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Social justice education through storytelling

storytelling for social change
Young people on an outing to learn about mangroves.
© Ryan Brown / UN Women

Justice through Stories

Set within a feminist understanding of the world, ecopedagogy views education as a liberating and active practice driven by students who become co-constructors of knowledge (Freire, 2005; hooks, 1994). Within this paradigm, it is assumed that education is neither non-direct nor neutral but submits to a political agenda, as Paolo Freire (2005:34), whose work helps ground feminist epistemology, argues: There is no such thing as a neutral educational process.  

Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes ‘the practice of freedom,’ how men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. Freire (2005) holds that one of the main barriers to social justice in education is a culture of silence, resulting from the marginalisation of certain voices from mainstream society and the unspoken nature of social issues and abuses. We see the facilitation of a process in which all student voices, both dominant and marginalised, are given equal room and the creation of a space where students feel safe enough to start telling stories of stigma as a starting point to break this culture of silence.   

Digital storytelling and other participatory media-based techniques originate from community activism and work. These techniques have gained increasing educational interest as a tool for engaging 21st-century learners (Mitchell & De Lange, 2013). In their paper on digital storytelling for social justice education in South Africa, Ivala et al. (2014) note the power of stories to cross divides and give power to those silenced. Further, they note how stories can be powerful methods through which students can listen to and recognise experiences and perspectives from voices they usually don’t see or hear. A digital story is a personal narrative which combines voice, sound and images into a short video developed by non-professionals. Individuals can position themselves as “authors, composers, and designers who are expert and powerful communicators, people with things to say that the world should hear” (Hull & Katz, 2006:10). Their study was influenced by the digital storytelling model developed by the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) in Berkeley, California. 

Originating from a history of critical theatre, this digital storytelling model had, as its primary objective, the fight for social justice and the desire to give marginalised groups a voice (Lambert, 2009, 2013). The CDS showcases numerous examples of stories from marginalised groups, often silenced through the hegemony of public discourses. At the core of their stories is an “act of self-discovery and a means to localise and control the context of their presentation” (Lambert, 2009:82). 

We would now like you to watch this video story from Mara, given during a workshop on climate justice education in 2021. Mara the Storyteller | Education for Climate Justice (Event 1) | 20 February 2021 

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.


Now reflect on the following questions:  

  • How did this story make you feel? Are these feelings new? Were they unsettling? 
  • Share some insights and points you learnt from the video… 
  • How does the story relate to your understanding of justice? 
  • Are there people you know who would engage with this story? How do you think they would react? 

As Rebecca Solnit explains:  

So much is happening, both wonderful and terrible – and it matters how we tell it. We can’t erase the bad news, but to ignore the good is the route to indifference or despair’. 

Now engage with the following article from Solnit on why we need new climate stories to tackle the climate crisis:  

(You can also listen to this article in audio format here

Summarise your learning and reflections from this step in the discussion section below. Share with other learners your perspectives on stories, and also share any stories you have encountered that particularly resonated with you… 


Freire P 2005. Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th anniv). New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group 

hooks b 1994. Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice to freedom. New York: Routledge. 

Hull GA & Katz ML 2006. Crafting an agentive self: case studies of digital crafting storytelling. Research in the Teaching of English, 41(1):43–81.

Lambert J 2009. Where it all started: The center for digital storytelling in California. In J Hartley & K McWilliam (eds). Story Circle: Digital storytelling around the world. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. 

Lambert J 2013. Digital storytelling: capturing lives, creating community (4th ed). New York: Routledge.

Mitchell C & De Lange N 2013. What can a teacher do with a cellphone? Using participatory visual research to speak back in addressing HIV&AIDS. South African Journal of Education, 33(4):1–13.

© Ben Murphy, University of Glasgow
This article is from the free online

Ecopedagogy for Beginners: Putting Climate Change Education Into Action

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