On October 13 2016 Sydney University Department of Political Economy, together with the Department of Anthropology, hosted a seminar with renown scholar and newly appointed Professor of The Department of Political Economy,  Sujatha Fernandes on the ‘political economy of storytelling’, which will be further developed in her forthcoming book, Curated Stories: How Storytelling is Hindering Social Change, Oxford University Press, 2017.

The thrust of this seminar coincides with themes explored in 1001 Nights in Fairfield, in which liberating stories of escape and survival from Iraqi refugees in Western Sydney are combined with fictional stories from the famous story cycle, 1001 Nights, centred on the coercive pressure on the central character Scheherazade to tell a story to survive her murderous husband.

Sujatha and Zanny were friends while university students and this forum highlighted a interesting convergence between their fields of research and interest. Sujatha’s lecture provides a fascinating limit to the enthusiasm for story telling that has proliferated across cultural practices by exploring the ways in which its empowering possibilities can also be harnessed by neo-liberal agendas.

As the abstract for the forum outlines:

In the contemporary era we have seen a proliferation of storytelling activities, from the phenomenon of TED talks and Humans of New York to a plethora of story-coaching agencies and consultants. My talk, based on my forthcoming book, seeks to understand the rise of this storytelling culture alongside a broader shift to neoliberal free market economies. Suturing together a Foucaultian account of neoliberal reason with Marxian and Gramscian accounts of class formation, I develop a concept of the political economy of storytelling. I discuss how in the turn to free market orders, stories have been reconfigured to promote entrepreneurial self-making and are restructured as easily digestible soundbites mobilized toward utilitarian ends. In my talk, I examine an online women’s creative writing project sponsored by the US State Department in Afghanistan as an example of how stories can be drawn into soft power strategies of imperial statecraft in the context of military intervention. But I also conclude with some reflections on how we can find a way beyond curated storytelling, with a discussion of the Mision Cultura storytelling workshops in Venezuela.

To access a podcast of the seminar, reposted with permission, click here.