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Karen Werner loves storytelling in its many forms–from puppet shows to story circles, zines, and documentaries. These days, she is delightfully immersed in digital and audio storytelling production. Trained as a sociologist, she sees story as a form of knowledge and resistance. Her interest in audio and narrative comes out of her involvement with the Community Economies Collective, a group of scholars documenting non-capitalist spaces. My chapter, “Performing Economies of Care,” is included in the collection Making Other Worlds Possible: Performing Diverse Economies (University of Minnesota Press, 2014.)
PhD in Sociology, Brandeis University
MEd in Human Development and Psychology, Harvard Graduate School of Education
BA in Medical Anthropology, Brown University
Areas of Expertise
Audio Storytelling; Digital Storytelling; Audio Documentary; Media Studies; Sociology of Art and Culture; Cultural Studies; Social Theory; Autoethnography; Story as Methodology; Social Welfare; Community Economies; Solidarity Economies; Socially-engaged Buddhism; Justice and Inclusion; Human Development and Psychology; Puppetry.
I was in a master’s program in education when I felt a wave of wanting to be in spiritual practice. A gifted professor wove together Toni Morrison, Freud, the myth of Psyche and Cupid, and the professor’s own interviews with 9-13 year old girls. Voice, resonance, relationship, democracy. “The honesty of things is where they resist.” This is it. Raised Jewish, I didn’t speak Hebrew, didn’t know if I believed in God. Can I be a Rabbi? I heard that some Jews see God as the relationship between people. Arms linked. That is where I see God.
The Ven. Bikkhu Bodhi, a Theravada monk living in New York, says that truth telling is something Buddhism can offer social engagement. What are the relationships, processes, and institutions that encourage truth-telling?
And I thought, well, since I don’t believe in God and don’t speak Hebrew, I’ll become a professor. Same thing as a Rabbi, right? I didn’t find it there easily, at least in the rest of my graduate school experience. It was only while on faculty at Goddard that I undid my head and connected to my whole being, since that is what our pedagogy is about.
Since 2005, I’ve been a member of the Community Economies Collective, a group of about twenty scholars in the U.S. and Australia documenting non-capitalist economic spaces. A tenet of their research is that humans “perform” the world through our narratives, including economic narratives, thus offering opportunities to re-make the world through new narratives. My focus has been money and banking systems, in particular. I love worker co-ops. I am a fan of auto-ethnography, testimonio, storytelling in its many forms–from cantastoria, song cycles, puppet shows, and comics to storytelling circles, podcasts, and documentaries.
These days my focus is writing about socially engaged spirituality and practicing Zen Buddhism. I was away from Goddard for almost two years directing a socially engaged Buddhist project with Bernie Glassman at Zen Peacemakers. Until recently, I was an accordionist in a band, and now I’m learning ukulele. My prior research is on art activism.
I am very interested when people say, “This is what democracy looks like.” I think we don’t yet know what it looks like, and I am drawn to models like sociocracy and consent forms of decision-making. I am devoted to democracy as a spiritual practice and to learning how to do it well.