Shape Stops Story
Narrative, Vol. 15, No. 1, January 2007
13 Pages Posted: 5 May 2008
Storytelling and resistance are powerful tools of both lawyering and individual identity, as I argue in this brief essay published in Narrative as part of a dialogue on disability, narrative, and law with Rosemarie Garland-Thompson and Ellen Barton. Garland-Thompson's work shows us the life-affirming potential of storytelling, its role in shaping disability identity, and its role in communicating that identity to the outside world. By contrast, Barton powerfully shows how those same life-affirming narratives can force a certain kind of storytelling, can create a mandate to tell one story and not another. In short, Barton reminds us of the need to respect other kinds of stories.
The clinical lawyering pedagogy of Jean Koh-Peters and the late Kathleen Sullivan demonstrated a parallel dialectic. Koh-Peters urged aspiring lawyers to use a storytelling approach as the best way both to empower clients - who often want their stories told in court - and to represent their interests before decision-makers who respond to compelling narratives. Sullivan, by contrast, encouraged a resistance approach to advocacy. She helped her law students see that their clients in a clinic on Advocacy for Parents and Children had been forced to reveal the private details of their lives far more than most Americans, and thus that resisting state intrusion was an important part of the advocate's role.
Ultimately, these perspectives - on law and identity - alert us not only to the importance of telling new stories, and of telling challenging stories, but also to the occasional, yet vital, need to stop the stories. They call our attention to the overlooked moment when identity shapes itself by resisting the demand to tell stories.
Keywords: disability, identity, narrative, lawyering, disability law
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