It is my story!

In a debate people don't just trade information. They express their beliefs and values and aim to persuade other people to think or act in certain ways. Often, they resort to autobiographical and personally significant stories featuring their experiences to argue for or against a controversial claim.

This project aims at investigating the multiple roles of stories and in particular their roles in sustaining our sense of agency, providing a sense of belonging, and functioning as evidence in an argument.

Here are some of the research questions I plan to address:

  • In what circumstances is a personal story a good piece of evidence for a general claim?
  • Do stories contributing to debates about health and about politics have a special significance, and how do they shape our identities?
  • What skills do we need to assess stories, and what criteria should stories be assessed against?
  • Can we respond to stories with an attitude that encompasses simultaneously compassion for the storyteller's predicament and critical distance from the story as evidence?
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Open access paper by Lisa Bortolotti and Anneli Jefferson.

The Power of Stories

Autobiographical stories do not merely offer insights into someone’s experience but can constitute evidence or even serve as self-standing arguments for a given viewpoint in the context of public debates. Such stories are likely to exercise considerable influence on debate participants’ views and behaviour due to their being more vivid, engaging, and accessible than other forms of evidence or argument. In this paper we are interested in whether there are epistemic and moral duties associated with the use of autobiographical stories in mental health debates.

We argue that debate participants have a responsibility to assess a story as evidence or as an argument when the story is put forward to support a given viewpoint. We also make some preliminary suggestions about what can be done to ensure that the use of stories contributes to the variety of the resources available to debate participants without compromising the quality of the argumentation or increasing polarisation.