Personal Stories and Narrative Identity

Identity is a hot top­ic in our soci­ety, with reg­u­lar arti­cles on ‘How to find your iden­ti­ty’ and what iden­ti­ty means in a shift­ing cul­ture. Advocates on all sides of the cul­ture, gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty wars also appeal to iden­ti­ty as a core ide­al worth defend­ing. However, from the broad usage of ‘iden­ti­ty’ across these dif­fer­ent scopes I get the feel­ing that many of these ‘dia­logues’ are real­ly talk­ing cross-pur­pos­es and using dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tions of iden­ti­ty. So how do we think about identity?

Well one of the help­ful ways of think­ing about var­i­ous forms of iden­ti­ty is from the per­spec­tive of sto­ry telling. Simply put if you were to tell the sto­ry of your life how would you go about recount­ing it? What would you empha­sise, and what would you leave out? Which events have shaped your life, and which have fall­en by the way­side unno­ticed? How do you inte­grate all the dif­fer­ent facets and expe­ri­ences that you have?

I stum­bled across an arti­cle over on the Atlantic that elab­o­rates on some aspects of Narrative Identity from the per­spec­tive of telling our own per­son­al sto­ry. It is a very use­ful way of fig­ur­ing out iden­ti­ty issues, and as we strug­gle in a world that val­ues iden­ti­ty high­ly, but does­n’t have a strong grasp on it, it will become invalu­able. For Christians the val­ue of Christian iden­ti­ty is sim­i­lar­ly core, although just as ten­u­ous­ly grasped.

This short snip­pet gives the gist of the article:

In the realm of nar­ra­tive psy­chol­o­gy, a person’s life sto­ry is not a Wikipedia biog­ra­phy of the facts and events of a life, but rather the way a per­son inte­grates those facts and events internally—picks them apart and weaves them back togeth­er to make mean­ing. This nar­ra­tive becomes a form of iden­ti­ty, in which the things some­one choos­es to include in the sto­ry, and the way she tells it, can both reflect and shape who she is.  A life sto­ry doesn’t just say what hap­pened, it says why it was impor­tant, what it means for who the per­son is, for who they’ll become, and for what hap­pens next.

I high­ly rec­om­mend you go and read the rest:

In addi­tion I will con­tin­ue to be post­ing things on iden­ti­ty, gen­der and social iden­ti­ty in the next lit­tle while. Many of which will build on some of the con­cepts that I’m rais­ing now.

Let me know in the com­ments what you think of Narrative Identity.

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