Storytellers: Women crafting new knowing and better worlds

Wiessner, C.A. (2005). Storytellers: Women crafting new knowing and better worlds. Convergence, 38(4), 101-119.


This narrative study documents the benefits of using creative arts-based storytelling methods to engage adult learners who face histories of stalled educational achievement. The study focused on the methodologies employed by five women educators, termed “emancipator adult educators.” These women work to address social, economic and/or political issues within their communities, thus acting as facilitators of learning and agents for change. These women worked collaboratively with the researcher to document the value of utilizing art-based storytelling as a catalyst for change, while using these methods to transform their students’ views of themselves into one of educational success. The study found that storytelling can enhance community understanding and be a catalyst in realizing lasting social and political change.

Key Findings:

The study found that:

  • Storytelling can trigger imagination as a tool for envisioning change and can be a catalyst in realizing lasting social and political change.
  • Storytelling can be utilized to highlight connections and enhance the understanding of the community and the self.
  • Three significant dimensions emerged in the work of the educators:

Holistic and cyclical nature of narrative practices. While seemingly disparate initially, the findings showed that the educators’ purposes (emancipatory education moving toward social and political change and practices) were interrelated. The goals of the work influence the genre of story used.

Dialectics of blending narrative and analytic processes. Educators in this study blended narrative and analytic methods.

Dual-natured practice: Educators worked actively to shape culture, modeling how to move beyond limitations to make change.

The study unearthed a cyclical structure, which is inherent in the work of educators working as arts-based storytellers. The study stressed the importance of beginning any project with preliminary research that roots the project in a community’s history and moved on to emphasize analyzing the responses received after the presentation of a narrative in order to formulate action within the community, ultimately coming full circle and producing change in the community’s history.

  • This study demonstrated the importance of balancing the analytical aspects of the creative process in relation to the actual presentation and action to promote change.

Significance of the Findings:

This study emphasizes a multitude of benefits and applications for the use of art-based storytelling, as the collaborative production of knowledge within a community can lead to new insights and opportunities for participants. One of the most significant implications of these findings is that the reflective use of narrative processes has a wide range of applications, having the potential to bring about social change in a range of arenas. The accessibility of the art form, paired with its ability to engage and inspire an audience make it ideal for change initiatives.


This descriptive study investigated the practices of five female adult educator participants who use arts-based storytelling in their pedagogical process. The participants came from varied backgrounds. The researcher focused on the use of narrative inquiry in the collection of data and treated participants as co-researchers. This cooperative process took place over the course of 18 months. The researcher collected data through a series of interviews and observations, extensive field notes, and completed reflective writing after each session; and analyzed data through a qualitative coding process.

Limitations of the Research:

Though the researcher draws interesting parallels in the work of all of the participants, it is hard to know if these results would hold in a larger pool of educators. The study would benefit from the inclusion of more concrete examples of specific programs, exercises, or the outcomes of the work with students.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Do the findings hold true for other fields and cases? What specific characteristics of storytelling serve as catalysts to bring about social change in specific populations? How might storytelling techniques be utilized to engage students who have a history of disengagement in K-12 schools?