Thursday, December 2, 2010

Richard Delgado – "Storytelling for Oppositionists and Others: A Plea for Narrative" – article review and summary


In his 1989 subversive article "Storytelling for Oppositionists and Others: A Plea for Narrative" Richard Delgado holds that a story is not always just a story, but rather a function which creates order and coherency and which manifests a certain meaning, thus being a shared reality experience of a group, and in fact forming that group. The linkage between narrative and group identity, especially out-groups, turns for Delgado the field of social politics into an arena of competing stories, different accounts of the same reality. A story, the argument goes, has a sort of double function. On the one hand Delgado argues that oppression is not just a statutory or social matter, but rather something that has to do with mindset and a a perception which are manifested in narratives, meta- and sub-, designed to justify in the eyes of the ruling class and group the situation as it is, a narrative that they impose and coerce on other groups in order to fend off any attempts for change. On the other hand stories can subvert dominant narratives and be a means of deconstructing ruling mindsets. In other words, stories create a shred reality and agreement, and so do counter-stories that serve as cohesion for out groups.   

In "Storytelling for Oppositionists and Others: A Plea for Narrative" Richard Delgado uses five stories which relate to the same event in which a black professor is denied a teaching position in a white-dominated faculty. It is clear for Delgado that the same object can be described in different way, but for him the same goes for the co-structuring of different objects and the perception of events' meaning. Accordingly, moral judgments are found in a state of constant under-determination in relation to reality. Telling reality is in fact creating it, and Delgado argues that "we decide what is, and, almost simultaneously, what ought to be." (p.292).

  Delgado analyses how stories pick and choose facts in order to depict a clear image of a otherwise ambiguous course of events. Stories are not only manifested by the things they note and the questions they answer, but also by what is left out and the questions that are not asked. Delgado shows how the story of the in-groups (the white professor) is designed to quell criticism and reassure that everything is the way it ought to be. On the other hand a report of the same story, as it were, by a different party (the black candidate) can offer a completely different account which destabilizes the agreed upon narrative and reveals its problems through different details, emphasis and organization that turn against the standard narrative's guiding logic. The court's narrative, on the other hand, uses a factual screen to determine which details will make its narrative and codes them into law lingo the works to disarm them. Delgado's fourth story in "an authentic counterstory" by a radical student which confronts the system directly and bluntly, this in turn allowing for the accused to fend off and cancel the content of the story on account of its form and context. Where the direct assault failed an anonymous leaflet narrating and pseudo-imaginary story invites postponement of judgment and cooperation with it, thus managing to infiltrate and subvert the ruling narrative.

So Richard Delgado argues that stories can be means in the hands of out-groups to challenge the mindset which is the source of their oppression. Delgado explains the all might benefit from giving voice to such narratives: the oppressed by asserting their reality and oppressors by meeting these challenges and developing towards a shared narrative. 

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