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A Narrative-Discursive Approach to Self and Identity michael bamberg Clark University Department of Psychology Worcester, MA, USA.

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Presentation on theme: "A Narrative-Discursive Approach to Self and Identity michael bamberg Clark University Department of Psychology Worcester, MA, USA."— Presentation transcript:

1 A Narrative-Discursive Approach to Self and Identity michael bamberg Clark University Department of Psychology Worcester, MA, USA

2 What Is the Self? Mark Leary: Editorial in Self &Identity, 3 (1) 5 ways in which Self has been appropriated: as a synonym for person as a synonym for personality self-as-knower self-as-known self as decision-maker and doer Self as speaker/narrator - responding to the question: Who Are You?

3 Three Kinds of Narrative Approaches to the Study of Self and Identity Life-Story Approaches Life-Event Approaches “Small” Stories –Short narrative accounts –Embedded in every-day interactions –Unnoticed as ‘stories’ by the participants –Unnoticed as ‘narratives’ by researchers –But highly relevant for identity formation processes

4 Life-Stories + Life-Events Life-Stories –Dan McAdams (1993) + Gabi Rosenthal (1998) –Elicitation Technique –Analysis of lives –Focus on coherence + health Life-Events –Most narrative research –Elicitation is focused on particular events or experiences –Analysis of focused area –Meaning of event in one’s life

5 Merits of narrative ‘life research’ life-history + life-event approaches Accentuates and brings to light lived experience Forces participants to focus on the meaning of THAT event in their lives Accentuates the continuity of experience And sheds light on aspects that appear discontinuous Assumes a unified sense of personal identity -- against which ‘experience’ is constantly sorted out

6 potential shortcomings or open questions How does this ‘unified sense of self’ come to existence? –How does the person ‘learn’ to “sort out” events against what is called ‘life’? Overemphasis of stories about the ‘self’ –Cutting out all those stories about others Overemphasis of ‘long’ stories –Cutting out everyday, “small” stories

7 why? Influences of ‘traditional’ psychological inquiry –Interests in selves + self-coherence Influences of traditional narratology –Work with texts (written texts) –Assuming authors as behind the texts –Assuming criteria of goodness for narratives Interviews as windows into selves

8 Narrative Dimensions (Ochs & Capps, 2001) Tellership one active teller vs. many Tellability high vs. low Embeddedness detached from surrounding talk vs. situational embeddedness Moral stance one moral message vs. different + conflicting messages Linearity & Temporality closed temporal + causal order vs. open + spatial

9 with this in mind: Let’s turn to SMALL stories Characteristics of “small” stories Functions of “small” stories –in everyday conversations –in the process of identity formation –in learning to present ‘coherent’ selves What these small stories accomplish in everyday situations

10 Stories about others: the Davie Hogan story Positioning with Davie Hogan. Stories, Tellings & Identities. Chapter in: C. Daiute & C. Lightfoot (Eds.), Narrative analysis: Studying the development of individuals in society. London: Sage. (2003)

11 Topic: gay kids at school J: actually I know a few of them I don’t know them but I’ve seen them Ed how can you tell they’re gay Alex yeah you can’t really tell J: no like how do I know they’re gay Ed yeah J: well he’s an 11th grade student the kid I know I’m not gonna mention names Ed alright who are they (raising both hands up) J: okay um and I’m in a class with mostly 11th graders Josh: and his name is (rising intonation)

12 ah and and ah and um a girl who is umm very honest and nice she has she has a locker right next to him and she said he talked about how he is gay a lot when she’s there not with her like um so that’s how I know and he um associates with um a lot of girls not many boys a lot of the a few of the gay kids at Cassidy

13 Pre-Story Negotiation + Fine Tuning Pre-Negotiations “I don’t know them but I’ve seen them” »Challenge: “how do you know?” “how do I know they’re gay?” “he’s an 11th-grader” + “I’m in a class with 11th-graders” Fine-Tuning Why does he claim not to “know” them (and only having “seen” them)? Why is his witness “honest” + “nice” Why is she “a girl”? Why is the gay boy not talking to her ? Why is he ‘mentioning’ that the gay boy “associates with a lot of girls” rather than boys?

14 Positioning Vis-à-vis his audience I know about gays I’m not “close to them” (= don’t get the wrong idea!!!) Vis-à-vis the master-narratives of heterosexuality + liberal discourse Gays as ‘others’ Self as tolerant person Vis-à-vis a ‘sense of self’ Practicing/working toward/testing out a sense of “this is me”

15 Characteristics of “SMALL” stories Short Conversationally Embedded + Negotiated before during after Fine tuned positioning strategies –fine-tuned vis-à-vis the audience –fine-tuned vis-à-vis dominant + counter narratives –multiple moral stances (testing out and experimenting with identity projections ) Low in tellability, linearity, temporality + causality

16 Functions of “SMALL” stories Practice in doing identity work Continuous editing of experience –Retelling of experience –Re-tuning these tellings according to different audiences Different master-narratives different (developing) senses of ‘who-I-am’ Resulting in some sense of coherence though one that is constantly reworked

17 conclusion So, rather than assuming the existence of identity + sense of self – and viewing narratives as reflections thereof, I am suggesting to study the emergence of a sense of self by way of exploring the SMALL stories people tell in their EVERYDAY interactions

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