Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Collage Life Story Elicitation Technique: A Representational Technique for Scaffolding Autobiographical Memories

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Collage Life Story Elicitation Technique: A Representational Technique for Scaffolding Autobiographical Memories

Article excerpt

Introduction

Telling one's life story has become a key feature of narrative therapy and inquiry. The basic premise is that the life story telling is a mechanism by which experiences are rendered meaningful within some form of structure (McAdams, 2001, 2006; Taylor, 1996), interweaving physical, cognitive and affective changes with psychosocial consequences to present the context and content of identity. The individual engages in conversations with multiple voices inside the self (internal voices) and others in the outside world (external voices, culture, ideology and so on) to narrate a life story in which different I-positions find expression in the same person (Hermans, 2001). In therapy and research there is a shift towards exploring identity focusing on the complexities of autobiographical narratives (Habermas & Bluck, 2000; McAdams, 2001), the dialogical self (Hermans, 2002), and subjective positioning in discursive practices (Harre & Van Langenhove, 1991). Narratives provide a framework for studying development (Gergen & Gergen, 2006; McAdams, 2001), and the integrative configuration of self-in-the-world. In the process of developing identity the person dialogues with a wide range of different and conflicting self-positions and relationships integrating past events with present experiences and future expectations (Habermas & Bluck; Hermans, 2001; McAdams, 2001). The social and personal positioning of self in life story remembering affords the individual the opportunity to take different stances in a growing capacity to remould and reconstruct her or his life in accordance with social expectations and personal aspirations.

The purpose of this article is to present an explication of a representational technique for collecting life stories and analysing the content of self-defining memories. The technique focuses on scaffolding life story remembering and overcoming perceived obstacles that some client populations have with autobiographical memories and telling their stories (Raggatt, 2006). Obstacles to narrative inquiry include, inter alia difficulties some clients have with life story remembering (e.g., adolescents, substance abusers, clients in therapy negating a past filled with trauma, discontent and emotional cut-off, and so on). For some it is anomalous to the spirit of the dialectic self and the intrinsic relational focus of their culture (Spencer-Rodgers, Peng, Wang, & Hou, 2004; Sun, 2008). For example, asking Chinese adolescents to "tell me about your life" either in conversation or writing is inconsistent with the cognitive processes that preclude such self-descriptions (Ho, Peng, Lai, & Chan, 2001; Nisbett, 2003). Others lack the discursive modes of expression and have difficulty expressing themselves with a sense of biographical uniqueness as they "struggle to negotiate the competing information of an interior and external world" (Singer, 1995, p. 430). Habermas and Bluck (2000) and others (e.g., McAdams, 1993; Murray, 2004) also pose that adolescents are only starting the mytmaking process and are not yet fully 'storied' posing obstacles to their life story narrating. McAdams (1993) describes mythmaking in adolescence as the way in which the young person "formulates personally meaningful answers to ideological questions so that identity can be built on a stable foundation" (p. 36). During adolescence this questioning is accepted as the young person constructs personal fables in their stories about self (Singer), and convey these in their expressions and performances.

Thus, although life story narratives provide a plausible and integrative framework for identity research and the study of different forms of positioning in the dialogical self (Hermans, 2001), there is a need for assisting and encouraging autobiographical remembering. The expressive and representational strategies I explicate in this article aim to overcome some of the obstacles and scaffold the process of life story remembering. …

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