Social Interaction, Social Context, and Language: Essays in Honor of Susan Ervin-Tripp

By Dan Isaac Slobin; Julie Gerhardt et al. | Go to book overview

22 1
NARRATIVE DEVELOPMENT IN SOCIAL CONTEXT

Ageliki Nicolopoulou Smith College

An important teacher often plants seeds that take years to come to fruition. I am increasingly struck, in retrospect, by how much this pattern applies to my long-term association with Sue Ervin-Tripp. As a graduate student at Berkeley in the late 70s and early 80s, I found it hard to make up my mind whether to focus my dissertation research on cognitive or language development (or to combine them, in the Berkeley style, in some sort of grand synthesis). I eventually opted for cognitive development, but in the meantime this indecision led me -- along with much of the rest of my cohort -- to attend every seminar offered by the department in both areas. These included several seminars with Sue Ervin-Tripp, which stood out because of her emphasis on the need to situate the acquisition and uses of language in sociocultural context. I was also struck by her occasional favorable references to Freud (who was otherwise pretty much a Great Unmentionable in our department), and, more generally, her suggestions that developmental research should take account of the role of children's emotional life. These were messages I duly noted at the time but (I now see) appreciated only imperfectly. For the last several years, however, as much of my work has involved the effort to integrate the study of children's cognitive development with the analysis of their narrative activity, the significance and value of these themes have now fully come home to me.

In a somewhat complex and indirect way, Sue also influenced this more recent turn toward narrative in my work. A few years after I finished graduate school, I had the good fortune to be involved in a project along with Sue -- and Barbara Scales and Millie Almy -- that focused on the role of play in children's development. (One result was the publication of Scales, Almy, Nicolopoulou, & Ervin-Tripp, 1991.) In the process, I became increasingly dissatisfied with what seemed to me both the conceptual limitations and the mutual isolation of the dominant approaches to play in developmental research;

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The research presented here was supported in part by a Picker Fellowship Award to the author from Smith College. I would like to thank Yoon-Joo Lee, Maureen Carney, and Paula Desjarlais for their careful and diligent work in helping me analyze the data. I am also indebted to Jeff Weintraub for extensive advice, constructive criticism, and theoretical inspiration. An earlier version of the argument in this chapter was advanced in "The active interplay of social-relational and cognitive/symbolic factors in the development of children's narrative activity," a paper presented as part of an invited symposium at the 1994 annual meeting of the Jean Piaget Society ( Chicago, IL: June 2-4).

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