How do we use narratives for conservation?
When it comes to conservation, if we are to save some of the world’s endangered species, scientists need whole communities to change their behaviour.
When I first met Wong Siew Te in 2012, I felt scientists were not doing a particularly good job of engaging ordinary people in their work. I wondered whether stories, or narratives could help.
I decided to write Wong’s narrative biography as part of my doctoral research. Of course, that meant plenty of time traipsing through the rainforest in Borneo!
What is a Narrative Biography?
Let’s start with biography, which is simply writing the life of another person. A narrative is a story, so a narrative biography is one written like a story.
The facts are there, but they are weaved together in using literary techniques. This generally makes them more readable and engaging.
If you have read Saving Sun Bears, let me know what you think.
The Separation of Science and Art
Science and art have long been considered divergent career paths. Think back to your own high school career guides or curriculum streams.
This is detrimental to society as a whole because scientists and creatives have complimentary skills.
By breaking down this perception and working together (like Wong and I did), we have the capacity to make change.
The Power of Biography
I am not alone is this assumption. The narrative style, coupled with accurate information, can be more appropriate and persuasive than cold scientific facts (Dahlstrom 2014).
Narratives have even been found to increase comprehension (Zabrucky & Moore 1999), and biography has been found to be one of the most effective ways of disseminating scientific knowledge (Nye 2006).
Beginning My Doctoral Journey
Encouraged by this research, I embarked on a doctoral journey, the output of which was both Saving Sun Bears and an exegisis— basically a thesis highlighting how I wrote the book, and justifying it with academic research.
The exegisis explores all kinds of topics which I will tackle in future blog topics… sign up for alerts (in the opt-in box at the top right of this page) if you don’t want to miss any of them!…
The journey might have been a long one, but there were definitely some benefits. Like watching sun bears playing in the rainforest.
The Challenges of Writing a Biography
Dahlstrom, M 2014, 'Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 111.
Nye, M 2006, 'Scientific biography: History of science by another means?', Isis, vol. 97, no. 2, pp. 322-9.Zabrucky, KM & Moore, D 1999, 'Influence of text genre on adults' monitoring of understanding and recall', Educational Gerontology, vol. 25, no. 8, pp. 691-710
As you can see, there's a lot to consider. Have you ever thought of writing a biography?
Let me know in the comments below.