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Narrative - The Growing Significance Of Narrative

social story experience analysis life

The acceptance of narrative analysis as an approach to understanding experience has grown significantly. The social sciences, in particular, have undergone a resurgence of interest in life stories. Narrative analysis is now once again an important investigatory and research genre. One stream of early work in the area—tellingly called the "own story" approach—produced rich and detailed depictions of individuals' social lives. A leading example is sociologist Clifford Shaw's presentation of "a delinquent boy's own story" in his book The Jack-Roller, which portrayed the subject, Stanley, and his delinquent career, in Stanley's own words. To Shaw and others working in this vein, statistical profiles, professional assessments, and other "outsider" reports were no substitute for the deep understanding one gained from a narrative approach, a perspective now being extensively revisited.

The widespread contemporary interest in life stories followed a fallow period, from the 1950s through the 1970s, in which the leading research paradigms eschewed narrative. Narrative analysis was figured to be too "subjective," emphasizing that term's association with being biased. The view was that only neutral outsiders could be objective in describing personal experience, which by the same token required "objective" research procedures. This led to the proliferation of positivistic, quantitative techniques in these decades, which stressed measurement and statistical analysis, not the extended story-like accounts favored by narrative researchers.

The resurgence of interest in narrative, which began in the 1980s, stemmed in part from the disappointingly thin representations of experience produced by positivistic methods. While surveys of experience of all kinds, from quality of life to political sentiments, provided information about the distribution of attitudes and opinions, they offered little understanding of how these operated in subjects' lives. The desire for richer detail reminded researchers of the promises of early work on narrative material, once again centering attention on the subject's "own words" and "own story," as communicated by those whose experiences were under consideration. At the outset of the twenty-first century, narrative analyses of all kinds are being conducted across the social sciences and overlapping fruitfully with literary, linguistic, and historical studies (Holstein and Gubrium; Josselson and Lieblich; Rosenwald and Ochberg).

Narrative - The Structure Of Stories [next]

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