This panel explores how community-based writing project participants narrate, create and recreate their everyday relationships to places they inhabit and how writing develops and highlights individual, group and community conceptions of place in the face of gentrification, conflict or migration.
This forum examines how written expression can be used to develop and highlight individual, group and community conceptions of place in the face of gentrification, conflict or migration, despite sometimes isolating and alienating conditions of urban life. Our analysis, which focuses on writing and discussion in a community-based writing project for adults in Chicago, assumes that group participants write and speak from a situated context. The writing that comes out of the groups, particularly when it addresses topics and events from people's everyday experience, allows for multilayered and complex representations of the places in which participants live, work and interact. The writers are encouraged to self-represent, to tell their own stories as opposed to having their stories told by others (often the case in poor, urban areas), calling for an examination of both possibilities of self-representation and the complications involved in it. Folk culture, including people's sense of place, both shapes and is shaped by individuals and communities. We argue that folklorists and other ethnographers, through the creative exercise of writing, questioning, discussing and sharing their words with others, can assist members of those communities in examining how place has shaped their lives. Writing, along with other community arts, plays an important role in describing, and making sense of, the physical, social and virtual environments (places) that surround individual and community participants, potentially creating a stronger sense of connection to place. Writing can also be a tool in encouraging individuals and communities to validate their narrative and redefine their agency within their environment.