Harnessing the Power of Stories for Rural Sustainability: Reflections on Community-Based Research on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland

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Brennan Lowery
Joan Cranston
Carolyn Lavers
Richard May
Renee Pilgrim
Joan Simmonds


Stories have the power to shape understanding of community sustainability. Yet in places on the periphery of capitalist systems, such as rural and resource-based regions, this power can be used to impose top–down narratives on to local residents. Academic research often reinforces these processes by telling damage-centric narratives that portray communities as depleted and broken, which perpetuates power imbalances between academia and community members, while disempowering local voices. This article explores the potential of storytelling as a means for local actors to challenge top–down notions of rural sustainability, drawing on a community-based research initiative on the Great Northern Peninsula (GNP) of Newfoundland. Five of the authors are community change-makers and one is an academic researcher. We challenge deficiencies-based narratives told about rural Newfoundland and Labrador, in which the GNP is often characterised by a narrow set of socio-economic indicators that overlook the region’s many tangible and intangible assets. Grounded in a participatory asset mapping and storytelling process, a ‘deep story’ of regional sustainability based on community members’ voices contrasts narratives of decline with stories of hope, and shares community renewal initiatives told by the dynamic individuals leading them. This article contributes to regional development efforts on the GNP, scholarship on sustainability in rural and remote communities, and efforts to realise alternative forms of university-community engagement that centre community members’ voices and support self-determination.

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Research articles (Refereed)