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Stories or narratives do more than delineating and connecting elements. They create spatial, conceptual, and temporal order, and, importantly, moral and emotional order. Stories provide structure and create meaning by distinguishing episodes, climaxes, wanderings, conflicts and solutions, good and evil characters. Stories attribute value to things, people, places, and facts, and they attribute roles. Just as citizens and other actors create institutions and the stories that govern them through their interactions and negotiations, stories in turn imbue “actors� with roles, power, and meaning. Stories, therefore, create actors, as actors make up stories. Actors emerge from a history of practical organization in a community and a history of dominant and persuasive stories. If we see ourselves as a mining community, then it makes sense for the mine director to tell the mayor what to do. If we see ourselves as a religious place, then church organizations and Christian parties can play a role in governance, and a council dominated by those parties could push businesses gently to contribute to public projects imbued with Christian values. If we see the past as glorious, better than the present, then the local museum will have representatives and advocates in city council. Rural stories create images and actors understood as typically rural, as associated with certain types of place, people, or histories. Urban stories can be understood along the same lines. Some stories are neither urban nor rural, and the same holds true for the development strategies they shape. Understanding governance and possible ways forward therefore relies on understanding stories, as they have to be recognized, challenged, and addressed. Stories and the broader narratives they form are always worth a closer look, as they can shape a community’s reality, turning events into dramatic crises, outsiders into crooks, and expertise into either sacred knowledge or worthless nonsense. Stories make communities turn very quickly to certain definitions of problems, certain understandings of causes, solutions, and useful tools. For example, a development plan informed by socialist ideology is unlikely to be perceived as useful in a town governed by beliefs and histories that are not socialist. As shared narratives become enshrined in local institutions, some stories become more entrenched than others in governance. Each local, provincial, and federal democratic constitution already provides a framing story for local stories, while a history of local governance renders other foundational stories so normal, so seemingly self-evident, that they are no longer seen as stories, but rather as accepted fact. This makes them harder to change.

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Boom and Bust: a guide

Profile for University of Alberta Extension

Boom & Bust: A Guide, Managing Ups and Downs in Communities  

Boom and Bust: A Guide is the result of a collective effort at the University of Alberta to better understand the dramatic ups and downs whi...

Boom & Bust: A Guide, Managing Ups and Downs in Communities  

Boom and Bust: A Guide is the result of a collective effort at the University of Alberta to better understand the dramatic ups and downs whi...

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