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Thinking big with small stories in narrative and identity analysis - page 6 / 9

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Stories in narrative and identity

As I have signalled above, small stories should be central to the intensification of a constructive dialogue between narrative inquiry and narrative analysis around issues of identity. The question of what is specific to narrative about constructions of self should be addressed on the basis that a full understanding presupposes an opening up of narrative research beyond the reductive confines of a single type of narrative with the aim of documenting the richness and diversity of narrative genres. This requires a decisive shift from “what does narrative tell us about constructions of self?” to “how do we do self (and other) in narrative genres in a variety of sites of engagement?” In the context of a longstanding privileging of a certain kind of subjectivity, a certain kind of self and a certain type of narrative data through which to explore self, this shift can be seen as a new narrative turn, one that does not prioritise a unified, coherent, autonomous, reflected upon4 and rehearsed self within a restrictive view of narrative as “a version of life given as a particular moment as expressing the given story as consistent and sequencing experience as lived” (Roberts, 2004, p. 270; cf. Parker 2003, pp. 301-315). Instead, one that allows for, indeed sees the need for a scrutiny of fleeting, contingent, fragmented and multiple selves, “deriving their definition through relations with others, […] becoming on the boundaries of self and other” (De Peuter, 1998, p. 32) in narrative tellings in situ. I have argued elsewhere (Georgakopoulou, 2006a) that this new narrative turn, one that I see as inextricably bound up with small stories research has to be methodologically grounded and analytically associated with the following three paradigm shifts:

a) Latest practice-based theories of genre that link ways of speaking with the production of social life, seeing genre as a “primary means for dealing with recurrent social exigencies … a routinized vehicle for encoding and expressing particular orders of knowledge and experience” (Bauman, 2004, p. 6; also see Hanks, 1996).

b) A view of identities-in-interaction (for an overview see Bucholtz & Hall, 2005), that is, as locally accomplished categories, jointly drafted, contested/contestable, performed (as opposed to “real”; cf. Bamberg, 1997, Coupland, 2003), open to revision and refashioning and not easily isolatable but in interrelation (co-articulated) with other social actions (cf. Androutsopoulos & Georgakopoulou, 2003).

c) A late modern theorizing (e.g., Appadurai, 1996, Harvey, 1989) of the micro-, of small, unofficial, fragmented and/or non-hegemonic social practices as crucial sites of subjectivity.

Space limitations do not allow me to expand on each of these three strands that can provide an overarching framework of coherence for small stories. On the basis of this framework though, small stories research can offer a way out of celebratory, idealizing and essentializing accounts that have tended to see narratives as authentic and uncontaminated accounts of self (cf. Atkinson & Delamont, 2006). The study of narrative is by now a well-established area that can afford to reach out to under-represented stories as well as viewing all stories as social practices amidst others (in

4 A common misunderstanding in this respect involves equating reflection with distance from events and seeing small stories as lacking in it. Within this paper’s approach, reflection cannot be seen outside the co-construction that actual contexts of storytelling involve and it is again on the intersection between tellings and sites of engagement, that is, what stories actually do where they are told, that we should be seeking to establish processes of reflection/reflexivity rather than in inherent properties of events or stories

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