Movements, Markets, & the Power of Living Stories

We introduce the concept of a “living story,” which emerged from a qualitative, multi-faceted examination of the Rainforest Action Network’s efforts to alter a key practice—sales of lumber products harvested from old growth forests—in the retail home improvement industry. Living stories are incomplete stories in which the narrator—a social movement organization—tells the story in real-time, from the first-person point of view, and where the audience—made up of market participants—is invited to become active participants in shaping the story’s ending. We theorize that the unique characteristics of the living story contribute to social movement efforts by assisting activists with mobilization, optimization of limited resources, and ultimately, achievement of change-oriented goals. Additionally, we find that for social movements, stories enable movement actors to cohesively link, layer, and embed collective action frames within a broader narrative as they socially construct new market realities. Doing so brings the frames to life in ways that can enhance their understandability, believability, and resonance among the audiences that their narrators target—thus increasing their persuasiveness. In such efforts, it is neither the stories nor the frames alone that provide this powerful catalyst for practice change, but rather their orchestrated combination over time. 

With Chad Navis (Clemson University), Greg Fisher (Indiana University), and Ted Waldron (Texas Tech University)