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Covid-19 and a narrative psychology of how the political became personal

A report from the 3rd UK Annual Political Psychology Conference

Kesi Mahendran

As the closing event of the 3rd UK Political Psychology Conference, we hosted a panel ‘Political Resistance and the Covid-19 Crisis’ which brought together an extraordinary group of narrative scholars all in some way connected to world-renown Centre for Narrative Research (CNR). CNR was co-founded by two scholars Molly Andrews and Corinne Squire over twenty years ago at the University of East London. Narrative psychology focuses on the role story telling plays in human life both in terms of how we are personally shaped by the stories we tell ourselves and how we shape collective life through our storytelling.

The aim of the roundtable, Molly Andrews explained, was simple – to start a conversation. The panel and audience were highly engaged and it soon became a salutary reminder of the importance of narrative psychology to the development of political psychology. Mark Freeman, the engaging author of several books including the book Hindsight, and the editor of the Oxford University Press book series – Explorations in Narrative Psychology, opened with a dedication to Elliot Mishler in CNR’s latest book – Stories Changing Lives – which had by chance landed on many panellists’ desks just that week.

The book is edited by Corinne Squire and in it she writes together with Elliot Mishler – perhaps one of his last pieces of writing. Elliot Mishler’s writing is known to me as political psychologist preoccupied with public dialogue - as the author of the foreword to a book – Writings for a Liberation Psychology which brought together the writings of social psychologist Ignacio-Martín-Baró after he was killed in 1989. Martín-Baró was killed partly because of the work being produced by the University Institute for Public Opinion research he founded in El Salvador. The term ‘the people’ according to Ignacio Martín-Baró, is “encircled by a progressive-subversive dynamic” (Martín-Baró, 1994.p.173). Mark Freeman’s dedication to Elliot Mishler framed the entire roundtable around a progressive morally engaged form of narrative inquiry. Setting the tone for the challenge of articulating political resistance when most of those around the table and in the audience were amid a devastating second wave of the coronavirus. We continue to be amidst a chronic pandemic narrative, which unhelpfully isn’t following the standard narrative arc of beginning, middle and end.

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