Passive Archives or Storages for Action? Storytelling Projects in Northern Ireland

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In the absence of a political agreement on an overall mechanism for dealing with the past in Northern Ireland, storytelling has become a prevalent mode of addressing the legacy of violent conflict. Adopting a historiographic approach, this paper opens up two related tracks of examination: one exploring the (ideally) more comprehensive and egalitarian approach to accessing the past found in storytelling projects, understood as forms of oral history; and the other considering the process of those stories being made into records, and the dynamics of the archive. Drawing on a qualitative study of two storytelling projects in Northern Ireland, the paper argues that the stories produced there are not only subjective accounts of the past and thus sources for studies of life during conflict, but are also significantly informed by contemporary policy and funding frameworks and thus are sources for the study of the present peace process. The contested realm in which both storytelling projects and archives operate condition how they are funded, assembled, described, opened and maintained in the process of which some stories may be privileged and others marginalised or subsumed [Brown, C. (2013) Memory, identity and the archival paradigm: introduction to the special issue, Archival Science, 13, pp. 85-93]. Adopting the idea that storytelling as a form of witnessing is also an ethico-political act [Kurasawa, F. (2009) A message in a bottle: bearing witness as a mode of transnational practice, Theory Culture Society, 26(1), pp. 92-111], the paper discusses what kind of discourses may be empowered by the online maintenance, and instant accessibility of memory in oral history archives. Crucially, the paper considers storytelling as a conduit for remembering, which is at once shaped by the absence of policies and legal frameworks, but also shapes subsequent policies to deal with the past as can be seen in the latest political accord, which includes it as a key approach.

Original languageEnglish
JournalIrish Political Studies
Pages (from-to)63-85
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2016


  • Northern Ireland
  • oral history
  • peace process
  • storytelling


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