What are some forms of historical narration

WOLFGANG KRAUS


Even if some representatives of postmodernism have buried the concept of identity, it can hardly be denied - even after a brief look at the technical discussion - that the carcass is alive, and if it is true that the dead live longer, then it still suits it a long future ahead. Perhaps the better way is to use the term and its use as an indicator of changes in subject construction rather than exhausting oneself in predictions of its disappearance. "Identity" capitalized: IDENTITY, as a tank, as a work, as a "trumpet word" has faded, d'accord, but identity as a problem, as a constructional task of the subjects, is a very lively - and urgent - problem of the individual.

I would therefore like to follow my own suggestion, take the term seriously and use it as an indicator for changes in the construction of the subject. This is done in three steps. After considering changing the formation of identity, I present the approach of a narrative identity, which I consider to be particularly suitable for considering the named changes. The third section discusses the dimensions of a self-narrative in which the social changes in identity formation can be read.


1. The idea of ​​constructing one's own identity

The concept of identity has a long tradition in the history of ideas, but the general idea of ​​constructing one's own identity is still relatively new. It is a fundamental idea of ​​social modernity, which roughly covers the period of the last 150 to 200 years. At least that is what Kellner (1992) postulates - as one of many - and thus gives an answer to the question of why the subject is old, but its topicality is so new. After that, identity becomes a task of the subject in the specific historical situation of modernity in the first place. In the preceding pre-modern era, on the other hand, identity was "a function of fixed roles and a traditional system of myths that provided orientation and religious sanctions ... Identity was unproblematic and not the subject of reflection or discussion. Individuals did not go through identity crises, nor did they change radically their identity "(Kellner, 1992, p. 141). The term "identity" only became known then and to the extent that the formation of identity became a problem on a massive scale. Zygmunt Bauman states: "Identity can only exist as a problem, it was a problem from birth, was born as a problem ..." (Bauman, 1997, p. 134).

The identity "given" and hardly changeable with the social roles is opposed to the modern identity. It becomes "more mobile, multiple, more self-reflective and the subject of change and innovation" (Kellner, op. Cit.). Progressive modernization has made identities much more selectable and changeable. The historically new release of subjectivity is of course Janus-faced, both liberation and uprooting, and for the subjects it is an opportunity and a burden in one.

Now it would be naive to assume that ideas would spread through society like water on the kitchen floor. This also applies to the idea of ​​constructing one's own identity. It does not simply slosh through society, but provides a point of reference for the individual his Self design and his social practice. This individual Confrontation will look very different depending on social class and social and cultural capital. According to Wagner (1995, p. 232), the quality of this discussion and its dynamics can be analyzed in three dimensions. For typing the individual epochal constructions of identity in modernity, he suggests the three criteria ofsocial penetration, the choice and the stability in front. First, a differentiation has to be made according to how much the idea of ​​one's own identity has permeated society, i.e. how much all members of a society participate in this discourse. In the specific case of identity, it could be shown that the idea of ​​shaping one's own identity well into the 20th century was part of a bourgeois-elitist discourse that "said nothing" to the majority of the population. The idea of ​​shaping one's own identity was therefore by no means available to everyone. Restrictive access to education, isolation of social classes, restrictions based on gender roles were just some of the obstacles to participation in such a discourse. The saga of the dishwasher millionaire is not part of the basic ideological equipment in Germany and Western Europe.

Second, it has to be examined to what extent one's own identity is thought of as a question of actual choice and how such an understanding relates to the real practice of the subjects. It is easy to imagine that in some social contexts, given identities are taken over as a matter of course, despite the fact that there is a real possibility of choice. The choice of an identity is thought but not practiced - at best with a very narrow understanding of the concept of choice. So the question is whether a certain discourse "says something" to the subject, whether it can adopt it in a way that helps it to understand itself and its actions in this world. Even today, when the concept of opportunity is on everyone's lips, many spontaneous examples can be cited for the fact that a variety of options is thought but not practiced, we only think of the children taking over the family business or the impossibility of participating in it Working life as a result of poor school education and low social and regional capital. So one can be familiar with an idea without actually putting it into practice or being able to put it into practice. Of course, such a reference discourse does not remain without effect, since the individual must position himself against it.

The third criterion for the investigation of modern identities is the subjective understanding of the stability of an identity construction. For some, stability can mean a lifelong commitment, for others a mere provisional commitment that is always open to a change of identity. So even if the individual makes a choice, the degree of determination can be very different, depending on how "final" he sees the choice made with it. Here, too, it is easy to imagine examples for the individual positions, e.g. in understanding partnership or career choice.



Late Modern Identity Projects - In Search of Coherence

Even if the promise of modernity that the subject could / must constitute itself in a radical way has always been part of its program, it has only now become redeemable on a large scale and across many population groups. Because since the time of organized modernity Extensive processes of release can be observed in the 1950s, which are reflected in the disintegration or radical change in the meaning of a large number of social institutions - e. B. Church, trade unions, family - let it show.

The break-up of organized modernity since the mid-1970s has considerably strengthened the dynamism of the individualization processes. "Instead of being able to stay in a secure place in a stable social order, the individual is required to be actively involved in shaping their lives and their social positions in a constantly changing environment. Such a shift in emphasis must encourage insecurities and even fears "(Wagner, 1995, p. 243). The dynamic of social modernization has lately individualized the opportunities and risks of life more and more, which makes the individual resource question even more important for the development of identity and theory (Ahbe, 1997). At this stage of the crisis-ridden late modernity the insecurity (both in the simple existential sense and in relation to identity) is individualized. "The former forms of institutional rule have not been replaced by a market economy, but a confusing lack of rule and socio-economic regulation" (Beck, Giddens & Lash, 1996, p. 228).

So modernity has by no means developed further and higher in a linear fashion as a homogeneous epoch. That is why this process cannot be interpreted as a mere development in stages. On the contrary, it was and is shaped by complex social processes of uprooting and re-rooting, of detaching subjects from social practices and contexts, and of integrating them into newly emerging ones. And there is also the fact that the modern project was not simply victorious, but always had and has to do with anti-modernist tendencies. That is why it is not just about replacing old discourses with new ones, but about coexistence and occasionally opposing one another. Old forms of subject construction do not simply disappear, they remain available and can, depending on the milieu, living environment and social situation, prove to be capable of defining facets of their identity. Individuals in different living environments and social situations often have different forms of self-presentation available. Identity as a permanent acquisition no longer has a place in such an understanding. It is about constructions that can also turn out to be different depending on the environment and situation, a juxtaposition of old and new discourses, a patchwork identity. A development of modernity understood in this way insists that today we are dealing with a multitude of discourse offers for creating a self-narrative. From the point of view of the individual subjects, it is not their quality as early or late modern that is decisive, but their usefulness for their own self-definition. Identity discourses do not simply disappear, but they have to prove themselves in the task of the subjects to relate themselves to the concrete social situation. In this respect, they can be recycled if the living environment, social class and experience make it appear sensible. Epoch-specific typifications, such as those carried out by Wagner, must be aware of this fact.

 

Organized modernity
Crisis late modernity
Space available through economic growth, career choice as a life decisionno offer, structural unemployment, 2/3 society, career choice definitely not final
Dissolution of nation and class references, Tribalization (Maffesoli, 1988)

      Individual in the welfare state

      Individual as entrepreneurial self

Identity as performance, result, Achievement

      Identity as a process

The future is possible, livable, plannable within the framework of social offersPlanning periods are shrinking, biographical drafts have a short lifespan

 


2. Telling identity: Identity as a narrative construction

So it is a social development that burdens the individual with the task of forming a coherent identity without providing them with correspondingly coherent patterns for a longer period of time. Sure, the old narratives are still available, but very limited in scope. For this work on one's own identity, the attempt to make sense of yourself, I consider the approach of a narrative identity to be suitable.

The narrative psychology assumes that we shape our whole life and our relationship to the world as narrations (Mancuso, 1986; Hevern, 1997), but that we also operate the everyday interaction and the organization of what we experience narrative. "We dream narrative, daydream narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, clap, hate and love in narrative form" (Hardy, 1968, p. 5). In this respect, the narration is not a resume that one - not too often - writes and updates, but a fundamental mode of the social construction of reality. Narrations are embedded in social action. They make past events socially visible and serve to justify the expectation of future events. To the extent that events are narrated and perceived, "... are charged with the meaning of a story. Events get the reality of a" beginning, a "high point", a "low point", an "end" etc. People act out events in such a way that they and others classify them in just this way. ... So we live in a significant way through stories - both through telling and through acting of the self "(Gergen & Gergen, 1988, p. 18).

The approach of a "narrative identity"(Gergen, 1988; Ricoeur, 1991 a, b; Meuter, 1995) is suitable for analyzing the subjective construction of identity projects on the one hand and their social mediation on the other. The starting point for this approach is the consideration that the subject himself and his stream of experience narrative, in stories, organized. This organizational mode of experience has the following essential qualities:
- It takes place via socially mediated narrative forms (e.g. classic: progression narration, regression narration).
- It requires social negotiation processes. Because the people who play in the story have to confirm their role there.
- The concept of the future, the "project", is inherent in it. Because every narrative has a goal.
- It has an inherent dynamic of development, supported by causality and sequentiality.

Narrative identity can be defined as "the unity of a person's life as that person experiences and articulates it in the stories with which they express their experience" (Widdershoven, 1993, p. 7). Widdershoven speaks of "the" stories. So he uses - rightly - the plural. Because "the" life story should not be understood as a stable construct that could be presented at will. Charlotte Linde (1993) draws our attention to the fact that this story is in fact never presented in full. We experience more than we tell and we tell differently in front of each other. Depending on who we talk to and what self-image we want to present, we give "our" story different colors, we omit one and emphasize the other. In this respect, the self-story is indeed a "work in progress", the parts of which change again and again, depending on how the audience reacts to it and depending on how we have to integrate current experience.



Self-narration as negotiation

The events woven into the narrative are not only the actions of a single individual, but also the actions of others (Gergen & Gergen, 1988). In this way, the actions of others come into play as an integral part of one's own actions. Narrative constructions therefore typically need roles that support action. A self-narration can only be successfully maintained and updated if the role-bearers who support the action are willing to support the representations of the past, present and future. The self-portrayal as a nice person requires validation by third parties. This balancing out requires complex negotiation processes between the parties involved.

Whether a self-narrative can be sustained depends largely on the individual's ability to negotiate successfully with others about the mutual significance of events. This is especially necessary when the individual has acted wrongly about generally accepted norms. However, these negotiations do not necessarily take place in public. Rather, it anticipates this step and takes into account the general comprehensibility of its actions before it is implemented. Perhaps most of the negotiation process is anticipatory and takes place in front of an imaginary audience, which in turn takes the strain off real human interaction. This delicate interdependence of the narratives suggests that a fundamental aspect of social life is reciprocal bargaining.

From the point of view of identity theory, a narrative theory approach has the advantage that it relieves the subject of the - coherence-fixated - gaze: Not everything that the individual does and says is attached to him as an "identity attribution" or an "identity status" (Marcia, 1993) .Rather, it is about the analysis of narrative attempts, re-narrations and re-narrations of this subject, about his identity-strategic movements. The focus is therefore on the results of narrative actions and not on the "qualities" of the subject. This approach brings the effort - and the possible failure - of the subject into focus when trying to relate to a social - and power-determined - form potential (cf. Rommelspacher, 1997; McLaren, 1993).



Construction rules for self-narration

The narrative construction work is perhaps most evident when viewed in terms of the ideal type of "well-formed narration" (Gergen & Gergen, 1988). This consideration is based on the thesis that the construction of narratives is not arbitrary. Because it determines how a self-narration is evaluated socially (e.g. as true, plausible, improbable, honest, etc.). If we don't want to be incomprehensible and if we want to be socially recognized, we cannot break the rules of "real" stories. A large number of publications are available to analyze these narrative conventions (Ricoeur, 1988, 1989, 1991 a; cf. for literary studies: Frye, 1957; and for the social sciences: Labov & Waletzky, 1967, 1997; Mandler, 1984). As the quintessence of this discussion, Gergen & Gergen (1988) name five necessary characteristics of well-formed narration in Western culture.

a) A meaningful endpoint

b) Narrowing down to relevant events

c) The narrative order of events

d) The establishment of causal connections

e) boundary characters

a) Meaningful end point

For a narrative to be understandable, it must be clear what the narrator is aiming at with his story. This is by no means trivial. Because in narration, competing endpoints are often targeted; just think of stories in which the narrator's ambivalences are expressed. Such endpoints are usually available for a number of biographical steps - milestones. One is asked about it so often and by so many different people that over time a self-image develops that - with nuances - is readily available. So there is a repertoire of stories that almost anyone in a society can tell: school is part of it, or also: How I got my job. How I met my friend; how I became the way I am; how I once experienced something that is characteristic of me, etc. In relation to the future, the future dimension of identity, in the "classical identity theory" in the wake of Erikson, the ability to have a plausible future design is the criterion of an "achieved identity" , a successful identity (cf. Marcia, 1966; 1993).

The situation becomes problematic in the interaction when it comes to endpoints not reached by the narrator: Why don't you have a girlfriend, a job, a school leaving certificate, etc.? This is often understood as a question: Why are you not "normal"? How can you tell stories like this and still hope for social recognition from your counterpart? This is achieved, for example, by basing your narrative on arguments that are considered legitimate reasons for failure or not-yet-achieved in the respective society. Plausibility can be achieved, for example, by recourse to contingencies and external constraints: the (bad) parental home, the (bad) social situation (e.g. economic crisis), blows of fate, social or biological norms, e.g. one's own youth (I'm still too young) or through the proclamation of my own maturation / purification ("I was so stupid !!").

Today, finding a meaningful end point is not only made more difficult by individual failure, but also by social changes. The story "How I got my open-ended full-time employment contract for 40 hours a week", for example, only wants to succeed in a few. The consequence is that under the premise of this end point, many self-narratives are deficient because they do not have to appear closed. It would be something different to describe yourself as a "completely normal part-time worker with - of course, a fixed-term - employment contract".

From the point of view of a crisis-ridden late modern era, the question would be whether a self-narrative that lacks clarity of purpose does not react to the fact that this task is difficult to fulfill: it is hardly for individual areas of life, let alone for a person as a whole. A marriage is then no longer concluded "until death do us part", but, as an alternative suggestion, "as long as it goes well". Accordingly, James Marcia (1989) speaks of a "culturally adaptive identity diffusion", a lack of clarity in one's own identity project that is functional in the face of an unclear individual and social perspective.



b) Narrowing down to relevant events

Telling towards a goal organizes the discourse. Then it is clear what is essential and what is not essential for a narrative. This distinction is difficult when the story is not over yet, so it cannot yet be clear what the events are that can be retrospectively named as relevant. The first love is difficult to tell if it has not yet taken place and you only think you are on the way to it, the choice of career not if you have not yet found an apprenticeship. This shows that identity projects as "work in progress" are among the more difficult to tell stories, although in these cases too, of course, the topic determines the choice of event.

In order to get involved in the presentation of such unfinished stories one needs either ego strength or a protective environment. In theory of narration one would say that the narrator must have a strong sense of his role as an actor, or that it must be mirrored: it is he who shapes the story; or else he is supported in the storytelling by a recognition relationship, even if he does not want to see himself as an actor: if, for example, a young person is supposed to report on his so far unsuccessful efforts to build a relationship, then he will be able to do it comparatively better if he is Actor sees and can stage things or at least feels "accepted" in conversation.

The narrative relevance of an event is determined by the narrative goal. A general prerequisite, however, is that there is a stable universe of understanding with others. Only then can we quickly agree on the relevance of an event for the progress of a story. If there is no consensus, the narrator's need to explain and justify increases. If he does not do it, he renounces empathy and the demonstration of normalcy.

From the perspective of an individualized society in a crisis-ridden late modern age, I come to two considerations. If, on the one hand, a lifeworld orientation of the identity development leads to individuals pursuing a multitude of identity projects in different lifeworlds, which do not necessarily have to be interconnected, then it must be difficult to meet the criterion of event relevance in the order of their own self-narratives . The diversity increases the degree of contingency, which in turn makes the question of event relevance more difficult to answer. Everything is "somehow" related to everything, but cannot be presented from a purely economic narrative point of view. Second, the individualization processes also lead to individualized résumés. Opportunity leads to the use of the opportunities and the combination of the results of use in "handicraft biographies" (Hitzler & Honer, 1996) and "patchwork identities" (Keupp, 1988a). Event relevance is difficult to convey in such constructs because it has little resonance with the biographies of third parties. You are "unique, like everyone else".



c) The narrative order of events

The most widely accepted social convention is that of the linear temporal sequence ("one at a time"). Narrative orders can differ considerably from this ("I'll start from the back"), but on the basis of the knowledge that this expectation of temporal linearity can be assumed as given. If the chronological order of events fails, if someone does not get his story "on the line", this has an irritating effect on the communication partner. Violations of this convention are legitimate as a signal for being overwhelmed ("I was so upset") or for distancing / disinterest ("who cares").

Compliance with this convention is particularly required in the work area. In the event of immediate suspicion, we expect someone to be able to tell their work biography without any gaps, or at least to accept the request to do so without any problems and commitment, even if, for example, they cannot do it in detail without the aid of documents. Young people who had difficulties starting their careers fail in this task in interviews. They fail to chronologically describe their efforts to find apprenticeships and their failed training attempts. The result is confused narratives that cannot be repaired. Here the idea of ​​authority, the agency, helps to understand. If I am not the designer of my story, but rather the actor / victim in a story that happens to me, then it is indeed quite possible and plausible not to understand anything. Meaning making, the subjective construction of meaning requires a constructor. Such a task cannot succeed where he is not given his rights.

There are also patterns for chronological self-narration. Many biographical life events are assigned to ages and there are social norms for their ranking. When a woman has children, when to marry, there are - quite changeable - conventions. However, this does not release the individual from behaving individually to such norms and checking this behavior in their self-narratives.

The individual chronology is therefore in need of explanation in its relationship to a social norm. The degrees of freedom for this have increased significantly, the greater the individual need for clarification and explanation. And the more open the individual project definitions become, the more justification will be required for the implementation steps. This even applies to traditional concepts of life: Nothing is normal, but possible, i.e. chosen and therefore subject to justification. Not only the divorce needs to be explained, but also why a couple "still" lives together after 20 years.



d) The creation of causal connections

According to Western standards, according to Gergen & Gergen, the ideal narration is one in which the events are causally connected up to the target state. Every event should be a product of a previous one. To the extent that events within a narration are connected in an interdependent form, the representation approaches a well-formed narration. The same applies to the implementation of sub-steps of an identity project. An identity project is well-formed, i.e. plausible and realistic, if the transition from one sub-project to the other obeys a causal logic, or at least does not contradict it. So if one sub-project does not necessarily follow from another, it must at least not be in a causal contradiction to it and must in any case be integrated into the causal logic of the overall project. Someone who "doesn't know what they want", who "is unpredictable", who "can't make up a sense of their life" is not readable by their communication partners.

The question of why someone has become what he is brings us back to the subject of contingency. If something is possible in this way, but also in another way, then the burden of explanation for being so lies with the person who made the decision. Because in fact he could have made a different decision. You can deal with this burden of explanation in very different ways. A perfectly accepted strategy is to deny the option: there was no choice, period. In addition, there are social demands on the narrative strategies. In the area of ​​partnership, for example, we expect a story that tells of a choice (not the first to come) and an emotional secret (it came to me, love at first sight). Choosing a partner from the point of view of utility is socially coded as "calculation" and, unlike in the past, is not legitimate.

The situation is different for the work area. Here we expect a logical choice and a willingness to get involved in something new. If the logic of the choice cannot be based on the job profile itself, then at least on the framework conditions: a lack of transport links, for example, makes it plausible why the desired job was not chosen. The framework conditions can also serve to justify an identity takeover. To become a civil servant like the father: the social recognition for such a self-narrative will be limited. The reference to the bad regional situation on the labor market, on the other hand, makes the choice logical and forward-looking.

With regard to the causal connections in our self-narratives, the situation of the individual in a social phase of the disembedding difficult. To the extent that comprehensive constructions of meaning become scarce, it becomes difficult to individually experience meaning in the sequence of life phases and biographical steps. If life decisions are at best plausible, but not right or wrong, then constructions of causality tend to become attempts to conjure up a meaning in life.



e) boundary characters

In every communication, the handover between the communication partners is regulated. Goffman and others have examined this "turn taking" very carefully (cf. Schiffrin, 1997). If the interlocutor starts a longer self-narration, he signals this. Entering and leaving the narrative world is marked by "boundary signs". Boundary signs "frame" the narration and indicate entering and leaving the "narrative world" (e.g. "it was like this: .."). The narrator agrees with the listener to enter and leave the narrative world. This agreement applies even if the listener - interrupting the narrator - adds his own experience or a lengthy comment. As Linde (1993) emphasizes, this can be clearly seen in interviews when, for example, the narrator sticks to his topic despite occasional - unhelpful - comments or questions from the interviewer. Another case is when boundary marks are not set at the end of the narration, someone can no longer find their way out of a narration, or goes "in circles". This happens, for example, when he faces a narrative task and fails at it: A young person reports on his failed attempts in the world of work and becomes hopelessly entangled in the chronology of events. As with a "jump in the record", the narrative does not advance. It is not uncommon for the listener to act as a "savior" to release him from the story. If boundary signs are not set at the beginning either, it remains unclear whether the interaction partners are actually in the narrative world. The narrative world and the current interaction situation merge. The interaction partner remains involved because it is not used formulaically in the listener role, the narrator has the opportunity to "save" himself from the narrative into the situation and vice versa.

The question is whether it is precisely this form of self-presentation, which is deficient according to the rules of Gergen and Gergen, that characterizes the situational relationship in the construction of identity projects in late modern times: lack of clarity, fluctuations between situation and project, unwilling to commit. From the point of view of a crisis-ridden late modern era, one should ask whether the renunciation of the narrative position and the signaling of this act by means of boundary signs does not reveal a change in the formation of identity.

These five criteria of a "well formed narrative" are usually only partially fulfilled. However, the more they are fulfilled, according to Gergen & Gergen, the greater the credibility of a story. It should be emphasized that these elements are themselves social constructs and thus react to social developments. This becomes particularly clear in the artistic use of the narrative criteria. Postmodern narratives, for example, are characterized by the fact that they break through narrative logic, dispense with the precise naming of the narrative goal and its evaluation, and emphasize the infinite contingency of events (cf. McHale, 1987).



Design dimensions of self-narratives

In the presentation of Gergen's criteria, in addition to the explanation, I was primarily concerned with the question of whether, with regard to changes in identity formation in a crisis-ridden late modern era, the individual dimensions can be indications of such changes. If we assume that we are not dealing here with eternal rules, but with social norms, then, insofar as social changes take place, changes should also appear in the process of individual working through these rules. Such a fundamental change in the dimensions of a "well-formed narrative" is conceivable, but it should not be overlooked that there is a wealth of possibilities available for the concrete development of a narrative. In this respect, there are a number of signal levels in the self-narratives "below" the fundamental devaluation of the concept, on which changes in the subject construction can be firmly established.



content

A very obvious dimension is the concrete content itself. The narrator can - to put it bluntly - exaggerate a self-narration or design it sparingly, or even remain silent. Spontaneously, we would surely come up with many reasons why someone should choose one strategy or the other. So it's not just about chatter, but rather the strategic choice of self-portrayal. The area of ​​sexuality is an example of rather sparing narratives. In research interviews it is often difficult to provide the interviewees with an appropriate narrative framework for this topic. Accordingly, some self-narratives on this topic remain monosyllabic.



Authority, agency

If we assume that partial identities are developed in the worlds of family / partnership, work and friends / leisure, then we already have at least three content areas for self-narratives. Aside from the specific content, there are a number of options for designing them. One is the positioning of the actor. Psychologically speaking, the narrator can make himself "strong" or "weak" with an internal or external "locus of control": am I an actor in my story or am I an object in it, driven by other forces.



Suspense

The arc of suspense can also be very different. A "cool" story, for example, tries to keep the tension as low as possible. Gergen & Gergen (1988) distinguish three types of tension arcs on a very general level. In the stability narrative, the individual remains essentially unchanged in his evaluative position through the course of events. In contrast to this are the progressive narratives as the second form and the regressive narratives as the third form, in which the position of the individual on the evaluation dimension changes over time. As a rule, young people formulate progressive narratives, i.e. their stories are "looking up" (Keupp et al., I. Publ.). This does not apply to everyone and, above all, it does not mean a continuous increase. On the contrary, they often experience the course of their stories as highly dramatic ups and downs. The different approaches to narrative analysis also refer to a whole range of dimensions, e.g. the linguistic means, syntax, grammar, the design of the beginning and the end. In a self-narration, I do not just show myself through the content, but through a multitude of signal levels.



Choosing a genre - ready mades

The individual is anchored in a multitude of different worlds for which there are or can be their own forms of self-narration. Career entry, first love, school experience: of course, there are narrative patterns for milestones in socialization. "At least effective socialization should enable the person to interpret life events as constants, improvements or deteriorations. And with a little more training the individual should acquire the ability to see life as tragedy, comedy or romantic saga" (Gergen & Gergen, 1988, p. 33).

If the available forms of narration of the self are socially conditioned and limited, then the question is what that means for the individual self. In any culture, it can be assumed that some forms of story are used in it much more frequently than others. In our society, for example, self-narratives that deal exclusively with equality, constancy and circularity are largely suspect. Even a bland life needs to be told dynamically. Because self-narratives with a high dynamic of promotion and relegation, struggle and victory are rated socially higher. The struggle for a balance in this area of ​​tension is one that is induced by socially sanctioned narrative goals.

Empirically, this would mean that regardless of the real biography, narratives would have to occur more often that represent a dynamic, change-ready attitude of the self-narrator. In a study by Gergen & Gergen (1988), this thesis was empirically confirmed for adolescence. The young people use the model of progression, the upward movement after a crisis and, depending on their individual biography, fill it with facts of very different "weight". "In the end, the crisis of the adolescent period does not seem to reflect a single objective factor. Rather, the participants seem to use this given narrative form and employ the facts with which this choice can be justified" (Gergen & Gergen, 1988). As Cross & Markus (1991, p. 232) emphasize, this filling of the narrative form with biographical material is itself a demanding process of evaluating and recalibrating aspiration levels. The narrative smoothing (narrative smoothing) has a process character and takes place in an ongoing social evaluation process (Spence, 1986).



Time perspective

Everyone has a variety of self-narratives with which to enter into a social relationship. Nor is there just a single perspective of time to which he could relate it. Events can be linked over a very long period of time as well as over a very short period of time. So someone can see their life as part of a growing historical movement that began centuries ago (progression narrative) and at the same time describe an evening with friends as a tragedy.

The ability of individuals to connect events within different temporal perspectives is referred to as the Narration nests (nested narratives) (see Mandler, 1984). Narration nests are stories that are embedded in other narratives, that is, stories within stories. For example, a person can present himself as part of a historical development. In this narration there is another one of one's own lifetime, in that another one of oneself as a professional and within it another situational one, etc. The concept of narration nests creates a connection to the concept of embedding, i.e. to analyze the embedding of subjects in different social aggregation levels (Giddens, 1995). With the question of embedding his self-narrative in other, overarching narrative contexts, the individual also comments on his position in the area of ​​tension between his own autonomy and social relatedness.



Construction of meaning through figures of causality

The real facts are a mere quarry for self-narratives. "People do not deal with the world event by event or with text sentence by sentence. They frame events and sentences in larger structures ... The larger strcutures provide an interpretive context for the components they encompass" (Bruner, 1990, p. 64 ). So it's about meaning making and not about factuality. And this creation of meaning should not primarily make one's own history understandable as something lived, but rather it keep open for the future (Freeman, 1993, p. 216). From this perspective, three strategies can be distinguished. One is the emphasis on Fatefulness a decision. In our society it is currently z. B. used in the area of ​​partnership relationships. In love in our society one wants to avoid emphasizing the rational dimension of the decision. But career choice can also be told in this way, even if we seem to prefer more rational justifications here. Another justification strategy is that objective obstacle. It saves you a lot of explanations. In self-narratives, however, it is excellently suited to portraying itself as an autonomously acting subject who nevertheless has to recognize the limits of its autonomy. A career choice, for example, which the interviewer suspiciously assesses as a third choice, is made compulsory by the obstacle of transport links. Not cowardice, fear of one's own courage, pressure from parents were the reasons for the modest choice, but the lack of bus connections.

Against this is the counterintention or opposition the narrative medium that dynamizes the narrative. It appears as the Faustian "two souls in one breast" or as an opinion dispute, e.g. with the father. This tension reads well - in novels - but is rather poorly told - in self-narratives. To lie in a conflict of feelings: you need a very intimate relationship and a certain sense of self-worth or a high level of suffering, such as in a moratorium, to portray yourself in this way.

The dramatic quality of an event is not a quality of the event itself, but depends on its position within a narrative. The idioms: "Make an elephant out of the mosquito" or: "Pretend that nothing had happened" point pointedly to the discursive construction work that is necessary - and possible - in order to strengthen or weaken the dramatic quality of a narration. It is not the events themselves that create this quality, but the relationship between events.



Excursus: Nadja or: The narrative construction of love at first sight

Using the example of "Nadja", I would like to show how figures of the construction of meaning are used narrative without the factuality of the events being decisive. Nadja was interviewed several times in the course of a longitudinal investigation into identity formation (cf. Keupp et al., I. Publ.).

In the second interview, Nadja - at the time she was 21 years old - reports how much her life has changed in the last few months. Nine months ago she fell in love with a young man, three months later she moved in with him and in three weeks she will marry him. She is in the process of planning the details of the wedding and has her hands full. Her friend, who fell from heaven, she says, changed her life by 180 degrees. She has given up her peer group because she can no longer do anything with her old friends. She is now mainly in contact with young married women.

The surprised interviewer asks what happened to Marko, her boyfriend at the time of the first interview two years earlier. Nadja can no longer remember the boy. The interviewer initially backs down, believing herself to be in the wrong story. Only gradually, over several attempts, does it become clear that the main actor in the story "love at first sight" is an old acquaintance and is indeed the one Marko who two years earlier took on the role of the "relational emergency nail".

A rather loose partnership has gained momentum and leads to the traditional model including changes in leisure behavior and the social network. Nadja's narration is not about gradual development but about sudden change, about fateful events. The early decision to marry and traditional roles is thus mystified. The driving forces are not social pressure or external circumstances, but the call of the heart, a sign of fate. Instead of a social adaptor, we are presented with an actor who participates in a mystery. And she doesn't even have to be responsible for it, it wasn't her decision, but a sign of fate.

How important such constructions are for the future is also shown by the negative counter-image of the "marriage of convenience". You can do that as a 50 year old, but not at the age of 21. For Nadja it's about justifications, about the question of why she does something and leaves something else. By telling of her love as something fateful, she also explains why she is going to get married now and why she has decided not to work anymore. Such reasons also appear explicitly in narratives. Someone had "no choice" or "always wanted" to do this or that. Such declarations are also promising for the future. They narrow perspectives or legitimize reorientations. It is important that Nadja, with the way in which she grasps this story, also works on her ability to connect to her future. The identity project of work seems to be ticked off - at least for the time being - and integration into the adult world as a wife is prepared.

3. Narrative identity and postmodernism: The criteria of well-formed narration as sensors of social change

Can you do without telling yourself, generating self-narratives about yourself? I mean no. The much-invoked "end of social meta-narratives" (Lyotard, 1986) does not mean that the subjects could - or wanted to - do without telling themselves, working narrative on their identity. It only means that it is precisely this end of social meta-narratives that makes the task of the individual much more difficult and that they can hardly succeed in telling themselves "from one piece", in other words, developing a stable and comprehensive self-narrative and continuing it seamlessly. Earlier societies and epochs that made coherent offers of the social construction of reality made it easier for individuals to connect their self-narratives in the sense of narrative nests. But still: A renunciation of a narrative self-design and the coherence constructed with it results in the self-dissolution of the subject. Because the construction work on an inner context of self-experience is indispensable, says Frosh (1991). After going through the psychoanalytic / psychiatric literature, he comes to the conclusion that the point must be to show degrees of freedom and strategies of self-development, instead of exhausting oneself in the celebration of the dissolution of the self (loc. Cit., 1991, p. 179 ff). He is convinced that this does not require a relapse into an essentialist position: the self is not a fixed possession, but rather a construct that develops in the course of individual development on the basis of internal and external experiences. The self is social and not inherited in an essentialist sense - but it is a true place of experience nonetheless. It is not the struggle for the coherence of self-experience that is psychotic, but the refusal, the non-acceptance of this struggle. The struggle may have become more difficult in the late modern era, but it is essential to counter the danger of disintegration.

If we want to analyze this struggle for coherence in the self-narratives of the individual, we have, as shown, two analytical approaches at our disposal. One is to analyze the design of this form within the framework of the normative determination of a "well formed narrative". The second point of view relates to the normative content of the definition of a "well formed narrative" itself and asks whether the "successful form" has possibly changed. What used to be considered a "well formed narrative" may now seem completely anachronistic and not viable. If one looks from these two perspectives on the analyzes of - very different - authors who discuss theses on the development of identity in the late modern / postmodern era, a number of characteristics of postmodern self-narratives can be filtered out and translated into narrative psychological terminology (cf. Kraus, 1996 ; McHale, 1987; Anderson, 1997; Gergen, 1991; Wagner, 1995; Neupert, 1996; Keupp et al., I. Publ.).

Plural narrative worlds.
Postmodern self-narratives refuse to integrate all living environments. The subject insists on the multitude of possible unconnected self-discourses. And it doesn't do this from a loss perspective, but in a celebration of the possibilities.

Individuality. Postmodern self-narratives are individualistic. They refuse to attempt to embed themselves in overarching social discourses. The messages are not identification and integration, but choice and experiment.

Present instead of future. The belief in planability, in designing one's own identity for the distant future, has disappeared. At best, planning still takes place as an ironic gesture.

Situational reference. The stories are situated in the here and now. And they "play" with the narrative situation by undermining the role of the narrator. He is a communication partner, narrator and actor in one. The boundary characters are not set.

Reduced narrative arc. The self-narrative dispenses with creating meaning over a whole life or long periods of life.

Emphasis on contingency. Something can be like this, but it can also be different. "Everything is possible". The agency of the individual is also doubted, as is the effect of overarching meaning givers and powers of fate.

Sensual, ironic gesture. Situational reference also means to "play" with the current interaction situation, to show oneself in it dazzlingly, to savor it, because it - and not the identity project - is the place to show oneself and experience.

Use of ready mades. The doubt about the durability of project drafts is shown in the quotation of "classic self-narratives" as set pieces in the situational self-narratives.

Situational definition of the actor's role. The actor in the self-narrative is neither sovereign, autonomous, in the sense that he can take his fate in hand, nor is the narrator omnipotent in the sense that he can construct a "good ending" to his story.

Open end. The narrator can no longer hope that everything will be okay, nor that he can have the matter under control. He refrains from making the narrative "round" or tying all the threads together.


Incidentally, the use of the terms "irony" and "game" quickly leads one to misunderstand the work of designing oneself as fundamentally pleasurable. It is not always and often not at all. How enjoyable this work of self-construction is depends to a large extent on the resources of the individual. Olivier Galland (1999, p. 20 f.) Speaks in this context of a "social polarization of youth": While some experiment with their identity constructions on the basis of material and social security and can and want to keep them open for a long time, others would prefer nothing pretending to get out of forced experimentation into a state of relative security as quickly as possible in the face of a precarious personal and social situation - accepting all constraints. So irony here not as a superior gesture, but not infrequently as loneliness soaked in despair.


* Colloquium of April 22, 1999




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