Tales of Resistance and Other Emancipatory Functions of Storytelling

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Aim: This paper is the report of a study to explore how the process of storytelling might facilitate women’s emancipatory knowing, using examples from women’s breastfeeding stories.

Background: Storytelling, as an interactive process, can give women a way to explain pivotal life events, justify choices, examine reality and find meaning in experiences. Emancipatory functions of storytelling have been identified as contextual grounding, bonding with others, validating and affirming experiences, venting and catharsis, resisting oppression and educating others.

Method: Secondary data analysis was conducted in 2008 on breastfeeding stories originally gathered from 13 women from 2002 to 2004 for a feminist hermeneutic study of maternal breastfeeding confidence. The stories were re-examined through the lens of the emancipatory functions of storytelling. Illustrations of contextual grounding, validating and affirming experiences, venting and catharsis and acts of resistance were found in the breastfeeding stories and presented as exemplars of emancipatory knowing.

Findings: Women revealed the difficulties they encountered breastfeeding, transforming these experiences as they discovered their meaning. They described collisions that occurred when personal, familial, healthcare professionals’ or cultural expectations differed from their experience. The stories suggested possible liberation from old ideologies about breastfeeding as women redefined the difficulties they encountered.

Conclusion: Storytelling has potential as a simple, yet profound, and powerful emancipatory intervention which nurses can use to help women in their care make sense of and transform experiences of health and illness. Storytelling may have global implications for nursing practice and research.

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Journal of Advanced Nursing

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