I have just re-read something I wrote in May - an attempt to pithily summarise 'the main point' of my research - my main, kernel finding. Here it is for your edification!
I start from the position that young people benefit from genuine, ‘I-Thou’ dialogue with caring adults, that adults are enriched by such open-ended encounter with adolescents, but that this is difficult to achieve in institutional settings. Thus different means of communication are needed from those used habitually in institutions and this is where I believe story enters.
The sparseness of story makes it inherently responsive to context, in that it requires ‘rehydration’ in each setting, transposition to the chronotope and particular context of each telling. The storyteller must, however, be sparing and leave gaps for the listeners to stitch the story to their own experience.
As the storyteller can only call on her own experiential vocabulary to perform this delicate task, and the listeners can only call on theirs to fill in the gaps, and these two processes are often simultaneous and reflexive, what results is a dialogue ‘in another room’ between their respective knowledges. This ‘other room’ is a bounded place in which different discourses can be accommodated and then orchestrated, by both the storyteller and other participants; thus the boundaries of discourses and the existence of alternatives can be more clearly seen, and there can be negotiation to create new meanings and (imperfectly) shared understandings. The story-world is also a place where all present can operate on a higher and roughly equal plane of understanding, because of the innate human tendency to think in narrative.
The muscles being exercised are those of developing a responsible discourse of causalities, of recognising the ultimate unfathomability of the world while assuming the role of one who can help to shape it with others.
This ‘other room’, the story-world, is an inter-subjective place where no-one’s knowledge is sufficient and everyone’s is necessary, thus not even the storyteller can know her way around at the outset, nor can she have preordained goals for what should happen there. While the institution’s goals may infiltrate, they are present usually only to the extent that one or more parties allow them in.
Moreover, the story-world is a place no-one can be forced to enter, or to stay in once there, and the ultimate dampener of the storyteller’s hubris is the onus on her to ask the listeners for the gift of their listening. Thus there will be many occasions when there is no meeting of ‘I’ and ‘Thou’, no real dialogue, sometimes because listeners are not disposed to listen. On other occasions, failure will result because the storyteller puts her blinkers on and navigates the story-world using her own pre-planned route, or seeks to bind listeners into it against their will.