Storytelling as Social Change
Story-based strategy links movement building with an analysis of narrative power and places storytelling at the center of social change. Interested? Let's talk.
CSS' (formerly smartMeme) methodology draws from grassroots organizing, communications, media analysis, radical pedagogy, strategic campaigning and systems thinking.
In 2010, CSS co-founders, Doyle Canning and Patrick Reinsborough authored Re:Imagining Change, a groundbreaking publication that has become a go-to strategy manual for organizers and activists since its launch.
What is a Meme?
Memes are contagious ideas, stories, images, and rituals that spread from imagination to imagination, generation to generation, shaping and shifting human cultures.
Memes (rhymes with dreams) are capsules for larger stories. They are self-replicating cultural units. Ideas (“Fair Trade”), rituals (shaking hands) and symbols (the Nike swoosh or the peace sign) that spread virally from person to person are examples.
When we reproduce the meme, by using the phrase, discussing the idea, or replicating the ritual or symbol, we spread the story. Memes can of course be carriers for oppressive stories (like the myth of white supremacy) or become misleading sound byte packaging on complex systems (like the story of “better living through chemistry”). But memes are also an effective way for social movements to create a common story that unifies people to make change—“Think Globally, Act Locally” or “Black is Beautiful.”
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Narrative Power Analysis
CSS's (formerly smartMeme) work is grounded in a narrative analysis of power—a recognition that humans use stories to understand the world and our place in it. Stories are embedded with power— the power to explain and justify the status quo as well as the power to make change imaginable and urgent.
A narrative analysis of power encourages us to ask: Which stories define cultural norms? Where did these stories come from? Whose stories were ignored or erased to create these norms? And, most urgently, what new stories can we tell to help create the world we desire?