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Review of  Considering Counter-Narratives

Reviewer: Giampaolo Poletto
Book Title: Considering Counter-Narratives
Book Author: Michael Bamberg Molly Andrews
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 16.2185

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Date: Tue, 5 Jul 2005 11:27:36 +0200
From: Giampaolo Poletto
Subject: Considering Counter-Narratives: Narrating, resisting, making

EDITORS: Bamberg, Michael; Andrews, Molly
TITLE: Considering Counter-Narratives
SUBTITLE: Narrating, resisting, making sense
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

Giampaolo Poletto, doctoral student, Doctoral School in Linguistics,
University of Pécs, Hungary


Each chapter in this collection ties together a paper, a set of
commentaries and the response by the author. Owing to the
unpredicted development of the original publishing project, this adds
to the editors' aim as discussed in the Introduction to the book, pp. ix-
x. Through an open and interactive research and debate, they intend
to enrich and encourage investigations and theoretical contributions
on counter-narratives described in Opening to the original
contributions, pp. 1-5. The scholars the book addresses can profitably
and sort of online confront with manifold theoretical and practical
interwoven aspects of the contents, perspectives, problems,
methodologies of their study. Forms of different dominant and
resisting social and cultural narrative representations are discursively
analysed: how they make sense; how to approach, define, identify,
relate them. The six essays bear on personal narratives and construct
an autonomous viewpoint, constantly bridging the individual and the
socio-cultural dimension. The following commentaries and response
centrifugally and centripetally discuss it. All contributions have their
own bibliographical references at the end. The conclusive note
emphasizes and argues that analyzing counter-positions, given their
complicit relation with dominant narratives, requires a social
interactional domain, a view which the studies in the volume and its
organization contribute to prospect – see Considering counter
narratives, pp. 351-371.

In Memories of mother (pp. 7-26) Molly Andrews focuses on the
difference between 'the story of mothering' (see Pope, Quinn, & Wyer,
1990; Burman, 1994; Morss, 1996) as a cultural product and
individuals' lived experiences of mothering and being mothered. She
analyses data based on in-depth interviews with four men and women
in their old age, who reveal how people locate themselves politically,
economically and historically when they speak about their
relationships with their mother. They developed in their lifetime and
show a level of understanding in their narrations, which thus challenge
the mother-blaming dominant narrative representation and notion (see
Phoenix & Woollett, 1991; Ambert, 1994), by providing and taking into
consideration the context in which the above experiences took place.
The four commentaries (pp. 27-50) and the response (pp. 51-60)
draw on: how to define and approach master narratives of
motherhood -- Kölbl; the positioning of the narrator -- Kohler
Riessman; the political intervention into psychological knowledge --
Coombes and Morgan; the narrative re-construction of problematic
pasts as a social and cultural product -- Murakami.

Karen Throsby explores the discursive resources through which those
women who failed in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments -- and are the
majority (see HFEA, 2000) -- make sense of their experience of
ambiguity, in the context of the dominant social and cultural
representations of the treatment as successful (see Franklin, 1990)
and of reproduction as the natural and inevitable life course.
Negotiating "normality" when IVF fails (pp. 61-82) argues that those
women and couples interviewed in different ways operate an attempt
to come to terms with their "realness" problem (see Layne, 2000) and
reframe their liminal position (see Balsamo, 1999) and condition as
normal. So doing, they seem to align with the normative discourses of
technology and reproduction, whereas they proceed to rework --
therefore to resist -- them. The three commentaries (pp. 83-104) and
the response (pp. 105-112) draw on: narratives of 'reproductive
normativity' progressing from disappointment -- Tuffin; the actual
relevance of the 'realness' problem and of the identification of
discursive strategies -- Crossley; the ideology of intensive mothering
and the co-production of counter-narratives -- Bell.

Bearing on the renewed interest (see Chaplin, 1994; Prosser, 1998)
for the use of visual documents in research studies, Barbara Harrison
outlines the workfield and discusses the narrative significance and
scientific value as a visual research methodology of photographic
images. Photographic visions and narrative inquiry (pp.113-136)
unfolds around a confrontation between a camera and forms of
narratives as auto/biography, photographic journals, video diaries and
photo-voice on one level; everyday photography (see Bourdieu, 1990)
and forms of story-telling on another level. The author gives an insight
into the latter, for it provides access: to narratives and counter-
narratives; to the issue of developing skills for researchers to properly
handle with them; to how people's processes of making sense and
interpreting are elicited (see Berger, 1972); to memory and identity
construction (see Hirsch, 1997); to the question on whether
photographs narrate can independent of written or oral words. On
finally assessing that researchers can resort to them for research and
narrative inquiry, the author points out that an understanding of the
significance and use of them in everyday life is needed. The three
commentaries (pp. 137-158) and the response (pp. 159-168) draw on:
the situated relation between narrative and counter-narrative
photographs and social, interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts --
Poddiakov; the complex relationships between pictures and
storytelling -- Chalfen; the problems of using images as narrative and
research data -- Rich.

The discursive approach of "That's very rude, I shouldn't be telling you
that" (pp.169-189) owes to discursive psychology (see Edwards &
Potter, 1992; Potter & Wetherell, 1987), works on questions of
representation (see Gubrium & Holstein, 1997), the notion of
narratives as shaping the social world (see Abell, Stokoe, & Billig,
2000). Rebecca L. Jones sets an analytical perspective for her
interviews with twenty-three older women where narratives about their
sexual and intimate relationships in later life are made moment-by-
moment. She highlights: the interactional situation of their production;
the making process, when parties resort to available cultural
resources; the way to explain how speakers work out their accounts
relying on or going against the popular representation of 'asexual
older people'; some moments, when participants both explicit their
orientation to tell counter-narratives and produce them; the need to
reflexively consider the position of the implicated analyst. Dominant
cultural storylines are quite complex and intertwined with counter-
narratives. The latter are not straightforwardly either identifiable by
the analyst, especially where the context itself creates the conditions
for telling them, or hinted at by speakers, partly because they may
tend to protect themselves from the telling of unacceptable resisting
representations. The three commentaries (pp. 191-212) and the
response (pp. 213-220) draw on: the problematic 'emic' and 'etic'
analysis, as to its synthesis, and distinction, as to its extent --
Korobov; the space between interviewer and interviewee and the
former's standpoint -- McLean Taylor; the significance and
methodological aspects of the study in a more sociolinguistic
background, towards an ethnographically oriented analysis --

Told stories, objects not only of social research (see Bruner, 1992;
Riessman, 1993), are an integral part of talk shows, which display
visual and auditory narratives and are finally argued to work to
produce counter-narratives. In White trash pride and the exemplary
black citizen (pp. 221-237) Corinne Squire adopts the perspective of
the relation between popular culture and everyday culture (see
Jacobs, 2000), instead of separating 'entertainment' from 'serious'
shows. She focuses on the narratives of 'race', gender and citizenship
through two small, time-sampled groups of US daytime television talk
shows. In her socio-scientific and cultural-studies comparative
research, such issues are viewed in context of 'trailer park' (see
Shattuc, 1997) class otherness and emotional anarchy. As story-
telling and moments of emotional incoherence are present in 'serious'
shows, where they can be as resistant and persuasive as more
explicit arguments typical of 'entertainment' shows, so the social
conflicts the former deal with are provided a forum for their affective
staging by the latter, where their narratives are turned into counter-
narratives framing a theory. The five commentaries (pp. 239-276) and
the response (pp. 277-288) draw on: questions on some issues in an
ethnomethodological perspective -- Hausendorf; the functions
of 'doing the talking' as social channeling of both talking and acting
within society -- Valsiner; theoretical and methodological suggestions
on how to implement the study -- Johnson; the extended discursive
examination of validated and legitimized counter-discourses of
oppressed individuals -- Pavlenko; a unifying perspective of the meta-
narratives of cultural experience and the story as a conversational
object, Squire's position and recent work in media discourse analysis --

Through the analysis of the cultural dimension of autobiographical
narrative, in Charting the narrative unconscious (pp. 289-306) Mark
Freeman examines: the process through which cultural texts
and 'textures' are elaborated and stored in memory (see MacIntyre,
1981; Freeman, 1993) and its unawareness, in relation to self-guiding
anticipatory narratives; the features of the 'narrative unconscious', as
the lived but unthought and untold rather than the dynamically
repressed (see Freud 1914/1918), as an uncharted culturally-rooted
area of one's history not yet incorporated into one's story. Narratives
and counter-narratives are forms of negotiation when making sense of
what happened and engaging in identification and non-identification,
approach and avoidance, connection and dis-connection.
Autobiography is conclusively to be reinterpreted (see Milosz, 1981;
Conway, 1989), as it both represents life and sheds light on the
multiple sources, close and distant, contributing to the making of the
self. The four commentaries (pp. 307-340) and the response (pp. 341-
350) draw on: autobiography and 'nonconscious' narrative-building
processes -- Mancuso; questions on the notion of culturally shared
unconscious memories -- Raskin; a narrative, autobiographical and
philosophical perspective comparing Freeman's and the author's view -
- Brockmeier; positioning theory in relation to autobiographical
psychological narratives speaking people into a community -- Morgan.


This informatively and methodologically fruitful volume is especially
valuable for its multifaceted insight and dynamic perspective. The
focus constantly shifts from the single steps of the specific
contributions to the path they move along, from a situated action to an
interactional situation. The unifying and salient issues are interaction
and transformation. The unpredicted tripartite organization of the
chapters reflects the findings of the essays, which show that
narratives and counter-narratives are subsumed to a transformation
process, rather than representing two fixed -- and in this case
opposite -- categories, or just them. So is the dynamic perspective
embedding the making of a research and the researcher's attitude,
which is referred to when authors talk about their reading their papers
after some time or about their involvement, or else is pointed out
through the commentaries and the relevant responses.


Abell, J., E. Stokoe & M. Billig (2000) Narrative and the discursive (re)
construction of events. In M.Andrews, S.D.Sclater, C.Squire, &
A.Treacher (eds.) Lines of narrative: Psychosocial perspectives.
London and New York: Routledge. 180-192.

Ambert, A-M. (1994) An international perspective on parenting: Social
change and social contructs. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 56,

Balsamo, A. (1999) Technologies of the gendered body: Reading
cyborg women. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of seeing. London: BBC/Penguin.

Bourdieu, P. (1990) Photography: A middle-brow art. Cambridge:

Bruner, J. (1992) Acts of meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University

Burman, E. (1994) Deconstructing developmental psychology.
London: Routledge.

Chaplin, E. (1994) Sociology and visual representation. London:

Conway, J.K. (1989) The road from Coorain. New York: Alfred A.

Edwards, D. & J. Potter (1992) Discursive psychology. Newbury Park,
London and New Delhi: Sage.

Franklin, S. (1990) Deconstructing "desperateness": The social
construction of infertility in popular representations of new
reproductive technologies. In M.McNeil, I.Varcoe, & S.Yearley (eds.)
The new reproductive technologies. Basingstoke: Macmillan. 200-229.

Freeman, M. (1993) Rewriting the self: History, memory, narrative.
London: Routledge.

Freud, S. (1958) Remembering, repeating, and working-through.
Standard Edition. 12. 147-156 (Original work published 1914.)

Gubrium, J.F. & J.A. Holstein (1997) The new language of qualitative
method. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

HFEA Press Release (2000, December) Over 50,000 babies born
following IVF treatment in the UK since first success in 1978.
Retrieved February 2, 2002 from

Hirsch, M. (1997) Family frames: Photography, narrative and
postmemory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Jacobs, R. (2000) Narrative, civil society and public culture. In
M.Andrews, S.D.Sclater, C.Squire, & A.Treacher (eds.) Lines of
narrative: Psychosocial perspectives. London and New York:
Routledge. 18-35.

Layne, L.L. (2000) Baby things as fetishes? Memorial goods,
simulacra, and the "realness" problem of pregnancy loss. In H.Ragone
& F.W.Twine (eds.) Ideologies and technologies of motherhood: Race,
class, sexuality, nationalism. London: Routledge. 111-138.

MacIntyre, A. (1981) After virtue. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre

Milosz, C. (1981) Native realm: A search for self-definition. Berkeley,
CA: University of California Press.

Morss, J. (1996) Growing critical: Alternatives to developmental
psychology. London: Routledge.

Phoenix, A. & A. Woollett (1991) Motherhood: Social construction,
politics and psychology. In A. Phoenix, A. Woollett, & E. Lloyd (eds.)
Motherhood: Meanings, practices, and ideologies. London: Sage. 13-

Pope, D., N. Quinn, & M. Wyer (eds.) (1990) Editorial: The ideology of
mothering: Disruption and reproduction of patriarchy. Signs. 15 (30).

Potter, J. & M. Wetherell (1987) Discourse and social psychology:
Beyond attitudes and behaviour. London: Sage.

Prosser, J. (ed.) (1998) Image based research. London: Sage.

Riessman, C.K. (1993) Narrative analysis. Newbury Park, London and
New Delhi: Sage.

Shattuc, J. (1997) The talking cure: TV talk shows and women. New
York: Routledge.


Giampaolo Poletto is a doctoral student at the Doctoral School in
Linguistics of the University of Pécs, in Hungary. His lingfields of
interest are discourse analysis, pragmatics, applied linguistics. His
research focuses on humor as a discoursive strategy for young
learners of Italian, in a cross-sectional and cross-cultural context.