lives they find it hard to talk about in the hope that it will touch the life of just one person.

Pierre Nora, the French landscape historian, writes of the sites of memory, that ‘there is no spontaneous memory’ (Les Lieux des memoire) and the phenomenologist, De Certeau, writes, ‘Memory is played by circumstances, just as a piano is played by a musician music emerges form it when its keys are touched by the hands. Memory is a sense of the other.’

In my interviews with Kawamoto, there were times when I and the hibakusha interpreter were the piano player, touching the keys, but there were other points when Kawamoto was the piano player. It was our encounter that mattered. By asking questions about Kawamoto’s childhood, I had established a sort of baseline: a common ground of shared experience from which other stories could emerge. As Henry Greenspan, veteran interviewer of holocaust survivors writes, with survivor Agi Rubin: ‘For remembering, I need your questions, the spark of conversation, fully to bring it out. Then memories take their shape and find their words. They emerge between us’. In dialogue, with all its implications of wrong turns and blind alleys — open vistas and shared travel, I was to discover what I could and couldn’t tell – what aspects of Kawamoto’s narrative were necessary for us to find a way to assemble Kawamoto’s narrative identity for this study.

Elizabeth Chappell is a PhD researcher at the Open University writing a PhD tentatively entitled ‘The Last Survivors of Hiroshima’. She has previously published a travel book on Japan


De Certeau M. (1984) The Practice of Everyday Life – Berkeley and Los Angeles – University of California Press 1984, pp86-8

Hersey J. (1985 [1946]) Hiroshima, Penguin, p 136.

Layman, L. (2009) ‘Reticence in Oral History Interviews’, The Oral History Review, Vol 36, 2, pp207-230

Nora, P. (1996) Realms of Memory, Rethinking the French Past under the direction of Pierre Nora: tr. Arthur Goldhammer, Vol 1, Columbia University Press, US.

Rubin A., and Greenspan H. (2006) Poetics Today 27:2, p43

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TCRU-CNR graduate narrative research seminar, November 6, 2018

NR-TCRU Postgraduate Narrative Research Seminars, 2017-2018

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

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


What can we learn from talking to hibakusha (survivors of Hiroshima)?

Narrative and the ethics of memory in hibakusha life stories


Elizabeth Chappell, The Open University

Tuesday 6th November 2018, 5 – 6.30pm

Library, Thomas Coram Research Unit, 27 – 28 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AA

All welcome, particularly graduate students.

 ‘Storytelling practices help us define who we are, they refine our moral sensibilities, and open up new possibilities of experience, action and self-inversion […] however, storytelling can also obfuscate, lie and corrupt moral standing.’ (Meretoja, 2018a and b) In developing my three-year iterative interviewing project in Japan with hibakusha, survivors of Hiroshima, I became more and more interested in the ethics of interviewing. For instance, researchers of Holocaust survivors’ interviews questioned the extent to which researchers were driven by guilt, or desire for redemption (Kushner: 279). In terms of cross-cultural research, the motives of early travellers’ accounts of colonial expeditions along with their stories of primitive others have been questioned (Clifford, Marcus et al ed. 2010:1986). Hibakusha have questioned the motives of researchers. An ethical investigation of storytelling promotes the idea that narratives (in this case interviews) allow us to engage with experiences, our own and others. Although some promote the idea that storytelling per se is an agent of morality and pedagogy – i.e. something from which we have something to learn (Nussbaum 1998:96), in this study, I look at the dangers of storytelling as well as its benefits. I look beyond the assumption of ‘value-free’ engagement to view ethics of storytelling as a process of development between the listener/teller and reader/writer. In this talk, I will ask whether the lenses I adopt can shed light on the ethical implications of interviewing for life story.


Kushner, T. (2006) Holocaust Testimony, Ethics, and the Problem of Representation, Poetics Today 27:2 doi 10.1215/03335372-2005-004 c 2006 by Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics, pp 276

Meretoja, H. (2018a) Keynote speech for Symposium on Storytelling and Ethics at the Centre for Narrative Research, University of London11 May 2018

Meretoja H. and Davis C. eds. (2018b) Storytelling and Ethics: Literature, Visual Arts and the Power of Narrative, Oxford University Press.

Nussbaum M. (1998) Cultivating Humanity, Harvard University Press

Rosaldo, R. (2010; 1986) ‘From the door of his tent: the use and abuse of ethnographic authority’ in J. Clifford and G. E. Marcus (Eds.) Writing Culture, The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography Berkeley, Calif. ; London : University of California Press, 2010: 79ff

Elizabeth Chappell is an oral historian, writing a PhD entitled The Last Survivors of Hiroshima at the Open University. 

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

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