Inventing the Self

Self in Identity; Meaningful Personal Integration or Self in Consciousness; Sociocultural Homeostasis

September 30th, 2013 by Shona Mari Sapphire · No Comments

This week’s readings enter into an entirely different examination on the possibilities for understanding the self from a psychological, sociological and philosophical perspective inclusive of the concepts of identity and emotion. This way of understanding self is a slightly more familiar lens through which I may have had more exposure on this topic and I am struck by the stark contrast between this week’s conversation and the previous neuroscience and philosophy accounts. As we have discussed in class, it seems incredible that these fields do not analyze this topic from a multidisciplinary approach. After reading on concepts of personal narrative, autobiography and identity in the formation of the self, it appears some or all of these notions were ostensibly absent from Damasio and Noe’s discourse; almost as if two entirely different subject matters have been distinguished which I supposed may be the point. It would be interesting to know how concepts of self linked with identity and notions of self tied to consciousness intersect within these two paradigms. How are the two reliably demarcated?

Laszlo articulates this differentiation when introducing the emergence of psychological postmodern-  narrative therapies which focus on a collection of factors emanating from an individual’s account of experience rather than forming determinations based in biologically instinctual responses. In this field, the study of autobiographical narratives of life stories serves as the foundation for studying the formation and health of the self. His chapter neatly summarizes several constructs of inquiry in the field of identity and narrative.

Attaining an empirically based account of something as abstract or variable as personal narrative is addressed within several of the theories presented by Laszlo.  In order to create a structure within which to collect data and form conclusions, some generalizations are made in terms of categories of personality, identity, storyline or narrative. Such as McAdams delineation of four main identity components involved in ascertaining “crucial motives of power and intimacy.” (118). A well integrated index of personal experience indicates a well developed “meaningful” self identity. Laszlo notes McAdams’ categories may be excessively abstract and I also believe they may be subjective or ethnocentrically biased.

Barclay’s method of evaluation of “the subjective experience of the narrator concerning the emotional value of the narrated event along a positive-negative continuum” (120) seems to offer a slightly more (objective) specific range of categories which can be measured qualitatively. This method, Laszlo points out, is supported by the availability of advanced information technology which makes content analysis in this qualitative research format more reliable (though not necessarily more accurate?).

In McAdams’ own chapters he outlines a category chart for character types or “imagoes” which seem to be based in value systems to which I personally do not relate and which would not fit a host of personal scenarios of individuals living in non-western societies. McAdams asserts that what he listed is a merely a “guide” and that much variation exists. I appreciate the construction of McAdams’ theory on personal myth creation and our understanding of self and his discussion of their being dual or disparate selves which conjoin into the characters of personal myths, appearing in varying degrees or intensity at various points in one’s life. This seems to accurately depict human development on a continuum throughout the life-span. I thought it was somewhat humorous that the two examples (or more?), McAdams used for a dual or “juggling” of self identity involved some variation of a “woman in her twenties or thirties” dealing with the identity of career and family – this seemed rather limited. I understand his theory needs to culminate around a central construct, but much of the underlying components which build his theory seem based partially in a narrow social, class or gendered valued standpoint. Perhaps I am overanalyzing through personal interest, but some of the concepts of character creation, personal myth and identity formation would seem not to apply to persons of an entirely other situational standpoint.

Another question concerning the correlation between language and the cultivation of self seems apparent here. If narrative theory requires the evaluation of an individual’s re-telling of their life-stories, as a foundational component in appraising how coherent, well-integrated or well-developed their self-identity is, how can this be done if an individual’s language (reading/writing) skills are limited? “…subjective perspective, meaning based on experience and the ability to reflect on it consciously are expressed by specific linguistic patterns in stories about the self” (123 Laszlo). If the individual was not formally educated in language to reveal such detailed articulations whether verbally or in writing, does this preclude the possibility that a well-formed self-identity is present? Or perhaps the analyst would need to be trained in colloquial or other literacy formats?

The concept of narrative self not “belonging” to the individual self, but rather arising through socially constructed means, through interaction with others and the external environment was rather interesting. Laszlo points out that this theory of understanding self and identity through social representation could make a valuable contribution sociologically, in understanding an individual and relation with groups of individuals.

Overall Laszlo presents the goal of narrative psychology materializing into a “real” science which can be applied to better understand the formation of self and identity. To me, these methodologies appear as viable and perhaps even more elucidating, in a different plane of information, than the neuroscience and quasi neuroscience/philosophical viewpoints of Damasio, Noe, Blackmore, Bolte-Taylor. I suppose it depends upon the goal of the inquiry, but I cannot help but think of Damasio’s claim that better understanding where the self is located within the biological organism would ultimately lead to an improved sociocultural homeostasis or advancement of humanity as a whole; how could this be accomplished without including some analysis of identity formation within an understanding of the self?  Exposure to this information construct makes visible the missing parts of the previous analyses we have examined thus far.

Perhaps an entirely different topic but one question also would be how diseased brains, ie; schizophrenic (or other severe mentally ill) minds create autobiographical narrative? Are the schizophrenic voices differentiated from the core self voices in writing the personal myth of identity? The preponderance of untreated schizophrenics who make up an estimated half of all untreated mental illness in the U.S. is of particular interest given the correlation with the perpetrators of many of the recent mass shootings- the last one being at the military compound in D.C. area.

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