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Narratives of Self & Society: Writing Life Stories for Change

This self-paced class, offered through the Transformative Language Arts Network, guides you in a step-by-step process of personal and social inquiry for the purpose of generating compelling life stories for change. We will work with autoethnography — a self-reflective/reflexive approach to studying personal life experiences as a means to illuminate social realities, reveal structural inequalities, and bring cultural nuances to the forefront of our work. Notable for the healing and transformative qualities of the process, autoethnography offers a way to explore the complex constellation of privileges and disadvantages unique to each of us.

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Each unit includes guided instruction through a podcast lecture, selected readings about autoethnography as well as examples of these types of texts, and provocative videos related to that unit's theme. You will have the opportunity to focus in on a particular writing project which you will develop throughout the 10 units, beginning with brainstorming ideas for your project and culminating in a fully-developed autoethnography. Through intriguing self-reflective activities and inspiring creative prompts, you will generate a robust new body of writing and ideas for future life-story projects.

Week by Week

Unit 1: Stories of Self & Society
We come to understand autoenthnography as both a self-reflective/reflexive process and a creative work motivated by social change.

Unit 2: The Complexity of Identity
We explore the concept of intersectionality, it's relationship to autoethnography, and how to employ it as a framework for self-reflection and creating compelling life stories.

Unit 3: Our Voices in Context
We inquire into the relationship between voice, power, privilege, and change.

Unit 4: Memory & Experience
We analyze our personal experiences and memories to create compelling and effective life stories for change.

Unit 5: Truth-Telling, Authenticity, & Ethics
We explore notions of truth-telling and authenticity in our life stories as well as ethical consideration related to privacy and representing othering in our life stories.

Unit 6: Stories of Home & Family
Our inquiry focus on family — our relationships, customs, rituals, and the meaning of home.

Unit 7: Observations: Writing Places & Locations
We practice our observation skills while writing about meaningful places and locations.

Unit 8: Learning from the Experience of Others
We work with interviewing strategies, information gathering techniques, and learning from perspectives that differ from our own.

Unit 9: Audiences, Genre, & the Meanings of Change
We consider that writing for change means specifically for you and your stories, explore audiences, and play with genre.

Unit 10: Bringing it All Together into a Cohesive Whole
We learn ways to bring all of your information together, looking for themes between your personal experience, interviews and/or research, and observations to create story for change.

Autoethnography the study of self and culture.

Writing Project Development Overview

Throughout the 10 units, you will be guided through a step-by-step process for creating evocative, autoethnographic life stories for personal and social transformation. Here's is an overview of the process.

  • Step 1: Getting Started

  • Step 2: Focusing In on a Topic

  • Step 3: Using a Question to Guide Your Inquiry

  • Step 4: Analyzing Personal Experience

  • Step 5: Researching the Past, Considering the Present

  • Step 6: Reflecting on Community & Ritual

  • Step 7: Creating a Sense of Place in Writing

  • Step 8: Gathering & Integrating Different Perspectives 

  • Step 9: Clarifying Your Main Points

  • Step 10: Crafting Your Story for Change

Who Should Take This Class

This class is appropriate for those with any amount of experience writing life stories, from those who are interested in learning more and might be a bit nervous about it, to writers with years of experience who want to generate new work and explore how writing can be a positive force for change. It is beneficial for transformative language artists of all kinds, social justice activists, critical educators, organizational leaders, and those interested in the relationship between the writing of life experiences and the social forces that shape them.

To go on living I have to tell stories. Dorothy Alison


This is a self-paced online class. By self-paced, we mean that you do this class on your own without interacting with the teacher or a cohort group, and according to your own schedule, allowing you to engage with the material on your own timeline. Each unit is full of resources, reflections, discussion questions, and writing prompts. Students should expect to spend 4-7 hours per unit perusing resources and readings and engaging in several writing prompts (although with so much material and so many writing prompts, students can certainly spend more time revisiting each unit to find more inspiration and ideas).