The Grammar of Autobiography: A Developmental Account

By Jean Quigley | Go to book overview

1
The Discursive Self

Don't look for anything behind the phenomena; the), themselves are the theory. Goethe ( 1983, p. 74)

The task of psychology is to lay bare our system of norms of representation and to compare and contrast the enormous variety" of systems: the rest is physiology. Harré ( 1989, p. 34)

What sort of psychology is being advocated, or more importantly perhaps, what is this psychology against? The short answer is all forms of positivism. As to what this means exactly, "it is only a slight exaggeration to say that all one can reasonably infer from unexplicated usage of the term 'positivism' is that the writer disapproves of whatever he or she is referring to" ( Hammersley, 1995, p. 2). Somewhat more specifically, this approach opposes what Shanon ( 1993) has summarized very neatly as the Representational-Computational View of Mind (RCVM). Although this has dominated in psychology since the 1960s or so, that is not to say that it has gone unchallenged for all that time. The seminal critique in relation to the semantic representation of meaning was presented by Wittgenstein as early as 1953 but it is probably fair to say that even now the cognitive science model remains the most important general framework in use in psychology.

The tradition of the person as a central information-processing mechanism has dominated psychology. Initially, the cognitive revolution of the 1960s was greeted with welcome relief after the radical behaviorism that had been in place for so long with such disastrous effects for psychology's advancement. At last, meaning seemed to be reclaiming its place center stage. However it did not work out exactly like this, surplus baggage along the lines of a Platonic central mechanism that was abstract, fixed, and universal, came too. This occasioned the now familiar research heuristic in psychology that draws a strict line between internal psychological structures and processes and external environmental content, the latter having to be cleared away in order to get at what is "really real".

If the computational model concentrates on information processing, then discursive psychology is interested in meaning and meaning making ( Bruner, 19901); where the traditional model treats of the system of already-spoken words, the new paradigm's aim is to describe words in their speaking ( Shotter 1993a).

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See Edwards ( 1997) on what he calls the thorough-going cognitivism of Bruner and also Chafe's narrative psychology.

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