Parents do it, teachers do it, and even governments do it: telling stories to convey a message with the intent to influence and direct. ‘Dominant’ educative narratives must be transferred someway, some how. Tales, stories, and written accounts can do the job. It is no big revelation that what is conveyed in them is perspective related and value-laden – stories are definitely meant to influence. In doing so, they express power and establish a dominance relationship. Up to this point one could say this summarizes more or less what sociology of knowledge has revealed already (1): transferring knowledge (be it in education or elsewhere) is governed by power relations. It has been said numerous times by many, so revealing it here once more without annotation would just express another power relation (i.e., authorizing a truism on the Internet). Moving beyond the obvious would mean not only to admit the value-ladenness of what and how we communicate but in particular to stress the responsibilities that goes along with telling a particular story in that way. This holds both for whom who exerts power as well those under power. For the teller of a story it means to warrant and ground a perspective and state the intent for bringing up a message. For the receiver it means to claim opportunity to (re)value and appraise a story with regard to its nature, origin, and intent. In short: Conveying a message requires cognitive justice (2). This essentially means respecting each others integrity in holding certain beliefs and having consideration for conceptions being cherished, not overruling them by position or narrative force. Cognitive justice expresses the ethical nature of knowledge.
This became vividly exemplified in reading a Taiwanese study on children’s’ history books used during the Martial law period in Taiwan. Abundantly clearly shown in the study was the position expressed in the analyzed stories in favor of the nationalist’s position against mainland China. The study reveals how children were confronted with a dominant narrative in the strongest sense.
Was that bad to do, ethically speaking? Every story expresses an intention; why otherwise tell it. It is not the story to blame, stupid! In another context the story probably would ‘signify’ completely different meanings i.e., for mainland china readers or students of sociology of knowledge. This leaves us to look at the interpretations that are attributed by teller and listener; and actually to be more precise, the space between them in allowing for diversity in interpretation and meaning making. This is not to advocate that every story needs to be de-constructed to the bone (the message can be lost during the process) but to say that the intentional ‘meaning-making space’ created by storytelling needs to led by cognitive justice: the willingness on part of the power owner to respect the integrity of beliefs of the listener, i.e., the pupil, the one less in power. Led not by pushing down content but by giving credit to the listener in enabling to lift understanding. Storytelling, indeed, has layers to be respected (3).
Power Relations in Creating and Distributing Official Knowledge in Children’s Literature: Historical Picture of Taiwan by LIN-MIAO LU Kainan University Luzhu, Taiwan
Published in Curriculum Inquiry 44:5 (2014) 620-645; by The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto ; Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc www.doi: 10.1111/curi.12065