Engaging Stories: Meanings, Goodness, And Identity In Daily Life

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With this dissertation I've attempted to encircle the idea of engagement-a term that's becoming more and more popular of late as public institutions attempt to frame how exactly they work with, for, or on, the public. In this work, I address four questions. What is engagement, institutionally speaking? How might institutions need to reconsider engagement? What is engagement for me? And ultimately, so what? The short answer is that engagement is a story. It's a story we tell ourselves about how people (should) interact with one another to make the world as it is, the way it should be. That being said, there are many different stories of engagement that fit this rubric-from unjust wars to happy marriages. They develop different characters, different settings, and different meanings, and in the end these stories have different morals with different consequences. These differences matter. With this dissertation I try to do away with some of the muddle between these different stories. I am not trying to do away with difference-just trying to give difference fair play. I also tell a very different story of engagement gleaned from my own experience and the experiences of a number of others in Tompkins County, NY. It's not the right story, it's just a different story that I think holds promise. Lastly, I discuss how all of these stories might change the way we think about our own work, and the work of institutions, in democratic society. As you come to read further, you'll notice that I've framed this dissertation around choices we each have and make. I hope this framing facilitates further discussion around engagement. In that spirit, the dissertation has been fully published on a website that includes comment-ready text and enhanced multi-media. It's my intention that this website, and the interactive conversation it can allow, be an experiment in a type of public scholarship it seeks to promote. If you'd like to read the dissertation in that format, go to Ultimately, I hope our conversations might help me, and us, understand this idea of engagement in our daily lives.

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public engagement; narrative inquiry


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Union Local


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Villenas,Sofia A

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Ph. D., Education

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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