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Narrative Theory

Teacher Education Quarterly

The Rise of the Life Narrative

The version of “personal” that has been constructed and worked for in some Western countries is a particular version, an individualistic version, of being a person. It is unrecognizable to much of the rest of the world. But so many of the stories and narratives we have of teachers work unproblematically and without comment with this version of personal being and personal knowledge. Masking the limits of individualism, such accounts often present “isolation, estrangement, and loneliness . . . as autonomy, independence and self-reliance” (Andrews, 1991, p.13). Andrews concludes that if we ignore social context, we deprive ourselves and our collaborators of meaning and understanding. She says, “It would seem apparent that the context in which human lives are lived is central to the core of meaning in those lives” and argues “researchers should not, therefore, feel at liberty to discuss or analyse how individuals perceive meaning in their lives and in the world around them, while ignoring the content and context of that meaning” (p.13).

The truth is that many times a life storyteller will neglect the structural context of their lives or interpret such contextual forces from a biased point of view. As Denzin (1989) says, “Many times a person will act as if he or she made his or her own history when, in fact, he or she was forced to make the history he or she lived” (p, 74). He gives an example from the 1986 study of alcoholics: “You know I made the last four months, by myself. I haven’t used or drank. I’m really proud of myself. I did it” (pp. 74-75). A friend, listening to this account commented:

You know you were under a court order all last year. You know you didn’t do this on your own. You were forced to, whether you want to accept this fact or not. You also went to AA and NA. Listen Buster you did what you did because you had help and because you were afraid, and thought you had no other choice. Don’t give me this, “I did it on my own’ crap.”

The speaker replies, “I know. I just don’t like to admit it.” Denzin concludes:

This listener invokes two structural forces, the state and AA, which accounted in part for this speaker’s experience. To have secured only the speaker’s account, without a knowledge of his biography and personal history, would have produced a biased interpretation of his situation. (pp. 74-75)
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  • Date of publication: 08/08/2012
  • Publisher: Teacher Education Quarterly
  • Subject:
    Narrative Theory
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