Date of Degree

6-2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor

Jason VanOra

Subject Categories

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Keywords

storytelling, gender stories, narrative inquiry, neuroplasticity, empathy

Abstract

This paper explores the potential of personal narrative in promoting empathy-based social change. It begins with the premise that humans are storytelling animals; we use narrative to make sense of the self and the world around us. Moreover, when stories are shared, a kinship is created between storyteller and listener based on the empathic response between the two. After reviewing the literature on both the value of narrative inquiry in psychological research and the science regarding the effect of stories on the brain, I propose a story exchange methodology that I believe could be used to increase empathic understanding around issues of gender. Scholarship on gender suggests that the socially constructed gender binary promotes essentialism and limiting hegemonic norms as well as mythologizing the perceived innate differences that separate us by gender. This paper explores the potential of story exchange to blur or dismantle the gender binary towards realizing a common humanity. Reflecting on the collective evidence presented in this paper, I argue that experiencing someone’s story, through which one can imagine being in the other’s place, has the potential to effect change on an interpersonal and larger scale through increased empathy and understanding.

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