Ethnography is a deeply storied practice. Listening to people’s stories is how we learn to put ourselves in their shoes, and we tell and retell these stories in myriad forms, from traditional monographs and articles to multiple creative genres. But could our stories do more work, especially at a time of global concerns over entrenched political divisions, given the power of storytelling to foster empathy and build bridges across difference?
This experimental presentation combines performance ethnography with theoretical commentary: a story about Milena, a woman divided from her family over the Colombian peace process which sought to end fifty years of war, is followed by a theoretical discussion about the anthropologist’s role as storyteller in a politically divided world. It considers how everyday storytelling shapes politics, and calls for anthropologists to see stories as a political intervention. Milena’s story interpellates an audience of presumably global north-ish scholars, inviting them to consider how storytelling can polarise, but also build bridges, and to reflect more critically on the story of polarisation in their own societies. The creative format seeks to exemplify the very argument it makes: politics is based on stories, and storytelling is political. Dr Burnyeat presentation will be followed by a Q&A session.
Speaker bio: Dr Gwen Burnyeat is a Junior Research Fellow in anthropology at Merton College, University of Oxford. She is a political anthropologist, with a PhD from University College London and an MPhil from the National University of Colombia, has published two books on Colombia, The Face of Peace: Government Pedagogy amid Disinformation in Colombia (University of Chicago Press 2022) and Chocolate, Politics and Peace-Building: An Ethnography of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia (Palgrave Macmillan 2018) and is producer of award-winning ethnographic documentary Chocolate of Peace (2016). She won the 2023 Public Anthropologist Award and is a member of peacebuilding organisation Embrace Dialogue.