ABSTRACT As strategies for social change, feminist activities in the area of law and popular education both rely on the oppressed telling stories of their daily lives. Storytelling in these contexts represents different perceptions of reality that are intended as an opposition to established knowledge. Focusing primarily on popular education, the author describes how the uncritical reliance on stories has led to the failure in the classroom to acknowledge the risks taken by various oppressed groups when they attempt to critically reflect and build coalitions. Furthermore, stories have not in fact always been empowering. Without mechanisms to critique the stories, mixed sex, mixed race groups have been unable to identify political strategies and to determine effective political action. In order to speak and to listen across our various subject positions, and ultimately to act, the author argues that critical pedagogy has to pay attention to how we know, hence the context in which we tell and hear stories.
Her (story) remains irreducibly foreign to Him. The man can't hear it the way she means it. He sees her as victim, as unfortunate object of hazard. `her mind is confused,' he concludes. She views herself as the teller, the un-making subject... the moving force of the story. (Trinh, 1989a, p. 149)
For many of us who would describe ourselves as teaching for social change, storytelling has been at the heart of our pedagogy. In the context of social change story-telling refers to an opposition to established knowledge, to Foucault's suppressed knowledge, to the experience of the world that is not admitted into dominant knowledge paradigms. I have found story-telling to be central to strategies for social change in two apparently different sites: law and education. In law, there is now lively debate on "outsider jurisprudence", Mari Matsuda's useful phrase for "jurisprudence derived from considering stories from the bottom" (Matsuda, 1987, p. 2322). Story-telling is less new to critical educational theorists and practitioners but the emphasis in critical pedagogy on voices silenced through traditional education is now being met with calls to interrogate more closely the construction of subjectivity. That is, the complex ways in which relations of domination are sustained, lived and resisted call for a more careful examination of how we come to know what we know as well as how we work for a more just world across our various ways of knowing.
When we depend on story-telling either to reach each other across differences or to resist patriarchal and racist constructs, we must overcome at least one difficulty: the difference in position between the teller and the listener, between telling the tale and hearing it. Story-telling is all about subjectivity: often uncritically "understood as sentimental, personal and individual horizon as opposed to objective, universal, societal, limitless horizon; often attributed to women, the other of man, and natives, the other of the west" (Trinh, 1989b, p. 373). When, for instance, the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, a quasi-governmental organisation, collects the stories of immigrant women with a view to their publication, one suspects that it is the sentimental, personal and the individual that is being sought after. To what uses will these stories be put? Will someone else take them and theorise from them? Will they serve to reassure everyone that Canada really is diverse, full of folklore? Who will control how they are used? Will immigrant women tell a particular kind of story in a forum they do not control? Such dilemmas are evident wherever story-telling is used.
In this article, I propose to situate my introductory comments in the context of story-telling in law, leaving the central part of the paper for a consideration of story-telling and critical pedagogy. I want to suggest, from the perspective of a popular educator who also works in academe doing legal research, that there are land mines strewn across the path wherever story-telling is used, that it should never be used uncritically and that its potential as a tool for social change is remarkable provided we pay attention to the moral vision that underpins how we hear and take up the stories of oppressed groups. Story-telling in Law
Law relies on a positivist conception of knowledge. That is, there is a straight line between the knower and the known. In law, judges and juries discover the truth from the array of information put before them. There is only one objective truth and it is empirically provable. Reason features prominently and emotion is ruthlessly banished. The rule of law is "the consistent application of prior stated rules", a process theoretically uninformed by politics or ethics (Massaro, 1989, p. 2099). Story-telling in law, then, is an intellectual movement that is "a rebellion against abstractions" (p. 2099). Its purpose is to interrogate the space between the knower and the thing known; its function is one of putting the context back into law. Scheppele (1989) writes of the conceptual scheme of the observer that stands between him or her and the event. Story-telling is a theoretical attention to narrative, to the nature and consequences of this conceptual scheme. Concretely, it is an interrogation of how courts come to convert information into fact, how judges, juries and lawyers come to `objectively' know the truth: "Those whose stories are believed have the power to create fact" (Scheppele, 1989, p. 2079).
Legal rules and conventions suppress the stories of outsider groups. The fiction of objectivity, for example, obscures that key players in the legal system have tended to share a conceptual scheme. Thus judges who do not see the harm of rape or of racist speech are considered to be simply interpreting what is before them. They are not seen to possess norms and values that derive directly from their social location and that are sustained by such practices as considering individuals outside of their social contexts. Stories of members of marginalised groups must therefore "reveal things about the world that we ought to know" (Delgado, 1990, p. 95). They are "a means of obtaining the knowledge we need to create a just legal structure" (Matsuda, 1989, p. 2326). Matsuda argues forcefully that those who have experienced discrimination speak with a special voice to which we should listen" (Matsuda, 1987, p. 324). Stories, in the context of law, bring feeling back and they tend to work from experiential understanding. (Massaro, 1989, p. 2105). How this happens in a court-room is clear from feminist jurisprudence.
Feminists working in law describe for the court's benefit the nature of women's oppression and then make an argument that policies and practices that perpetuate that oppression ought to be declared illegal. (In Canada, section 15, the equality rights section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is usually invoked in support.) The Women's legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), formed in 1985, is one of the major groups developing and making this argument in Canadian courts (Razack, 1991). The challenge has been to bring into the courtroom details about women's daily lives in a forum constructed to negate or silence such realities. For instance, Western law functions on the basis of liberalism where the individual is thought to be an autonomous, rational self, essentially unconnected to other selves and dedicated to pursuing his or her own interests. To present an individual in her community, and further, to describe that community as LEAF has done as "the disadvantaged, the disempowered, the marginalized" is to pose a fundamental challenge to legal discourse. The individual in her community is less empirically provable, and courts are inordinately fond of empirical proof.
Feminists working in law theorise on the nature of the challenge they pose to law's `truth'. Robin West, for instance, sees the process as one of telling women's stories. Thus feminism applied to law consists of flooding "the market with our own stories until we get one simple point across: men's narrative story and phenomenology is not women's story and phenomenology" (West, 1988, p. 70). An example of this kind of flooding is the defence mounted by the Federation of Women Teachers of Ontario when they found themselves in court defending their right to exist as a women-only teachers' union. The Federation argued that women were and are an oppressed group and that in this specific context, a mixed sex union would only perpetuate that oppression. The men teachers' federation who supported the challenge to the Federation's right to exist as an all-female institution maintained that women teachers are equal in every way to men teachers; a mixed sex union would serve all teachers best. Whereas the side arguing for a mixed union only felt obliged to point to the collective agreement as proof of equality between men and women, the Federation enlisted the aid of over 20 women, experts in women's history, women's studies, women's unions etc. to flood the court with information about the past and daily lives of women in general and women teachers in particular. For instance, Dale Spender was asked to testify on her research that men dominate in mixed sex groupings. Joy Parr, a Canadian historian, gave evidence that historically Canadian women have had to fight to protect their rights. Management studies testified that `the routines of inequality' blocked women's advancement. Principals, for instance, had to have training in curriculum studies, which one could only get after school, a time when most women shouldered family responsibilities. At times, the tale became highly subjective, as when Sylvia Cold, then president of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women testified that she felt that the Federation had directly influenced the creation of women leaders. At other times, details about women came into the court-room in full scientific dress. Margrit Eichler, a sociology professor, quantified inequality for the court's benefit and then measured the Federation by 20 indices of inequality. Her conclusion: the Federation advanced women's interests.
For feminists working in law, story-telling has always been particularly seductive; women's stories have not been told. Until recently, there has been little concern with the difficulties that arise from an uncritical use of stories. There are two features of story-telling in law that bear mentioning. First, how are the stories going to be received? Can the Man hear it the way she means it? This is particularly evident in the court-room when the story has to do with violence against women, a story that heavily implicates men. A second problem is that one cannot be ambiguous or contradictory when playing this kind of game in a court of law, given the power of law's positivism. The stories are being told to make a particular point and they are being heard in a particular way. It will not be possible to squeeze all the realities of daily life into this framework; some realities are distorted to the point of their being unrecognisable. Canadian Native women in prisons, for instance, are currently wondering if their stories of oppression are `translatable' for the court's benefit.
Indeed, story-telling as a methodology in the context of law can lead very quickly into dichotomies and generalisations that make it difficult to describe the intersections of race, class, gender and disability. Is the search for facts, Carrie Menkel Meadow, a feminist lawyer asks, "a feminine search for context and the search for legal principles a masculine search for certainty and abstract rules?" (Menkel Meadow, ] 985, p. 49). Gender, uncontaminated by race, class, disability or sexual orientation is the prism through which daily life is viewed and differences among women fit awkwardly into the story. When gender is constructed in its pure form, i.e. uncontaminated by race or class or culture, Norma Alarcon has pointed out, the woman thus imagined names herself; her culture, race or class do not name her. Thus, ironically, she remains the old, autonomous liberal self, only female; another abstraction (Alarcon, 1990, p. 357).
Concerns about the "coercive power of stories" (Scheppele, 1989, p. 2077) and thus about how they are used and the uses to which they are put have troubled legal scholars working on race critiques of law. Toni Massaro, for instance, has reflected on the consequences of an unproblematic call for stories and context, identifying one important difficulty: in the end, law has to privilege one story over another. A judge has to choose and it is not so much his understanding that is required as certain actions. Furthermore, given the fact that most judges continue to come from dominant groups, they are unlikely to be able to empathise with marginalised groups. In any event, in the area of discrimination, for instance, Massaro points out, empathy is not the ultimate goal. It is not enough to try to find ways to communicate to the judge that discrimination is hurtful. It is equally necessary to convince him or her that an action is morally wrong and requires legal sanction. Massaro suggests that how we hear different stories is therefore dependent on the moral code with which we function (Massaro, 1989, 2127). While we experience many unpleasant things, only some are considered both morally reprehensible and `actionable' in law. Justice is all about drawing the boundaries between wrong and right.
Mari Matsuda's work on legal sanctions for racist speech provides a careful reflection on how we might evaluate the stories of victims from the basis of what we as a society consider to be morally wrong. Arguing that a "legal response to racist speech is a statement that victims of racism are valued members of our polity" (Matsuda, 1989, p. 2322), Matsuda grapples with the complexities of how we decide whose perspectives to take into account in determining the kinds of racist speech that require legal sanction. She notes, for instance, that the typical reaction of oppressed groups to an incident of racist propaganda is alarm and calls for redress whereas the typical reaction of dominant groups is denial and dismissal of the incident as a harmless prank (Matsuda, 1989, p. 2327). Denial of the impact of this form of racism helps to sustain the view that censorship of racist hate messages is a greater harm than the harm of the messages themselves. If we listened to the voices of those harmed by racist propaganda, however, basic principles would emerge that help us to assess the context in which racist speech occurs. Victims of racism make clear that racism must be fought on all levels and that their lives would be improved by an explicit legal condemnation of racist speech.
One immediate criticism of the position that we ought to listen to the voices of the oppressed in determining what is and is not just is, as Matsuda herself observes, the sorting out of who is oppressed and who is not. Anticipating such critics, Matsuda directs us to examine such social indicators as wealth, mobility, comfort, health, and survival which tell us which groups have status. She allows for the fact that oppressed groups participate in each other's oppression but claims that racist speech from a member of a historically subjugated group is not to be judged as harshly as racist speech from a member of a dominant group. The former's racism "is tied to the structural domination of another group" (Matsuda, 1989, p. 2362). A member of a historically subjugated group forfeits this privilege when she allies herself to the dominant group (Matsuda, 1989, p. 2364). Clearly, deciding which voices to privilege in law is enormously complicated and relies not only on our being able to thread our way through historical domination but also on the clarity of our moral vision. The alternatives, however, are to ignore the voices of marginalised groups or to accept them uncritically. This latter option would leave us with no way of evaluating the difference between zionism and generic white supremacy, to use Matsuda's example. We would have no guidelines for assessing the context in which stories originate.