The “Significant Objects” Stories

The “Significant Objects” Stories


Before the activity itself you have to prepare your “significant objects”. Make sure that there is one object per person, so if you have 20 participants you will have 20 different objects. They can be any type of objects – it is good to have diversity, so choose random things, such as a mask, a small ceramic decorative figure, a teddy bear, a ball of wool, a ball, a brush for painting, a piece of cloth, etc. Each object should have a “price tag” attached – an empty piece of paper in the shape of a price tag.

Description of activity

This activity was inspired by the anthropological experiment “Significant Objects” – For the experiment, the curators purchased objects — for no more than a few dollars — from thrift stores and garage sales. A participating writer was paired with an object. He or she then wrote a fictional story about the object and this is how an unremarkable item that was saved from trash suddenly became a “significant” object. Each significant object was listed for sale on eBay. Instead of a factual description, there was the newly written fictional story. However, the authors avoided the impression that the story was a true one. The winning bidder was mailed the significant object, along with a printout of the object’s fictional story. Net proceeds from the sale were given to the respective author. Authors retained all rights to their stories.

The results of our experiment? If an increase in the thrift-store objects’ “value in trade” can be accepted as objective evidence of an increase in the objects’ significance, then the curators’ hypothesis was 100% correct. They sold $128.74 worth of thrift-store junk for $3,612.51, all of which went to the contributing writers.

Do not tell this story to your participants in the beginning of the exercise. Use it at the end to illustrate the important points during the debriefing.

When you start the activity, ask the participants to go around the table where all objects are placed and to put a price on the tag for each one of them, according to what they think such an object could cost in real life. When all participants have written a price on all tags, the facilitator gives them the next task, which is to choose one of the objects. After each participant has one, the facilitator asks the people to take 20 min. to write a short story about the object – it could be anything they come up with, as creative as possible, but not as an advertisement – as a story – how this object appeared here, what it story is, where it comes from, etc. Ideally they have to write not more than 100 words. They can take a space wherever they want – it is good to have several available spaces around the training hole and outside, so that all people can find their spot and work comfortably alone, in a cozy atmosphere.

After the participants are done writing, ask them to gather in small groups. Depending on the size of the group, the groups can be of 4-6 people (ideally). Ask the groups to share their stories with each other, showing the object to the other members of the group. Give them about 15 minutes to share the stories and briefly comment on them inside the small groups. After everyone shares their story in the groups, ask the participants to review the price tags and to write new prices of the objects – on the other side of the tag – this time taking into consideration the story of the object. Ask the participants in each small group to choose one person to share their story in plenary.

After the representatives of the small groups have shared their stories, start the debriefing. Ask the participants in the plenary how they felt during the activity, how was it to write a story in just 100 words, what were their feelings throughout the process. Then ask them what they have seen in the price tags of their objects – did the prices increase or decrease? By how much? Discuss this – how a story can influence how we perceive something or someone, how this can be related to real life and what are the key take-aways from the activity, how this learning can be applied in everyone’s reality and context.