Stories of Exclusivity and Exclusion

As part of a series of pieces developing the new Storytelling work, today i am considering how stories create exclusivity and can form part of exclusion.

I was given an award a couple of years ago: at the induction they spoke about an ‘exclusive’ list of winners, and i felt pretty good about it. I felt like i had earned my entry into this group, and the recognition felt like some validation of my work, as the choice was made by a committee.

This particular boundary, and my inclusion within the story, worked in my favour.

At other times, i have ended up on the wrong side of a boundary, and felt excluded.

Stories of unity by definition have a boundary, so to ‘include’ may inherently set up the notion of exclusion: i take this further in the work on Communities by saying that Communities are essentially entities of exclusion above all else. It’s possibly the one thing that they all have in common.

This process may not be passive: we can actively use stories to generate a sense of exclusivity – and this may at times have a benefit – but we can also actively use stories to exclude people – sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad ones, and sometimes unintentionally as a side effect.

Some stories create a space or community, or an identity, that we choose to be a part of – our membership of these spaces, or subscription to these stories, is willing.

Others are painted upon us, in ways that make it hard to escape their shadow.

This process of exclusion is not necessarily an aggressive act: taxonomies or categories, such as ‘new starter’, or ‘leader’, or ‘mother’ are inherently linked to stories, and hence to power and opportunity. Our desire to categorise, to understand structure, and relationship, may perpetuate outdated structures and relationships.

Possibly we need to seek an understanding of boundary conditions, membership criteria, the nature of the walls, and the tokens that get us through the gateway.

Some boundaries are fluid, others fixed, some membership is elective, other is imposed, some walls are opaque, others transparent, and some tokens are formally awarded by the organisation, whilst others are earned within community.

Reputation is a story: it’s socially awarded, fluid, transmissible through story, but also enveloping and potentially inescapable. Also highly contextual though.

Stories can be used powerfully to exclude and marginalise: stories about ethnic groups, about minority religions, about classes or castes. These stories can be stereotypes, or can paint malign intent upon a group.

In this sense, the story causes action: terrorism is an example, where kinetic effect may be small in absolute terms, whilst narrative effects may be extensive.

Culture is, itself, a story, or more specifically one master narrative and many individual stories, as well as varied collective ones. And the definition of ‘one’ culture by it’s nature is to the exclusion of others.

Through that lens, identity itself is exclusive: if you identify as a Mod, then you are not a Rocker.

Current embattled narratives around gender identity are a case of the social fluidity of stories: we are seeing some communities disaggregating biological indicators from socially moderated identity, so we end up with notions of gender as biology, or gender as self identity, and those two stories are not only potentially conflicted, but certainly emotive.

This is an evolving body of work around storytelling, shared as part of #WorkingOutLoud

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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