Chapter 1 IntroductionBy Gary Fireman, Ted McVay and Owen FlanaganofEdited by Gary Fireman, Ted McVay and Owen FlanaganPublished by Oxford University Press (New York) in 2003
A very general understanding of narrative is given first.
The stories we tell to ourselves and others, for ourselves and others, are a central means by which we come to know ourselves and others, thereby enriching our conscious awareness. (p. 3)
Of more importance is theoretical understandings of narrative by various late 20th century thinkers. Many aspects of our cognition seem possble through narratives, if not entirely by it. (I have to read Dennett (1991)!
The concept of narrative has been called “one of the more prominent currents in late 20th-century intellectual life” (Neisser & Fivush, 1994, p. vii), and a number of philosophers of mind have argued that the portions of human consciousness beyond the purely somatic- self-awareness, self-understanding, and self-knowledge - are products of personal narratives (e.g., Dennett, 1991). It is “because of the nature of our minds,” as Dan P. McAdams (1993) claims, that “we are impelled as adults to make sense of our lives in terms of narrative” (p. 134). This powerful role for narrative is realized by the linking of personal memories to present conditions and future hopes, by organizing, translating, and providing continuity and coherence to experience. Self-awareness and self-knowledge are constructed, to a significant degree, through narrative as we compose and assemble stories for ourselves and our world. In a complex interplay between the experience that makes for the personal story and the personal story that structures the experience, the narrator discovers the meaning and significance of the experience. It is through narrating that we learn about our selves, our community, and the social world (Bruner, 1986, 1990). (p.4)
One common criticism against narrative studies is that they are "subjective and relativistic." Critics of such a remark, true believers of positivism, seem to have a narrow understanding of objectivity. However, objective inquirey is possible even for something mechanically immesurable. The criterion of objectivity, in my understanding, is that an inquiry is publicly observable.
As the various chapters in this book demonstrate, personal stories are jointly constructed through social relations, are shaped by our nature and culture, and are logically compatible with the naturalistic scientific method of investigation. If yesterday's model of positivist naturalism (with the constraints of causal explanation, prediction, and control) is surrendered, then a plurality of methodological approaches are available and may be used to understand the meaning that informs a person's action in the world as lived. Narratives are available for observation; they are public and shared, and as a result their examination does not of necessity result in subjectivism and relativism. (p. 5)