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Creative Writing Interventions in Post-Conflict and Cultural Recovery

Creative Writing Interventions is the umbrella name for a set of research projects that emerge from post-conflict work by Dr Siobhán Campbell in poetry and story as part of cultural reconstruction. It works to establish ways in which expressive writing and creative writing interventions can best address and interact with forms of activism and participation that contest and change the borders of exclusion and discrimination in post conflict environments.

Our findings include how the writing workshop environment creates a community of practice which in turn enables, liberates and elicits a set of responses and outcomes that have distinct impact on delivery frameworks for human rights activists, social workers and other actors in post-conflict cultural recovery and resilience building. We make visible the key points in the interface between life-writing, recovery from trauma and the support of human rights, providing ways for NGOs and others to use the creative and the expressive life writing techniques we’ve developed in strategic and targeted ways.

Campbell founded the Military Writing Network in 2009 and she has worked with the Institute of Conflict ResearchCombat Stress UKSSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmens’ Family Association) and Veterans Outreach Support (VOS). Her research into applying the tenets of Creative Writing which values ‘learning by doing’ and iterative practice has led to her developing a number of frameworks which widen the remit of how writing projects can be used in post-combat, post-conflict or recovering environments.

The work of Creative Writing Interventions at The Open University has been to build upon the insight that developing writing workshop approaches and practices for conflict-affected persons can have a distinctive wider remit, becoming part of an ethics of recognition as to how change can occur and be supported in pressurized environments. Creative Writing Interventions is part of a series of grant-funded applied action-research projects with non-governmental organisations that develop capacities and communities of writing practice in post-conflict and cultural recovery. With partners in Kingston University, we developed the life story-telling methodology ‘Expressive Life Writing’ which supports well-being for survivors of complex trauma as well as providing new frameworks for action on the ground by community actors and it is now used in a number of post-conflict regions internationally as well as with UK constituencies. This work has benefitted both rights defenders and survivors of trauma in Iraq, Lebanon and the UK and has influenced UNDP policy in Iraq.

About Creative Writing Interventions

Research Trajectory

Understandings of writing practice as enabling cultural resilience emerged in work with military veterans and families via Combat Stress UK and SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen Family Association) while Associate Professor at Kingston University London. Workshops with veterans supported by a grant (HEFCE) and aid-in-kind (CSUK) generated outputs including publications, an exhibition and an archive. This work received top plaudits for the reach and significance of its impact in REF 2014.

Funded work in story-gathering includes ‘Mapping Jabal al-Natheef’, Jordan, 2013, supported by the Ruwwad Arab Foundation for Sustainable Development and the Heinrich-Boll foundation and working with settled refugees in life-writing and providing story-gathering training to the international group of architects and urban planners in interviewing residents. (‘Protocols and responses to interviewing-in-place’ in Jabal Al Natheef, ed. Arini C.P., Heinrich-Boll Stiftung Palestine/Jordan, 2013).

Investigating the applications of narrative practice continued with the Beyond Borders/ Foreign and Commonwealth Office Human Rights initiative in the ‘Beyond do no harm’ project with Dr. Meg Jensen, investigating the place of expressive life-writing in post-conflict situations and in collaborating with mobile human rights project groups. This work is underpinned by a DPC Diploma (Dialogue for Peaceful Change) undertaken by invitation under the auspices of EU post-conflict funding which looks at DPC processes as related to writing workshop process with adjudicated ex-prisoners.

Expanding the field of investigation, having joined The Open University, Siobhán has worked to consolidate the protocols and practices of  expressive writing pedagogy in life-writing for work with post-conflict victims of sexual and other violence leading to The Expressive Life-Writing Handbook (2016) now used by the FCO’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programme and in a ‘training the trainers’ scheme where the Fellows of the Gulf Reconstruction initiative have trained in the uses of writing workshops in enabling cultural story-telling. The Expressive Life Writing and Telling protocols and practices are now in use in the UNDP SIRI project Iraq.

In 2017, the all-party report Creative Health - the Arts for Health and Wellbeing - emphasized the importance of imaginative and creative work for those affected by illness, care-giving or displacement. In 2017/8, Siobhán led a pilot project with Trinity Hospice London, working with those in palliative care as well as volunteers and bereaved relatives. The project explored whether creative writing and expressive writing has a place in recovery, particularly with a view to making art that can enter the wider culture.


Research Methodologies for Auto/Biography Studies (2019)  


Buy it here.

Research Methodologies For Auto/Biography Studies

Contributor to one chapter:

'Chapter 19: Negotiated Truths and Iterative Practice in Action'

The Women in Conflict Expressive Life Writing Project

With Meg Jensen, Siobhán Campbell

This chapter focuses on the collaborative development and delivery of the Women in Conflict Expressive Life Writing Project, which interrogates current best practice guidelines on the documentation and investigation of rights violations and suggests adaptations to existing protocols for interviewing survivors of sexual violence in conflict. The project aims to provide an ancillary approach to evidence-gathering that might move beyond 'do no harm' by supporting recovery from traumatic experiences. Here, Jensen and Campbell reveal how the iterative is both generated by, and inscribed within, any project with storytelling or story-gathering at its core, leading to new insights about how truths are negotiated in practice-based settings.

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