Storytelling has always captivated the human imagination, connecting us across time and cultures. It is an ancient art form that transcends boundaries and allows us to make sense of the world. While anthropologists and social scientists are renowned for their analytical prowess, their training to tell compelling stories, especially for public audiences, is often lacking.
To remedy this, we created a free self-paced online course called Anthropologists on the Public Stage (anthrocurious.com/pub) that provides a foundation for crafting and promoting your ideas for general audiences. One of the major themes throughout is how to tell your story. In this blog post, I build on this theme and explore the importance of storytelling in anthropology and provide tips for unleashing the power of narrative.
Storytelling serves as an essential bridge between researchers and the public, bringing anthropological insights to an expansive audience. This is often achieved through sharing the stories of others, such as our research participants or customers struggling with a problem. But sometimes we aren’t sure what story to tell, or how to structure a narrative, especially when starting out in storytelling. The good news is regardless of the subject, there are key elements that make up a story.
Here’s an exercise that can be helpful for thinking through a successful story: practice mapping or blocking out the story of the researcher. To provide some inspiration and guidance on what to consider when crafting a story, I suggest two fictional researcher narratives broken into key elements including audience analysis, storytelling techniques, character development, setting description, tension building, and resolution.
Story 1: The Anthropologist’s Journey
Title: “Uncovering Lost Cultures: A Journey Through Time”
Audience: General audience interested in history and culture
Description: This story follows the journey of Dr. Maya Patel, an anthropologist specializing in ancient civilizations, as she travels to remote regions of the world to uncover lost cultures. The story includes vivid descriptions of the fascinating landscapes and people she meets along the way.
Elements to consider:
- Audience analysis: Understanding the audience’s interest in history and culture, the story focuses on the ancient civilization angle to capture their attention.
- Storytelling techniques: Using narrative storytelling, the story takes readers on a journey with Dr. Patel, allowing them to experience her excitement and discoveries firsthand.
- Character development: Dr. Patel’s passion and dedication to uncovering hidden histories are emphasized, making her a relatable and inspiring protagonist.
- Setting description: Detailed descriptions of the landscapes, ruins, and people add depth and context to the story, transporting the audience to these ancient civilizations.
- Tension building: Dr. Patel encounters challenges such as language barriers, difficult terrain, and cultural differences, adding suspense and intrigue to the narrative.
- Resolution: The story concludes with Dr. Patel’s significant findings and the impact they have on our understanding of human prehistory, leaving the audience with a sense of wonder and appreciation for the importance of anthropological research.
Story 2: Anthropology for Social Impact
Title: “Breaking Barriers: An Anthropologist’s Journey to Social Change”
Audience: Socially conscious general audience interested in societal issues
Description: This story follows the journey of Alex Thompson, an anthropologist dedicated to understanding and addressing social inequalities. The story highlights Thompson’s efforts to break down barriers and create positive change in a specific community.
Elements to consider:
- Audience analysis: The story targets a socially conscious general audience interested in societal issues, focusing on a specific community to make the content relatable.
- Storytelling techniques: Using a combination of personal anecdotes and case studies, the story weaves together individual stories to create a broader narrative of social change.
- Character development: Thompson’s empathy, passion, and commitment to social justice are showcased, making them a compelling and inspiring protagonist.
- Setting description: Detailed descriptions of the community, its challenges, and the individuals within it help the audience connect emotionally to the story.
- Tension building: The story highlights the obstacles and resistance faced by Thompson in his pursuit of social change, creating empathy and a desire for resolution.
- Resolution: The story concludes with the positive impact Thompson’s work has had on the community, showcasing the power of sociological research in driving social change.
As you can see, storytelling is not about getting every detail nailed down out the gate. This narrative technique helps prospective storytellers get a handle on the contours of their story, providing a foundation to build off of and play with.
Storytelling in anthropology is crucial. It empowers anthropologists to bridge the gap between researchers and the public, and in driving positive change, will make a lasting impression on your readers.
If this blogpost piques your curiosity, I highly recommend you check out our free self-guided video course Anthropologists on the Public Stage. And if you want to deep dive with experts and hone your skills, and get feedback on your projects, we are hosting an October 2023 course called “Anthropologists on the Public Stage Live” in partnership with AAA. Over four weeks, you’ll work with the creators to develop your story and come away with a media engagement plan designed to increase your influence and impact. Join us as we explore the exciting world of anthropology and storytelling for creating a better world.