EDITORS: Bamberg, Michael; De Fina, Anna; Schiffrin, Deborah
TITLE: Selves and Identities in Narrative and Discourse
SERIES: Studies in Narrative 9
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
Davi S. Reis, Department of Applied Linguistics, The Pennsylvania State University
This is the ninth and most recent volume of ''Studies in Narrative,'' a series of
publications devoted to the study of narratives in human interaction. It is an
edited collection of thirteen papers written by multiple authors in different
traditions and orientations. The first chapter, an introduction by the editors,
situates the volume in the larger context of theoretical work on identity and
narrative and provides the reader with a roadmap with which to journey through
the remaining thirteen chapters. Mainly, the editors explain that although each
chapter has its own approach in terms of methodological and analytical tools,
they all draw from three main traditions: sociolinguistics, ethnomethodology,
and narrative interview research. Weaved throughout the volume is the notion
that self(-ves) and identity(-ies) are fluid, contextually-dependent, and
discursively constructed and negotiated through social interaction.
The first paper in the volume is an exploration of indigenous children's stories
about spirit encounters. The author, Minks, starts off with a discussion of the
setting of her study (Corn Island, off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua). Her
main argument is that through the telling and listening of such narratives of
spirit encounters, Miskitu children both contribute to and become integrated to
their natural, social, and cosmological world. Through her analysis, Minks
deconstructs the rhetorical structures of these narratives and explains how they
serve as socialization tools that link the children's natural and spiritual
worlds with their social networks on the island. Given the children's low
hierarchical status on the island, their narratives enable them to carve out a
place of their own. Although this paper requires the reader to delve into all
the relevant cultural and linguistic aspects of the Miskitu people and language,
Mink's helpful and insightful footnotes make for a pleasant read.
In the volume's second chapter, Ayometzi explores how 'undocumented immigrants'
in ''Texas Town'' resort to 'witness stories' (i.e., stories of conversion) in
order to create and sustain a public identity as 'good Christians'. After
introducing the paper and expanding on her view of how narrative and story
telling come to bear on the analysis of identity, the author describes the basic
structure of the witness stories and how it is appropriated by tellers. Through
this fascinating account, Ayometzi explains how these Mexican immigrant workers
re-story their experience through the telling of conversion stories. In her
view, this sort of re-storying enables them to construct and sustain an identity
as 'Christian' rather than 'illegal immigrant,' thus attempting to become a
welcomed addition to their new environment. Ayometzi's analysis provides a
much-needed and timely in-depth look at how undocumented immigrants position
themselves and are positioned by others when working in the U.S.
In the third chapter, a fascinating study of sociolinguistic repertoire, Davies
argues that individuals are agentful beings who make use of language to project
an identity. She uses an interactional sociolinguistic methodology to analyze
the speech of six speakers of Southern American English. The contribution of
this article to sociolinguistic studies lies in its exploration of how speakers
consciously craft a dialect in response to ideological beliefs and thus attempt
to put forth a less stigmatized version of self. In addition, Davies employs
collaborative analysis with the speakers themselves. Her analysis of each of the
participant's spoken data interweaves carefully chosen excerpts with very
insightful discussions on how the speakers choose to present themselves
discursively. As a whole, this paper is an argument for understanding context
not as a predictor of an individual's language production, but as a factor that
can affect and be affected by it.
Paoletti and Johnson's piece, the fourth in the volume, zeroes in on the
narratives of an elderly, second-generation Italian-Australian woman about her
courtship and wedding. The authors use a combination of narrative analysis,
conversation analysis, and Membership Categorization Analysis (MCA) to explain
how the teller projects and sustains her identity throughout her interactions
with the interviewer, who is also Italian-Australian. Interestingly, both
interlocutors use their Italian ethnicity as shared knowledge and as a way to
either associate or dissociate from their familiar heritage. From an
ethnomethodological perspective, Paoletti and Johnson explicate the processes
through which both interlocutors project their identities during the interview,
especially in regards to their ethnic, gender, and class membership identities.
In addition, they account for how a 'sense of ordinariness' is achieved by the
teller when even highly personal events in her life are told matter-of-factly.
This chapter is a valuable example of how narrative and conversation analyses
can be used in identity research.
In chapter five, by Petraki, Baker, and Emmison, concurrent interviews with
mothers and daughters spanning three generations of Greek-Australian women give
insight into how these tellers negotiate the details of the stories they tell
and the moral dimensions they encompass. The authors use MCA and
ethnomethodology to account for how the participants both construe and negotiate
their identities in and through discourse. The focus of their analysis is on
good versions of motherhood, as they chose to analyze interview excerpts of
daughters praising their mothers. They conclude that mothers and daughters stand
in a complementary relationship to one another, producing idealized versions of
such identities. Examples of these idealized identities are ''busy mother and
helpful daughter'' or ''strong mother and proud daughter.'' In addition to
contributing to our understanding of how relationships are formed and maintained
in and through talk, their analysis sheds new light into how praise is given and
Repetition is the main focus of chapter six, in which Gordon explores its
connection to the ''trying on'' of multiple identities. Her data consist of
naturally occurring interactions between a young child (Natalie), her parents,
and other interlocutors. Gordon brings together Goffman's (1981) notion of
footing, Bakhtin's (1986) concept of 'double-voiced words,' and Becker's (1995)
idea of 'prior text' to show how repetition allows Natalie to play with
different maternal footings (e.g., disciplinarian, worker, teacher, etc.). Her
analysis is both thorough and incisive, as she accounts for both intratextual as
well as intertextual repetitions. For Gordon, these instances of identity play
are critical for Natalie as she learns interactional and identity orientations
that are highly important to her, both in the broader sociocultural context in
which she lives and in the micro context of her family relationships. Gordon's
meticulous analysis and insightful discussion adds a great deal to our
understanding of how prior socialization is an integral part of identity
In the volume's seventh paper, Ely and his colleagues focus on early self
development. They investigate the narratives (and specifically, the use of
first-person pronouns) of 96 children between four and nine years of age. The
authors categorized their findings into four broad dimensions of the self:
active, social, material, and mental. Despite the descriptive nature of this
study, the authors address a few hypotheses and offer some interesting findings
in relation to differences in, for example, age and gender.
In the next chapter, Guo analyzes the linguistic interactions of several
five-year old Chinese boys and girls in semi-structured play. His purpose is to
show how the children feature ''stable and deeply entrenched'' gender identities
when interacting with one another in same-sex and mixed-sex triads. Based on an
extensive analysis of the children's transcribed speech, Guo concludes that
gender identity guides behavior and discursive practices in different social
situations. He takes a theoretical stance that is between the essentialist and
the postmodern traditions in gender research and challenges the postmodern view
of gender as ''an emergent and transient epiphenomenon'' (p. 223). He argues that
gender ''is not merely being passively created in our daily social interactions,
but rather, it plays an active role in influencing our social interactions'' (p.
224). Although some readers might find Guo's argument controversial, it is worth
considering, despite its displeasing length.
In chapter nine, Moissinac delves into the discursive processes through which
four 13-year-old boys, through the telling of 'small' stories, position
themselves in relation to each other and in relation to the hegemonic
masculinity narrative. Drawing from discursive psychology and Bamberg's (1997)
positioning analysis, the author shows how the boys make identity claims for
themselves. A specific example is how one of them, Kev, reestablishes the
believability of his story and his reliability as a story teller after it has
been challenged by his friends. He does so by telling another 'small' story and
using sophisticated discursive devices, thus realigning himself with his
interlocutors. Although the literature review section of the paper seems longer
than necessary, Moissinac's analysis and conclusion are worth considering. His
work convincingly adds to the argument that 'small' stories can reveal the
intricacies of identity construction at the microgenetic level of analysis.
The data analyzed in the next chapter, by Korobov and Bamberg, come from a
larger study of adolescent boys' discourse development. It involves the
'naturally-occurring' conversation of six 10-year-old boys about female nudity
on a television game show. Although the authors draw from work in discursive
psychology, they rebuff Davies and Harré's (1990) work and put forth their own
conceptualization of positioning, in which identities are discursively
constructed in interaction and in situ. Their analysis of the boys' transcribed
talk is detailed, consistent, and instructive. In short, they claim that the
boys' identity is a confluence of positionings as 'masculine,' 'heterosexual,'
'childish,' and as 'consumer critics.' For Korobov and Bamberg, the 'doing' of
identity work is much more complex, subtle, and strategic than traditional
psychology would lead us to believe. The paper ends with some implications for
the study of gender identities.
In the eleventh chapter, Deppermann focuses on naturally occurring interactions
among a group of German male adolescents. His argument is that the competitive
and entertainment-oriented nature of adolescents leads to the stereotyping of
the groups to which they don't belong. He claims that by doing so, group members
can discursively construct and affirm their own identity as a group (i.e., by
focusing on what they are not) and yet preserve their individual autonomy. Thus,
such stereotyping is a way for group members to build consensus and emotional
cohesion. Drawing from ethnomethodology and conversation analysis, Deppermann
provides the reader with an in-depth look at the boys' conversation and
demonstrate how they portray members of other social groups. Although the
transcripts are especially hard to read due to the need for translation from
German to English, they clearly support the author's main claims.
In chapter twelve, Sorsoli convincingly presents an argument for 'layering'
different analytical readings within the same qualitative analysis. In this
case, Sorsoli focuses on understanding the experiences of a Black woman whose
childhood was painfully haunted by racial prejudice and discrimination. Rather
than relying on any one single 'layer' of analysis (e.g., statements,
stories/narratives, or dialogue between researcher and participant), the author
chose to separately analyze the data for each of these levels, which meant using
different units of analysis. This paper is a forceful reminder that a
researcher's analytical tools, no matter how rigorously used, always present
some limitations. Sorsoli thus argues for the use of multiple analytical tools
with which to analyze qualitative data. Despite being more time-consuming, as
she concedes, layered methods of analysis can bring a much richer understanding
of human experience than a single method. Despite a few occasional typos,
readers will likely find this chapter extremely useful.
The last paper in the volume, by Fasulo, is a study based on eight
video-recorded group psychotherapy sessions involving six Italian men, formerly
addicted to heroin. Her analysis underscores the narrative understanding of self
and how the successful enactment of discursive identities through a community
register (i.e., the kind of language used in group psychotherapy sessions in
regards to fighting heroin addiction) is critical to the survival of certain
ideologies. In her view, the self not only emerges in interaction but also needs
to be socially ratified in this context. Fasulo's use of video recordings and
inclusion of a couple of images in the chapter is a welcomed analytical step
that enriches her analysis and strengthens her argument. In addition, her choice
of a two-column format for the English-Italian transcripts makes them easier to
read and to analyze. All in all, this final paper is an engrossing account of
how specific community registers influence how identities are formed, taken up,
challenged, and negotiated.
Although the introductory chapter helps to guide readers as to the volume's
contents, it fails to provide information on its organization. Thus, the
inquisitive reader might wonder why the chapters are sequenced the way they are.
Although the papers draw from three focal traditions (i.e., sociolinguistics,
ethnomethodology, and narrative), they are not clustered in any way or organized
in any systematic fashion. As such, readers might prefer to read chapters
associated with these broader orientations as follows: Chapters by Minks,
Davies, Gordon, Moissinac, and Korobov and Bamberg for sociolinguistics;
Paoletti and Johnson's, Petraki et al's, Deppermann's, and Fasulo's papers for
ethnomethodology; and Ayometzi's, Ely et al's, Guo's, and Sorsoli's explorations
coming from a narrative perspective.
Similarly, although all the chapters share an interest in discourse and
identity, they do not 'speak' to one another. This lack of cohesion among the
chapters, especially those sharing common epistemological traditions, might be
viewed by some readers as missed opportunities for potentially productive
intertextual discussions among authors. One notable example is Ely et al's
paper, which although very well written and presented, seems somewhat
disconnected from the rest of the volume, given its use of statistical
measurements and pre-established categories. As such, it might discourage some
readers from considering the authors' arguments and findings; nonetheless, the
authors intertwine their own understanding of narratives with current notions of
self and identity rather convincingly.
Finally, the lack of a concluding chapter might frustrate some readers. In
addition to the introduction, a final chapter by the editors would have provided
readers with a stronger sense of how all the individual chapters contribute to
the entirety of the volume. Although the editors attempt to do so in the
introduction, it is not an in-depth discussion. Given the scope and breath of
the volume's individual papers, some concluding remarks and parting words would
be in order. As a side note, the reader will also encounter a few scattered
typos, though infrequent.
All things considered, however, this volume greatly advances our knowledge of
how selves and identities are continuously produced in the micro-level of daily
activities and social interactions. The in-depth analyses in each of its
chapters provide a magnified look into the complex intricacies of identity
construction, maintenance, negotiation, and above all, change. It is undoubtedly
a worthwhile and welcomed addition for researchers in social sciences,
particularly psychology and applied linguistics. It will also be of great
significance for graduate students interested in these areas, as each chapter
serves as an exemplar of various traditions and methodologies in the study of
narrative and identity.
Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). The problem of speech genres. In C. Emerson & M. Holquist
(Eds.), V. W. McGee (Trans.), _Speech genres and other late essays_, (pp.
60-102). Austin: University of Texas Press. (Original work published 1979).
Bamberg, M. (1997). Positioning between structure and performance. _Journal of
Narrative and Life History_, 7, 335-342.
Becker, A. L. (1995). _Beyond translation: Essays toward a modern philology_.
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Davies, D., & Harré, R. (1990). Positioning: The discursive production of
selves. _Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior_, 20(1), p. 43-63.
Goffman, E. (1981). Footing. In Goffman, E. _Forms of talk_ (pp. 124-159).
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Davi S. Reis is a third-year PhD candidate in applied linguistics at the
Pennsylvania State University in University Park, United States. His research
interests include L2 teacher education, non-native English speaking teacher
issues, Vygotskian sociocultural theory, narrative inquiry, and L2 teacher
identity. He is currently teaching in the International Teaching Assistant
program at Penn State and plans to pursue a career in academia as an L2 teacher
educator and researcher.