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Bearing Witness: Re-storying the Self in Places that are Always More than Human Made

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    Rights statement: © Willis, A. (2013). Bearing Witness: Re-storying the Self in Places that are Always More than Human Made. Animal Studies Journal, 2(1), 8-27.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-27
JournalAnimal Studies Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


This paper argues that through their presence in the places where humans dwell, other-than-human animals challenge the stories people tell about themselves and open up new possibilities for people to be and act in the world. Drawing on literature from narrative therapy, I take a dialogical approach (Bakhtin) to think with autobiographical essays written by Alice Walker, David Hopes and Laura Foreman. I explore how their respective experiences of being witnessed in everyday places by a horse, a groundhog anda coyote led them to alter their stories to live by. These animals become the audiences with which the authors co-construct their narrative-identities and come to provisional answers to the ethical question: ‘how ought I to live?’ I conclude by arguing that ecological memoirs such as these are public acts of witnessing. Through such essays, readers can imaginatively enter distant and bounded places where they vicariously encounter animal others who call on them to develop stories all species can live by.

    Research areas

  • narrative, GEOGRAPHY, environmental ethics, Literature, memoir

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