TCRU-CNR graduate seminar, 3.5.16: Storying Mothering Online

Dr Heather Elliot, Thomas Coram Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education

 Storying Mothering Online 

Tuesday 3rd May 2016, 5 – 6.30pm

The Library, Thomas Coram Research Unit

27 – 28 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AA 

All welcome, particularly graduate students.

This paper considers how mothering and family life is storied online. It considers what is new (if anything) about the work.

The phenomenon of ‘mummyblogging’ has emerged as a means of documenting and sharing mothering practices and families’ lives, and of developing communities of interest as well as commercial opportunities.

It has been argued that the blogosphere has provided space for collective writing about mothering and support but also a resurgence in repressive and narrow ideas about how women mother. Women who blog about mothering are more likely than other bloggers to disclose personal information: indeed such disclosure is valued as a marker of ‘authenticity’, building credibility among online mothering communities and enhancing marketability. These new ways of making mothering public are in line with recent trends towards confessional writing about motherhood.

Drawing on narrative case studies involving analyses of blog posts and interviews with bloggers I consider the dilemmas bloggers face in telling stories about themselves and their family, particularly their children in public.

Taking a doubled look at ethics of public representation, I discuss my own dilemmas in working ‘beyond anonymization’, turning blogs into research data, illustrating the impossibility of ever knowing what is at stake for the teller, even in apparently innocuous online stories.

Dr Heather Elliott is a researcher at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, at UCL’s Institute of Education. She has interests in the psycho-social, narrative, mothering and work and in children’s imaginaries. Recent publications include:

Elliott, H and Squire, C (2016, forthcoming)  ‘Narratives of normativity, transgression and reformulation: How mothers’ blogs frame mothering, family and food in resource constrained times’ Forum for Qualitative Research as part of Special Issue on ‘Narrative Media and Ways of Knowing’ (Elliott, H and Squire, C (eds)).

Brannen, J.; Elliott, H. and Phoenix, A. (2016) ‘Narratives of success among Irish and African Caribbean migrants’  Ethnic and Racial Studies.

Her novel, Paradise Rocks, has been longlisted for the Times/Chickenhouse prize for children’s fiction.

For further details please contact Corinne Squire at

Details are also on the CNR website


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Telling London Stories: A Centre for Narrative Research, UEL, Workshop and School Seminar

‘Telling London Stories’: Poetry Workshop

Wednesday 9th March 2016, 10.30am – 1pm, EB.1.04.

10am: Drinks, welcome

This Poetry Workshop is for anyone interested in poetry: Deanna welcomes everyone! Poetry is an important, pleasurable, and perhaps under-used way of exploring issues we address in Social Sciences, and in our own lives.

Numbers are limited – please email to book your place.

Followed by:

2. Telling London Stories: A seminar on Dialogue and Performance in the City


Wednesday 9th March, 2-4pm, Room EB1.105

A Roundtable with:

Deanna Rodger, poet, educator and activist


Cigdem Esin, Jennifer Achan, and Angie Voela, UEL Social Sciences: ‘A Diasporic Trialogue: Mothers, Losses and Selves’

 Toby Butler, UEL Arts and Digital Industries: ‘Oral history and place’

Sian Jones, UEL Health and Bioscience: ‘Mapping Redbridge’.

Tessa McWatt and Sam Dodd, UEL Arts and Digital Industries: ‘CityLife Stories’


3.30pm: Performance by Deanna Rodger.

4.00pm: Refreshments, discussions


Deanna Rodger, a former UK Poetry Slam Champion and actor, and one of ELLE magazine’s ’30 inspirational women under 30′. Nominated as a Rising Star for Hospital Club’s 100 awards, Deanna is an international workshop facilitator, and has written and performed commissions for BBC (Women Who Spit; Words First; Freespeech), Guardian News, and National Youth Theatre (2012 Olympic Team Welcome Ceremonies; Buckingham Palace; Speakers House). She co-curates one of London’s leading spoken word events: Chill Pill and is a member of Keats House Poetry Collective. Deanna is currently writing and producing her ‘spoken word meets quantum physics’ show ‘Matter’ which has been supported by; Roundhouse Camden; Albany Deptford; Lyric Hammersmith; New Writing South and Arts Council England.


For the symposium and performance, please reserve a place here:




The UEL Social Sciences School Seminar Series

UEL School of Social Sciences takes pride in the fact that it maintains high standards for teaching and for research. The Seminar Series is designed to serve as a forum for academic staff and intellectually curious students to learn about current research in fields related to the School and to engage in life-affirming dialogue about ideas. Equally important, it aims to enrich a sense of intellectual and social belonging. Members of our academic community and outside guests are urged to contribute to these important aims by participating in invited lectures both related to their specialisation, as well as less familiar topics which will help them continue to develop as well-rounded intellectuals. Informal discussion over light refreshment will follow the lectures.

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TO THINK IS TO EXPERIMENT Postgraduate Research Day,
University of East London, University Square Stratford, 20th April 2016

The Centre for Narrative Research (CNR) organises the annual Research Day for postgraduate researchers on 20th April 2016, at the University of East London, Stratford Campus.

This year, we invite papers focusing on doing narrative analysis, discussing and reflecting on analysing narratives. Narrative analysis refers to both broader epistemological approaches to analysing narratives and specific narrative models and forms of analysis. We are specifically interested in papers discussing reflective/reflexive narrative analytical practices. Papers may focus on philosophical, methodological or ethical challenges that researchers tackle at any stage of the analytical process.

This is a call for papers for all postgraduate researchers. Participants can contribute with a short paper (15-20 minute long) or a poster.
Please send an abstract (150-200 words) to Cigdem Esin,
by 11th March, 2016. Applicants will hear back from us by 14th March, 2016

We look forward to meeting participants from various institutions and organisations for a friendly and fruitful day of presentations and discussions, as we did over the past years. To ‘Think is to Experiment’ has been a narrative space for postgraduate researchers from various disciplines for fifteen years. The event has been home to stimulating presentations and intense conversations on the multiplicities in narrative-based research, approaches and experiences. The programme and abstracts from previous years can be viewed on this link

Please note that this is a free event but places are limited.
All best wishes,
CNR team

Centre for Narrative Research

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CNR-TCRU graduate seminar: Phoebe Beedell, ‘Negotiating the dilemmas of development in Bangladesh’

CNR-TCRU Postgraduate Narrative Research Seminars, 2015-2016

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

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


Phoebe Beedell, University of East London

Negotiating the dilemmas of development in Bangladesh:

A case study of local development consultants working with the garment sector


Tuesday 9th February 2016, 5 – 6.30pm

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


All welcome, particularly graduate students.


For many years now, investigative journalists and consumer-led pressure groups have worked to expose, and protest against, the injustices and oppressive practices that take place in the manufacture and supply chains of global fashion brands. The catastrophic collapse of a factory building at Rana Plaza, Dhaka, in April 2013, once again focussed attention upon working conditions in an industry that has huge significance for the Bangladesh economy, and which has undoubtedly provided hundreds of thousands of women with a route out of poverty.   The multinational companies’ concern with improving their reputations has spawned another minor industry – that of ‘ethical consultants’, tasked with routing out child labour and other unethical practices, training factory managers and auditing and inspecting premises for so-called ‘compliance’ with particular standards. My PhD research is a psycho-social study of how a broad range of local development-oriented NGO professionals and social activists negotiate the ethical dilemmas inherent in their work. For this presentation I will explore the challenges faced by a small group of local ‘ethical business’ consultants. Using data from biographical and event-centred narrative interviews conducted in 2014, I will illustrate how these workers negotiate their way through a labyrinth of competing interests, differing values and often contradictory forces.  The stories they tell, and the experiences they reveal, demonstrate why private sector involvement in developmental initiatives should be treated with caution and consulting organisations held to account; and suggest that radical alternatives might, after all, be possible.


Phoebe Beedell is a PhD scholarship holder with the University of East London. She originally trained in graphic design and spent ten years 1989-99 living in Lesotho and Zimbabwe working in development communications, AIDS prevention and reproductive health campaigns.  After completing a Masters in Development Studies at Bristol University, she worked as a community engagement trainer and facilitator before joining the Centre of Psycho-Social Studies at the University of the West of England as a researcher.  Phoebe has undertaken qualitative research on major ESRC projects including ‘Negotiating Ethical Dilemmas in Contested Communities’ and ‘Identities, Educational Choice and the White Urban Middle Class’ in the Identities and Social Action programme; and more recently on Paired Peers, a longitudinal study on the role HE plays in social mobility.  She has published articles on motivation, class, positionality and a book chapter on psychosocial research methodology. She is planning to use Augusto Boals’s participatory theatre techniques as a means of disseminating her doctoral research and engaging non-academic audiences in further meaningful and productive dialogue.


For further details please contact Corinne Squire at

Details are also on the CNR website

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The Role of Rights Activism, Academia and Performing Arts Practices: A conversation

By Molly Andrews

Yesterday UEL sponsored a wonderful event at the Arcola Theatre, in partnership with Nine Lives Production. Organised by our PhD student, Alice Mukaka – who holds a UEL PhD studentship – the afternoon symposium brought together activists, academics and artists who work on refugee issues. The presentations ranged from poetry readings, to artists talking about their installations, to academic research, an unusual and extremely rich mixture.
Following the event – and a wonderful light dinner – the audience was treated to a most powerful performance by Lladel Bryant in his one man show, Nine Lives. (As part of her PhD, Alice has been following the Nine Lives production around the country, gauging the affect performance has on (re)shaping people’s attitudes to the refugee crisis.) The show is on for 4 more days at the Arcola, and if you haven’t seen it, you really should not miss it. Exceptional.
For more details and to book tickets, please see
Through a complex network of funding (including contributions from all of the research centres in our school, as well as from some others) the symposium, dinner, and play were all free to the public.
Full details of the sponsors and contributors can be found here
Although not identified as a ‘civic engagement event’ this was one of the finest embodiments of
such a principle.
Well done to Alice for organising this, and to UEL for supporting it.
Images, from top, Alex Chisholm, the director of the play, the audience in the sold out event and Prof Gargi Bhattacharyya (University of East London). Images courtesy of Molly Andrews.

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Cultural Memory – Friday 5th February 2016, 3.30 – 5.30pm by the Centre for Narrative Research (University of East London) and the Centre for Language, Discourse and Communication (King’s College London)

On Friday 5th February 2016, 3.30 – 5.30pm the Centre for Narrative Research (University of East London) and the Centre for Language, Discourse and Communication (King’s College London) are holding a public lecture on the theme of Cultural Memory, followed by the launch of Jens Brockmeier’s new book, Beyond the Archive: Memory, Narrative, and the Autobiographical Process.


Our longstanding view of memory and remembering is in the midst of a profound transformation. This transformation does not only affect our concept of memory or a particular idea of how we remember and forget; it is a wider cultural process. In order to understand it, one must step back and consider what is meant when we say memory. The studies of this book offer such a perspective, synthesizing understandings of remembering from the neurosciences, humanities, social studies, and in key works of autobiographical literature and life-writing. Brockmeier’s conclusions force us to radically rethink our very notion of memory as an archive of the past, one that suggests the natural existence of a distinctive human capacity (or a set of neuronal systems) enabling us to "encode," "store," and "recall" past experiences. Propelled by new scientific insights and digital technologies, a new picture is emerging. It shows that there are many cultural forms of remembering and forgetting, embedded in a broad spectrum of human activities and artifacts. This picture is more complex than any notion of memory as storage of the past would allow. It comes with a number of alternatives to the archival memory, one of which Brockmeier describes as the narrative approach. The narrative approach not only permits us to explore the storied weave of our most personal form of remembering - that is, the autobiographical- it also sheds new light on the interrelations among memory, self and culture.                                         


The event will take place at King’s College London, Franklin-Wilkins Building (Room 1.11), map:




3.30 – 5.00pm   Between the individual and the social: Panel on Cultural Memory
                             Participants: Molly Andrews, Alessandra Fasulo, Alexandra
Georgakopoulou, Ann Phoenix, Linda Sandino

5.00pm               Book Launch: Beyond the Archive: Memory, Narrative and the
autobiographical Process
Presentation by Jens Brockmeier

5.30pm                Reception


We look forward to seeing you there.



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‘Life Stories’ at the Jungle refugee camp, Calais: ‘University For All’

The Centre for Narrative Research has begun short university courses on ‘Life Stories’ with residents at the Jungle refugee camp in Calais.

Teaching started in November and will continue 4-6 December, before restarting in early 2016. Photography, art and poetry workshops will also be offered. Camp residents will be co-organising all these initiatives, as well as participating as students.

Participants are reading life stories (for instance, those of Nelson Mandela and Barak Obama, as well as Malala Yousafzai), discussing them, examining poems from those of Mahmoud Darwish to the recent work of JJ Bola, as well as photographic representations of lives, and creating some of their own.

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‘Life Stories’ has been taught at Jungle Books, a library and school build and manned by volunteers and residents.

Students currently enrolled come from a range of countries – Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Ethiopia, Eritrea. Many are professionals – electrical engineers, opticians – or university students or graduates in a range of subjects from English literature through political science to physics.  All are keen to further their education, and also to use this course to gain a more public hearing for their stories about their journeys and lives. We hope to facilitate camp residents coauthorship of a book as a result of this project.

Residents already engage in storytelling through forums such as Refugee Voices, initiated by a resident who wanted to share stories from the camp. The dome tent, set up by British playwrights, is another platform for the residents’ storytelling and art projects. Currently a photo and art exhibition is at display. Our hope is to establish a collaboration with such local initiatives.

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Photo exhibition in the ‘Good Chance Theatre’ dome

There are around 4000 people living in this camp, with few facilities as the camp is informal. Many residents with English skills and often, family connections to the UK, have been trying to reach that country. Currently, efforts to do so by road or rail are heavily policed and highly dangerous. There is no clear political commitment from France or the UK to resolve the situation.

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The lack of food, water, shelter, clothing, sanitation, and health care in the camp makes the residents’ difficult lives there a human rights issue.

Supported by UEL’s civic engagement strategic fund, we are running courses and workshops at the camp this and next year, under the heading, ‘University for All.’ Education is, of course, an important human right.

We are being greatly helped by other volunteers working in the camp, for instance, those running l’Ecole du Chemin des Dunes, and the Jungle Books Library, and, notably, by many camp residents themselves, particularly Amin, Samir and Naqib at Jungle Books, and Alpha at l’Ecole des Arts et Metiers –  his own project. Zimako has also started a school with which we hope to collaborate.

Many academic colleagues, at for instance UCL Institute of Education, London Metropolitan University, Manchester University, and Manchester Metropolitan University, are also keen to participate, and we will be holding a network meeting about such possibilities, and how we might expand them, early next year.

The team for this first course is Corinne Squire, from CNR; Katrine Møller Hansen, visiting CNR, from the University of Copenhagen; Natalie Ludviggsen, UEL; and Tahir Zaman, from SOAS (and Visiting Fellow at UEL’s Centre for Migration, Refugees and Belonging). Also participating are Hanna Rasmussen, Mohammad Azeem and Samina Rana, also from UEL, and the photographer Gideon Mendel.

If you are interested in finding out more, or participating in University For All, please contact Corinne Squire


Photos by Katrine Møller Hansen. Please do not reuse without permission.

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Upcoming CNR research seminars

TCRU-CNR Postgraduate Narrative Research Seminar

Thomas Coram Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, and Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London

Gathering and analysing the life stories of identical twins
Mvikeli Ncube, University of East London

Tuesday 1st December 2015
5 – 6.30pm
The Library, Thomas Coram Research Unit, 27 – 28 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AA

This paper will describe the background for this study of identical twins’ talk about their lives, by a brief address to psychological and cultural representations of twins. I will suggest that twins are
different in the way they speak about themselves, compared to what is shown in the contexts where twins are most represented, particularly the psychological literature and their representations in
cultural texts. Both representations reinforce conventional stereotypes about twins, thereby serving as ‘misrepresentations’ of twins. The paper will then move on to role of life stories in the process of conducting this study, and the themes, often emerging in narrative forms, that came out of the study, centred on couples, identities, and being misunderstood. The paper will conclude by showing how twins’ representations of themselves and their relationships work continuously to undermine dominant representations of ‘individual subjects’, both directly, by posing twins against ‘individuals’, and less directly, by articulating themes around ‘similarity’ and ‘the couple’. Finally the paper will explore how a narrative analysis could have been applied to the life stories I used in this study.

Mvikeli Ncube is a final year PhD student at the University of East London. He gained a BSc (Hons) in Psychology from Leeds Metropolitan University in 2011 before going on to do a PhD at Manchester Metropolitan University, later transferring to the University of East London. His doctoral thesis explores the accounts of the experiences of identical twins using social constructionist approaches. Mvikeli has published an article titled: ‘Cultural representations and narratives of identical twins’ in UEL Annual Year Book. He is currently working on two other papers for publication, ‘A critical review: The History of Psychological Research on Twins’ and ‘Romantic Couples as a Metaphor in Identical Twins’ Accounts of their Lives’.

For further details contact Corinne Squire (

Details are also on the CNR website



CNR Research Seminar Series

The Impossible Choice?

Making decisions of care for and with older parents

Dr Bethany Morgan Brett

Thursday December 3rd
Time: 12.00 – 13.00

University of East London, Docklands Campus
East Building EB.1.40

Witnessing one parent’s ageing process and the associated dilemmas of placing a parent in care often cause ‘midlife children’ enormous emotional turmoil. Drawing upon data collected across four different qualitative and literature based research projects which I have worked on in recent years, the aim of this paper is to highlight the psychosocial dilemmas faced by midlife children of older parents, with the aim to improving inter-generational relationships. It will consider what practical, emotional and psychical effects does witnessing the increasing agedness and death of parents have on those in midlife? How are the relationships between the (midlife) child and their parents negotiated during this phase of the life course on a practical, emotional and psychical level? And how can care provision for older people be improved in order to support not only those in the older generations but also those in the midlife generation who are caring for them?

Dr Bethany Morgan Brett is a Senior Lecturer in Psychosocial Studies at the University of East London. She previously lectured in Social Psychology at The University of Essex and worked for nine years at the UK Data Archive. She completed her PhD in 2011 which was entitled Negotiating Midlife: A psychosocial exploration of the subjective experiences of ageing. Her academic interests include psychosocial studies, death and dying, ageing, the life course, and intergenerational care.

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Moving beyond the text

by Katrine Møller Hansen

Friday the 13th of November Centre for Narrative Research hosted an event at Goldsmiths University with the title “Narratives Beyond the Text – sound and proces”.

We, a group of 10, mainly PhD students, were going to explore and discuss the quality of different narrative modalities, and the different possibilities they offer, together with Dr Cigdem Esin and Dr Linda Sandino who had brought examples from their own research. How can we move beyond the standard transcript, that we may find ourselves restricted to, was the initial question of the day.

Linda presented sound and text material from her research and we explored and experienced how our interpretations evolved and changed as we went from the reading of a transcript further on to a voice recording, supplemented by a photographic portrait of the storyteller. The step by step analysis exemplified how text, sound and photographies enable different “imaginative spaces” – imaginations experienced in this case by us, the interpreters. Our imaginations supported or challenged certain interpretations and we discussed how engaging with material in different ways can lead us to new understandings of the material. Voice and orality has been attributed a certain authenticity as it stands for lived experience and represents the materiality of the body (Portelli, 1994; Barthes, 1981). However, when we considered the listener’s embodied experience, which Linda presented as a key term, and how different recording devices, background noises etc. affect this experience, the sound became inseparable from the process of listening.

Different ways of engaging with materials may not only allow for new analytical possibilities but also offer participants a creative and less restrictive space for their autobiographical narratives to take form. Cigdem gave examples, from her and her colleagues’ research, of how autobiographical narratives of young women from East London emerged as they presented themselves through visual materials, interviews and interactions during the process. The spoken, visual and interactional modalities came together in a way that allowed for a narrative understanding incorporating contradictions, incoherencies and multiple levels of co-constructions. Engaging with participants around activities can furthermore have the benefit of creating “contact zones” where different cultures meet and where power relations can be negotiated.

The ethics associated with the use of visual and sound material to represent and co-construct participants were addressed in our discussions. For example we discussed how the publication of sound material can be problematic in terms of protecting a participant’s anonymity, and ways of dealing with such issues. With attendees from various fields and with different research interests the day, apart from being a “sound and process day”, also came to illustrate the broad application of narrative approaches. Despite different research subjects, we seemed to face similar experiences and challenges which the day was an opportunity to explore through interdisciplinary exchanges.


The photo is borrowed from:

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Announcing the launch of the website: Remembering East Germany’s Peaceful Revolution

In 1992, Molly Andrews conducted interviews with 40 East Germans, most of whom had been leading critics of the East German government, and had played an important role in contributing to the bloodless revolution of 1989.  They included artists, actors, religious leaders, scientists, and politicians, but also official employees and informal informants of the Stasi, as well as academics, writers and politicians who were members of the Communist Party up until 1989. Twenty years later, she conducted a follow-up study with fifteen of the original forty participants, predominantly with those who had been dissidents in 1989.

Based on this longitudinal study, there were two exhibitions which were organized, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall: the first was in London, at the German Historical Institute (31 October 2014 – 31 January 2015), and the second in Berlin at the Wissenschaftzentrum (12 November 2014 – 31 March 2015).  When looking back on East Germany’s peaceful revolution of 1989 many recall the great speed of events –  the rigged election, the 40th anniversary of the birth of the country, the Monday night vigils,  the huge demonstrations, the exodus across the borders, the opening of the wall, and less than 12 months later, the formal reunification of Germany – days and weeks which altered the face of the political world forever. The focus of this project has been to explore the meaning of living through these momentous changes, in conversations carried out over two decades.

The exhibitions were organized around four themes which featured in the interviews:

  • the intersection of biographical and historical change (“Generations”);
  • the role of the past in the present (“Representation of East German History”);
  • the meaning of being from East Germany (“East German Identity”); and finally
  • memories of the night the Berlin Wall was opened, and subsequent anniversaries of that event (“November 9th”).


The exhibition at the German Historical Institute London (GHIL) was preceded by a half-day symposium focused on the personal testimonies of three people who had been key activists in the events leading up to the opening of the wall: nuclear physicist Sebastian Plugbeil, architect and green activist Reinhard Weisshuhn, and psychoanalyst and writer Annette Simon. There were two panels organised around the themes of the representation of East German history (chaired by historian Dorothee Wierling) and cultural memory (chaired by psychologist Jens Brockmeier). The website includes recordings from the two panels.

The exhibition at the Wissenschaftzentrum Berlin (WZB) was organized around portraits of the fifteen project participants which Molly Andrews commissioned from photographer Vaughan Melzer, which were displayed along with photographs of the individuals taken twenty+ years earlier – some by the Stasi – sourced along with original sound recordings from the Robert Havemann Gesellschaft, the archives of the East German citizens’ movement.

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