Life Stories: The Creation of Coherence

Life Stories: The Creation of Coherence

Life Stories: The Creation of Coherence

Life Stories: The Creation of Coherence

Synopsis

All adult speakers in Western cultures have life stories argues Charlotte Linde, and the ways in which these life stories are formed and exchanged with others have a powerful effect on all of us. Life stories express our sense of self, who we are and how we got that way. According to Linde, we also use these stories to show that our lives can be understood as coherent, and to assert or negotiate group membership. These life stories take part in the highest level of social constructions, since they are built on cultural assumptions about what is expected in a life, what the norms for a successful life are, and what common or special belief systems are necessary to establish coherence. The life story, illuminated by this engrossing study, is a form of everyday discourse which has not previously been precisely defined or studied. It is an oral, discontinuous unit, consisting of stories which are retold in a variety of forms over a long period of time, and which may be revised and changed as the speaker comes to drop old meanings and add new ones to parts of the life story. The life story is a particularly rich and important area for study, because it represents a crossroads of linguistic structure and social practice. Linde's analysis is of importance to linguistics, as well as having broader implications for anthropology, psychology, and sociology.

Excerpt

In order to exist in the social world with a comfortable sense of being a good, socially proper, and stable person, an individual needs to have a coherent, acceptable, and constantly revised life story. This book describes the ways in which such life stories are created, negotiated, and exchanged. Life stories are of interest both for their own sake and because they can serve as a model for a unified linguistic analysis -- one that moves from the level of the individual construction of sentences, through the form of narratives and the social negotiation of narratives, up to the social level of belief systems and their history, and finally to their effect on the construction of narratives. This work attempts a unified description of a particularly important discourse unit whose use constitutes a widespread social practice that has major consequences for the individual and for the group.

Life stories express our sense of self: who we are and how we got that way. They are also one very important means by which we communicate this sense of self and negotiate it with others. Further, we use these stories to claim or negotiate group membership and to demonstrate that we are in fact worthy members of those groups, understanding and properly following their moral standards. Finally, life stories touch on the widest of social constructions, since they make presuppositions about what can be taken as expected, what the norms are, and what common or special belief systems can be used to establish coherence.

In order to study life stories, we must assume that a life story is something most people have, something they have created, and some-

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