Professionalized movement organizations today rely on outside expertise in fundraising, recruitment, lobbying, management, and public messaging. We argue that the risks that accompany that development have less to do with experts’ mixed loyalties to the movement than with the tendency of expert discourse to remake political problems into technical ones, thereby obscuring the dilemmatic choices movement groups must make. We focus on expert discourse around personal storytelling, a strategy that has become popular for raising funds, advocating for policy, and building public support. Our interviews with activists and consultants and content analysis of stories they rated as successful point to an expert discourse that emphatically rejects “victim” storytelling. Instead, activists are instructed to tell stories of hope and resilience, avoid referring to the graphic details of abuse, and only hint at their emotional pain. Experts justify these strategies as the best way to avoid exploiting storytellers, and only coincidentally as also appealing to audiences. However, we argue that, rather than superseding the tension between empowering movement participants and persuading those outside the movement, storytelling as currently practiced has reproduced that tension.
PERSONAL STORYTELLING IN PROFESSIONALIZED SOCIAL MOVEMENTS*
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Francesca Polletta, Tania DoCarmo, Kelly Marie Ward, Jessica Callahan; PERSONAL STORYTELLING IN PROFESSIONALIZED SOCIAL MOVEMENTS. Mobilization: An International Quarterly 1 March 2021; 26 (1): 65–86. doi: https://doi.org/10.17813/1086-671X-26-1-65
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