What’s your living story? Most people don’t know their own living story. We grow up learning to recite our career narrative, but that’s not a living story. A living story has a place, a time, and a mind (an aliveness all its own). A living story exists in a web of living stories, each interrupting the other’s telling, and always unfolding in the middle, without the usual narrative beginning-middle-end linear time concept (Jørgensen & Boje, 2010).
Storytelling Constellations Our ‘living stories’ are part of ‘storytelling constellations’ that are not usually in a translatory motion. The stories are not moving in one common direction. We can move beyond the translatory motion concept. We can also move beyond the “rectilinear time concept” (Arendt, 1963: 19), and this brings us into storytelling patterns of today’s super wicked complexity: climate change, climate denial, global warming, peak oil, peak water, plastic pollution, and the awareness sixth extinction is happening (Boje, 2019a).
Does your living story move within a constellation of living stories? In Tamara-land (Boje, 1995) I theorized storytelling organizations that were outside the rectilinear time concept. In storytelling organizations, we are not all in the same time, engaging the matters at hand (Boje, 2008).
Figure 1: Tamara-land, chancing living stories from room to room
For example, in the Disney corporation, people are in different rooms, in different buildings, in different countries. Storytelling is simultaneous, and you cannot be every place at once. So you are chasing living, unfolding stories, from place to place, and rely on digital technology, hallway catchup storytelling conversations, and so on, with those who were in other places or in touch with those in other places.
How do Spirals of Storytelling Constellations Work?
Is your living story moving about the same axis of the storytelling constellation? One of the earliest multi-directional spiral theories was proposed by Plato. Plato describes a twisted double spiral, with multiple whorls being spun by three Sirens: Atropos, Clothos, and Lachesis. (Boje, 2019b) They are spinning whorls to weave each person’s life line in Plato’s conception of time. Atropos turns the inner whorls of the future. Clotho turns the middle whorls of the present. Lachesis turns the outer whorls of the past.
“…singing of past, present, and future, responsive to the music of the Sirens; Clotho from time to time guiding the outer circle with a touch of her right hand; Atropos with her left hand touching and guiding the inner circles; Lachesis in turn putting forth her hand from time to time to guide both of them” (Plato, p. 119).
Depending on the spinning they do, this is your life story, your destined path. The lower part of the spiral, is where the unjust are punished, then renewed, reincarnated to try it all over again.
Figure 3: Double Twisted Spiral in Plato’s The Republic (drawing by Boje)
Storytelling organizations keep trying to convince themselves and spectators that they are moving in one direction. They keep trying to brand themselves with a petrified beginning-middle-end narrative, and then letting people go who have a different story to tell. On flip day, if those who worked for an acquired community bank could not stick to the contrived Well Fargo script, they no longer had a job.
One has to ask if we are moving about a spiral axis, like a rope tied to a May Pole. Is the rope at a fixed length so we move in perfect rotations around the axis, in cycle after cycle of some job, doing the same thing day in, day out? More likely the spiral is shorting , so the rope attached to the May Pole gets shorter, or unravels, getting longer.
Figure 4: Spiral of Growth of Neoliberal Capitalism in Anthropocene
Neoliberal capitalism has the monologic of the growth spiral that actively resists any other logic, such as zero growth. The problem with the growth spiral is it keeps extracting more and more planetary resources, and exceeding planetary boundaries.
Figure 5: Planetary Boundaries being Exceeded (http://biomovies.tve.org/planetary-boundaries/)
As the growth spiral of neoliberal capitalism continues, more planetary boundaries are exceeded, such as fresh water availability, chemical pollution, etc. We need some storytelling beyond the Anthropocene (Nelson, 2013).
We need a Revolution Not Just a Rebellion
A revolution shoes aim is freedom in order to usher in a new error is not the same as a rebellion. We have been unwinding the growth spiral since the industrial revolution and now there is growing awareness of the global warming, and some efforts to keep average global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But the spiral growth of late modern capitalism has crossed so many planetary boundaries that puts multispecies storytelling ahead of humancentric storytelling (Haraway, 2016), so all our survival is not at risk. I joined Extinction Rebellion. I hope that politicians will want to avoid traffic sit ins and declare climate emergency. Still I am a skeptic at heart. The dice are loaded in favor of neoliberal growth spiraling. The political game is rigged in favor of the oligarchy who funds political campaigns to prevent the Extinction Rebellion from prompting a shift in economic policy. Maybe its time to have Corporate Extinction Rebellion. 100 corporations are responsible for over 70% of CO2 emissions, but they are resisting, funding the climate denial, financing the political campaigns. I want to be optimistic, and believe that Extinction Rebellion will change all that.
In constellation storytelling, the motion of all living stories is considered in their constitutive relational patchers. One force wants to curtail the planetary boundary crossing, and the other wants to cross at every revolution (every whorl).
Figure 6: Double Twisted Spiral (Source)
Spirals have their revolutions, and their evolutions. In the above image of a double twisted spiral, my telling is the resources or earth are being drained to feed the ever-expanding neoliberal capitalist growth of fossil fuel production and plastic consumer products. As the course of history suddenly begins anew, there is potential emergence for a new story to begin “entirely new story, a story never known o told before” and is about to “unfold” and never was known prior to this revolution (Arendt, 1963: 23): “none of the actors had the slightest premonition of what the plot of the new drama was going to be.” Where does the novelty story develop its innermost meaning, its plot, and how does it manifest to actors and spectators? (p. 21).
What forces are causing the constellation storytelling movements and motions?
There are elements of “novelty inherent in all revolutions” (Arendt, 1963: 19) including the spiral revolutions in the storytelling constellation. Unique novelty event change a linear pattern into a cyclic, and novelties in the cyclic events, prompt a spiral to emerge, and then as the axis of the spiral ceases its centering power, there are rhizomatic patterns (Boje, 2011).
Figure 7: Ron Finley’s Pool Art in Los Angeles (source)
At the Big Story conference, Ron Finley (http://ronfinley.com) showed me his pool art, a painting of the cyclical, rhizomatic, cyclical, and linear antenarrative patterns. I have been trying to sort out how all four are entangling in storytelling constellations.
Here I want to focus on peaceful revolution, with some Extinction Rebellion, whose aim is liberation from oppression of the multispecies, in order to usher in a new story of freedom, beginning a new story as year one. We are caught up making revolutions around the axis of neoliberal capitalism growth spiral, when the new story, to begin its year zero, needs to unfold in zero growth, that is unknown in the history of capitalism. Arendt asserts that liberation and freedom are not the same thing.
- Liberation from fossil fuel capitalism may be the condition of freedom to do something else, but we are still in big trouble if its done in the growth spiral of every-expanding neoliberal capitalism.
- Not everyone has a desire for freedom from the business-as-usual growth spiral of oligarchy having power over democracy, power over tyranny, and power over socialism. There is money for the .1% to make by keeping the game of business-as-usual in play.
- For others, liberation from neoliberalism looms large as the very foundation of freedom to create a green capitalism
- Is a path of freedom just non-existent in the powerful whorls of neoliberal growth spiral momentum? It seems political leaders of the U.S>, Australia, France, UK, and so on are not concerned with moving along to a post-carboniferous capitalism
- Does neoliberal capitalism sell us on triple bottom line (3BL) and circular economy (CE) as two ‘greenwashing’ plots to keep the business-as-usual growth spiral turning out more useless production for mass consumption? See critique of CE on Wikipedia).
- Perhaps the buzz over stop using plastic straws, and carrying your own refillable water bottle on planes is another greenwash, the same old reduce, reuse, recycle that does not change underlying systems of natural resource consumption.
Figure 8: Two Storytelling Strategies
We need both strategies. 1. Extinction Rebellion to encourage politicians to declare ‘climate emergency’ in nation after nation. 2. Break away from the Business-As-Usual Growth Spiral, and get liberated and free for ‘new story’ to emerge, which as Hannah Arendt says is the “power of locomotion” to “arrive at a place where freedom rules” and “our decider for liberation, to be free of oppression ends, and the desire for freedom as a political way of life begins.”
Figure 9: Storytelling Constellation Transformation (source)
We need a new storytelling constellation, an entire field of Extinction Rebellions and break aways to create ‘new stories’ that have never existed before.
How do you change storytelling constellations? It’s a Tamara-land question. Its understanding that there are a multiplicity of stories, and we have to step up and deal with the storytelling multiplicity in all its complexity dynamics. We have to get beyond trying to force everyone onto the monologic of Business-As-Usual Growth Spiral, what is called in neoliberal discourse, the ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA) Narrative. Rather than TINA Narrative, we can start to study the whole storytelling constellation and address transformative change.
We are doing a GAIA STORYTELLING FOR GAIA LEADERSHIP – WEIMAR, VILLA INGRID, 15-18 APRIL 2020: An event hosted by the European School of Governance (EUSG). Join us there. Find out more about it.
Arendt, Hannah. (1963). On Revolution. NY: The Viking Press.
Boje, D. M. (1995). Stories of the storytelling organization: A postmodern analysis of Disney as “Tamara-Land”. Academy of Management journal, 38(4), 997-1035. [PDF] davidboje.com
Boje, D. M. (2008). Storytelling Organizations. Sage.
Boje, D. M. (2011a). Storytelling and the Future of Organizations: An Antenarrative Handbook.London: Routledge.
Boje, D. M. (2019a). Storytelling in the global age: There is no Planet B. World Scientific.
Boje, D. (2019b), “The Future of the “Spiral Paradigm” in Climate Action”, Boje, D.and Sanchez, M. (Ed.) The Emerald Handbook of Management and Organization Inquiry, Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 253-261. https://doi.org/10.1108/978-1-78714-551-120191015
Boje, D. M., & Adorisio, A. L. M. (2008). Living between Myths at Wells Fargo Bank. Pp. 127-138 in Monica Kostera (ed.) Mythical Inspirations for Organizational Realities. NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Haraway, Donna J. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press.
Jørgensen, K. M., & Boje, D. M. (2010). Resituating narrative and story in business ethics. Business Ethics: A European Review, 19(3), 253-264.
Nelson, Ilka Blue (2013). Storytelling Beyond the Anthropocene. https://issuu.com/latorica/docs/livingscript
Plato. The Republic. Accessed Sep 11 2019 at http://www.idph.net/conteudos/ebooks/republic.pdf