Arts-based methods for storylistening and storytelling with prisoners

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The presentation concerns applying dialogic, arts-based methods, which respect for multiple voices, collaboration and difference. In the presentation, I focus on how storytelling and listening to stories are integral to a dialogic process. In a dialogic perspective, meaning-making is unfinalizable - there is no “final word” (Bakhtin 1981).
Storytelling and issues of listening are exemplified through written texts produced by young prisoners, and subsequent reflexive narrative interviews I conducted at a Danish prison for youth. The texts are poetry and prose from a collaborate creative writing workshop, Wordquake in Prison. The texts were published in an edited book (Frølunde, Søgaard, and Weise 2016).
The analysis of texts and reflexive narrative interviews is inspired by arts-based, dialogic, narrative methods on the arts and storytelling (Cole and Knowles 2008; Reiter 2014; Boje 2001), storylistening in narrative medicine (DasGupta 2014), and aesthetic reflection on artistic expression in arts therapy and education. In my analysis, I explore active listening as in terms of reflection and revision of stories with the young prisoners. I reflect on the tensions involved in listening in a sensitive prison context.
Previous qualitative and narrative research carried out in prison highlights how to explore multiple voices or perspectives (Albertson 2015), and the value of listening to how stories address meaning-making and life stories in the given context of prison (Szczepanik and Siebert 2015). A well-known challenge of creative writing in prison is establishing trust in a group for peer reviews (Beasley 2015).
The discussion concerns perspectives on promoting active, dialogic listening. A primary issue for further research is how to address listening to stories as well as telling stories. Implications include how to design qualitative, arts-based approaches that are relevant in a prison context and, possibly, evaluation research. A UK-based 2005 meta-survey about the arts in the criminal justice sector confirms that the arts have “the capacity and potential… that can enhance and extend provision of educational, developmental and therapeutic programmes” (Hughes 2005: 9).
However, Hughes highlights that success is generated by responsiveness to local and specific contexts, rather than by standardizing models of arts practice.
A second issue for discussion is how to train context-sensitive listening in prisoners, teachers, researchers, etc. Possible ways are to promote formal exchanges and educational efforts within the arts and communication studies, such as through giving / getting aesthetic feedback to creative writing in peer reviews, and collaboration between prisoners and non-prisoners on film manuscripts, graphic novels etc. Inspiration includes the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program approach.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEuropean Congress of Qualitative Inquiry : Abstracts
Number of pages1
Place of PublicationLeuven
PublisherNetwork Qualitative Research KU Leuven
Publication date2 Feb 2017
Article numberPAP 141
Publication statusPublished - 2 Feb 2017
EventEuropean Congress of Qualitative Inquiry - KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Duration: 7 Feb 201710 Feb 2017


ConferenceEuropean Congress of Qualitative Inquiry
LocationKU Leuven
Internet address


  • prison
  • arts-based research
  • creative writing
  • storytelling
  • dialogic theory

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