Narrative psychology at the turn of the twenty-first century: approaches to the subject, transformation and ethics

2017-05-17T01:39:48Z (GMT) by Vassilieva, Julia (Ioulia)
The last three decades in the development of human sciences have been marked by an explosion of interest in narrative both as an object of study and as a methodological tool – this tendency has gained such momentum that it has been defined as a “narrativist turn”. Since the 1980s psychology has witnessed an exponential growth of research and teaching activity focusing on narrative leading to the emergence of narrative psychology. As a distinct field of inquiry narrative psychology is characterized by the elaboration of models of personality and self based on narrative principles. The present study provides the first comparative analysis and critical reading of three major streams of narrative psychology centring on their leading figures: Don McAdams’s narrative identity, Hubert Hermans’s dialogical self theory and Michael White and David Epston’s narrative therapy. The three approaches demonstrate some evident commonalities: all of them address meaning and intention in human lives; they are all rooted not only in psychological discourse but also in philosophy and interdisciplinary cultural theory; all of them have borrowed their key metaphors from literary studies and literature. Furthermore, all of them simultaneously encompass theoretical issues, research methods and therapeutic intervention and engage with political debates. However, while McAdams, Hermans, and White and Epston all share commitment to narrative their respective positions are uniquely different. These differences are particularly evident in the respective treatment of such issues as conceptualization of subject and specifically, coherence of self versus its decentred character; stability and continuity of self versus malleability, fluidity and change; methodological considerations and procedures and last but not least the ethical implications of each of the approaches. To a large extent the differences in the treatments of these issues that are seen in the three approaches can be attributed to their respective positions on a continuum from modernist to postmodern views. Adopting interdisciplinary approach this study investigates the historical context of the emergence and development of McAdams’s narrative identity, Hermans’s dialogical self theory and White and Epston’s narrative therapy and articulates insights and promises of these models. It identifies their far-reaching consequences in addressing a number of critical for psychology issues: personhood and agency, continuity and change, methodological issues and ethical dimensions of psychological theory and practice. It also critically interrogates the limitations of these approaches and offers ways of extending narrative theorising in psychology by drawing on a number of resources from philosophy and literary studies. A particular novelty of the present study relates to its broad framework that integrates Western and Russian perspectives and outlines new ways of mobilising Russian psychological heritage and contemporary scholarship. Overall, this thesis demonstrates that while the emergence of narrative psychology has been facilitated by the shift from modern rationality to postmodern thought and from a modern ways of life to postmodern experience, the importance of narrative psychology stretches beyond postmodern development. If postmodernism had focused on valorising difference and questioning the truth the current shift of concern refocuses attention on valorizing singularity and the overarching questioning of good. In this context, as this thesis affirms, narrative approach to the subject, change, methodologies and ethics provides a means to analyse these concerns in both theory and practice.