“Vamos a vivir sabroso”- to live joyfully.
“Hasta que la dignidad se haga costumbre” — until dignity becomes a daily practice.
These were the slogans of the Colombian presidential campaign run by now President-elect Gustavo Petro and Vice-President Francia Marquez. Together, these slogans encapsulated “the politics of love” and solidarity that form the backbone of their political program. Yet these were not new slogans. They came from Afro-descendent and Indigenous communities in Latin America — communities that have been the most impacted by the current poly-crisis: the climate crisis, rising socio-economic inequalities, racial & gender injustices, war, violence…
As a kid of immigrant parents, I have grown up and lived between different cultures. I know that we have a lot to learn from cultures that have almost been erased by colonization, forced assimilation and/or loss of transmission. They have a lot to teach us on how to live more harmoniously with nature and other living beings. I got into narrative change work to elevate these other ways of being and living in the world.
At Culture Hack, we consider these slogans to be perfect examples of what we call “Life-centric narratives.” These narratives hold the core belief that what matters the most is to protect and celebrate Life on earth. For instance, Vivir Sabroso is a philosophy of life defended by Afro-Colombian communities, which connects humans’ wellbeing to the care and protection of nature. It is an organizing principle that shapes community, spirituality, politics, and economy alike. In a context where many Afro-Colombian communities live in regions affected by the internal armed conflict and ravaged by extractivist industries, Vivir Sabroso represents an alternative to a system that has prioritized profit over Life, competition over mutual care, othering over solidarity.
And beyond Colombia, these narratives often exist in communities that have survived colonial violence and resisted the erasure of their culture. For decades, these communities have developed living practices to survive a system that exploits them, when it does not exclude them, a system that decides to ignore their pain and their death. These communities have kept and preserved knowledge, beliefs and practices that are living alternatives to the current necropolitics. Whether it is Ubuntu in South Africa, Buen Vivir in Ecuador, Vivir Sabroso in Colombia, these communities center mutual care, solidarity, and practices that let humans co-exist harmoniously with nature. These cultures offer a new ontology; in other words, a new ‘way of being’, one that enacts interdependency of all beings on Earth. Colombian Anthropologist Arturo Escobar has called these alternative ways of being: “relational ontologies”.
At Culture Hack, we believe that uplifting and amplifying Life-centric narratives is the only real way to dismantle a system that is bringing our world to a collapse. Whether your work concerns reproductive justice, racial justice, economic justice, or housing rights, we are all operating within a global culture that has been molded by Western colonization, industrialization, and global capitalism. These issues are all connected through a patriarchal, capitalist, extractivist & anthropocentric system that has hierarchized and commodified Life, celebrating the values of progress, individualism, and rationality. In this culture, nature is in service to humans. If we are to survive the poly-crisis, we must aspire to a cultural overhaul. We must join forces to replace a culture that is killing the planet, killing people, and killing nature. We must embrace and elevate new ontologies (new ways of being) and epistemologies (new ways of knowing) that center Life on earth. And Life-centering communities like Afro-Colombians are already showing us the way.
Driven by this goal, we have developed a framework and a methodology that can help activists push for Life-centric narratives. Like a lot of narrative change work, our methodology entails collecting and analyzing large volumes of data using listening methods like the Culture Hack platform, but also interviews, surveys and literature reviews. We then interpret this data using a combination of quantitative (calculating word frequency, for instance) and qualitative analysis (linguistic & semiotic analysis).
In our analysis, we focus on identifying narrative communities and the frames they propagate. We define narrative community as “a group of people using similar narratives to discuss a particular topic.” For each of these communities, we look at their power (overall presence and influence in the narrative space), history, geographic location, and the key logics.
For example, we looked, over a certain time-period, at the narrative space revolving around climate change and found the following narrative communities.
We then assessed the potential of these communities to push for Life-centric narratives. We call this “potential for evolution.” To do this, we map communities onto a System-Knowledge Framework. The Framework allows us to assess whether and to what extent a particular community is embracing other ways of being and knowing. In other words, are they embracing elements of relational ontologies?
We define the axis of the Framework according to each context. In this case, the vertical axis shows a spectrum moving from a singular way of knowing (the policy world, for instance) to a plurality of epistemologies (which we found emerging in pop culture in the case of climate change). The horizontal axis opposes ontologies that reinforce the status quo to ontologies that support regenerative systems. Communities that are closer to the upper right quadrant of the System-Knowledge Axis are those that are embracing Life-centric ways of knowing and being.
The biggest communities, Climate Activists © and Climate Scientists (D), are still embedded in the current dominant knowledge. Conversely, Community A (North American Indigenous Activists) and B (Latin American Indigenous activists) are embracing relational ontologies. Yet, they have lower presence and power.
We then conduct a similar assessment for the frames.
We identified nine frames which we grouped in clusters. The first cluster (F1-F5) had the greatest potential for evolution. These frames recognized the importance of Indigenous knowledge in protecting Life on earth. The second cluster (F6, F7) sought alternatives to the dominant culture through a decolonial lens but remained tied to the system through a Us vs. Them logic. The science frame (F8) has begun to reference alternatives (Indigenous cultures) ways of being, but primarily reported the findings of the IPCC report.
By focusing on communities and frames that have started embracing Life-centric narratives, we can then propose reframes and narrative strategies that can move the whole narrative space towards a more evolutionary state.
You can find the full report for this project, here.
Roxane Cassehgari is a narrative researcher at Culture Hack Labs, where she has helped design the methodology for narrative reframing. Past projects have included researching narratives around climate change, the commons or the just transition. Together with her team at Culture Hack, she believes in the importance of decolonizing and shifting our global culture to embrace knowledge and living practices that center Life and repair our relationship to nature as well as between one another.
Narratives for a Life-centric culture: the Culture Hack Labs’ Methodology was originally published in Reset Narratives on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.