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Collective narrative practices

in response to trauma

David Denborough
Dulwich Centre Foundation
Introducing key principles through
example of working with an individual in an
isolated context how can collective
narrative practices be used in this context?
Collective documentation of skills and
Linking storylines and songlines
Tree of Life: an approach to working with
vulnerable children
Key principles:
To find a way to richly acknowledge the
real effects of the hardship/abuse
To listen for double-storied accounts
storyline of hardship AND storyline of what
people give value to (responses to
hardship, skills and knowledge)
To link lives and experiences to some sort
of collective
To enable individuals, groups,
communities to make a contribution to the
lives of others
Nine years old, nine years young

Nine years old

Nine years young
First locked up in a boys home
40 years on
Looking back now
I dont know how that kid survived
Was just life at nine
Just had to adapt
Just had to cope
Find ways to get by in the institution
They did things to him
He did not want to do
He knew it was wrong
He knew it then
When he was nine years old
Nine years young
First locked up in a boys home
40 years on
Looking back now
I dont know how that kid survived
Was just life at nine

He knew he had to keep it quiet

Make sure his parents did not know
But 40 years on its time for speaking
He knows
To conceive of the person/people meeting
with us as representing a social issue
To enable the person/people to join a
collective endeavour in addressing, in
some local way, this social issue
To enable people to speak through us not
just to us
1. The name of a special skill, knowledge,
practice or value that gets you or your family
through hard times
2. A story about this skill, knowledge, practice or
value, a time it made a difference to you or
3. The history of this skill, knowledge, practice or
value: how long has this been with you, who
did you learn it from/with?
4. Is this linked in some way to collective
traditions (familial/community) and/or cultural
traditions? Are their proverbs, sayings,
stories, songs, images from your family,
community and/or culture with which these
skills and knowledges are linked?
Ibuka: Remember
National association of genocide
survivors in Rwanda
the invention of unity in diversity
Paulo Freire (1994, p.157)

Pedagogy of hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the oppressed.

New York: Continuum.
communitas Victor Turner
a shared sense of unity among
individuals which
preserve individual distinctiveness
is not a merging in fantasy
do not depend on in-group versus out-
group opposition

Turner, V. (1969). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure.

New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Producing and documenting a social
memory of resistance and sustenance:

They will remember that we were sold

but they wont remember that we were
strong. They will remember that we
were bought, but not that we were

William Prescott
Listening for the shared values,
the self-transcending ideals, that
are implicit within survivors
expressions of anguish
Noticing and acknowledging
ways in which survivors have
carried on these ideals
Making it possible for
survivors to name these
shared ideals
Inviting survivors to tell stories
about the social histories of these
ideals, where they come from,
and with whom they are shared
Creating contexts in which
survivors can contribute to the
perpetuation of these shared
Yia Marra: Good stories
that make spirits strong
The Tree of Life
approach: born
from a
between REPSSI
and Dulwich
Centre Foundation
and between
Ncazelo Ncube &
David Denborough
Key principles:

* Riverbank position
* People always respond
* Implicit in responses are skills,
abilities and special knowledges
* There is always a social history to
* Rich story development
Part One
- Drawing a Tree of Life
- Riverbank position
Roots: Where we come from
rich textual heritage
Where we live, what we do each day
Trunk: Our skills, values
- what people value/care about
- think collectively
- through the eyes of others
- trace the histories
- rich stories
Our hopes, dreams & wishes
- combination of big hopes and
- self, family, community
- hopes have a history (trace them!)
Leaves: Those who are special
to us
- Alive or no longer living
What those special people have
given to us

Gifts we wish to give to others
Part Two: Forest of life
- Moving from individual to
Part Three: The storms of life
- Collective disclosure
- Externalising the problem
Part Four: Celebration,
certificates & song
Enabling contribution
Dulwich Centre Foundation

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