Seagriculture Speaker

Seagriculture USA

6 - 7 September 2023

Portland, ME, USA

Holly Parker

Harnessing the power of storytelling and storylistening for building social contracts

Holly Parker, Director, Schiller Coastal Studies Center, Bowdoin College, USA

About the speaker:

In July 2022, Holly was named director of the Schiller Coastal Studies Center at Bowdoin College. In addition to her oversight of this marine science field station, Holly is growing the Center’s programs to include the local community, regional and global partners in interdisciplinary approaches to sustainable development.

Company info: 

The Schiller Coastal Studies Center (SCSC) at Bowdoin College is a multidisciplinary campus on 118 acres of forest and meadows along Maine’s rocky Atlantic coast—with easy access to the Gulf of Maine.

The Schiller facilities provide opportunities—unlike those available at any other liberal arts college in the country—for field- and laboratory-based interdisciplinary study related to critical issues of coastal and climate concern. With its oceanside location and modernized research and teaching facilities, the Schiller Center is foundational to Bowdoin’s expanding role as a leader in environmental studies.


This talk will take a step back from the what and the why of our commitment to building sustainable blue economies to consider who and how? As sustainability practitioners we often spend our time in vibrant echo chambers. We’re invigorated by debates about how to support just and sustainable economies. But what happens outside that echo chamber? What happens when we meet “the other - a neighbor, a colleague or a decision maker who doesn’t share our urgency for action? Do we go it alone as we seek to make change? Or do we need to build new, unexpected partnerships in order to see our visions become reality? Western data and scientific language are persuasive to some audiences. But for others, they carry less power. Storytelling and “storylistening” are vital tools to breaking down perceived barriers to collaboration and cooperation. Sustainability practitioners should challenge ourselves to approach those of opposing views with empathy. Storylistening, which includes asking questions that elicit lived experiences, creates understanding of how a point of view has been created through loss and gain, through fears and hopes. We can begin understanding the person beyond the position. We can further build trust by storytelling, sharing our own lived experience, and may create the opportunity to find common ground on which to see our visions realized.