Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences

By Donald E. Polkinghorne | Go to book overview

Preface

THE impetus for this book came from two nagging concerns about my profession that have intensified for me during the last decade. The first was an unresolved personal conflict between my work as an academic researcher on the one hand and as a practicing psychotherapist on the other. I view my discipline, psychology, as a unified enterprise, and have supported the ideal of the integration of its scientific and professional aspects; yet I have not found the findings of academic research of much help in my work as a clinician, something that I find disconcerting.

My own unsettled feelings about integrating research and practice are not idiosyncratic. The psychology doctoral students I teach express the same feelings of discontinuity between their clinical internship experiences and the research sequence (including the dissertation) that is part of their curriculum. Academics and practitioners seem to be growing increasingly separate, and my discipline's organization, the American Psychological Association, has begun to institutionalize their division. Colleagues in other social sciences, moreover, describe a similar breach in their own disciplines.

The second concern is an apparent devaluation, even loss of faith in the ability of research in the human disciplines to deliver on their original promise of helping to solve human and social problems. In this regard Seymour Sarason's Psychology Misdirected made a striking impression on me. He talked about the disenchantment he and others had with the field of psychology because of its lack of progress. Whereas medicine could point to its success in conquering smallpox and polio and in the development of new surgical techniques and medicines, the social sciences could not provide illustrations of similar public accomplishments. Despite the large sums of public funds invested in the human disciplines during the era of the Great Society, little headway was made in solving social problems. The solutions to these problems clearly involve more than just insights from the social sciences; nevertheless, our inability to provide the promised "scientific" knowledge that would contribute to this project is noteworthy. Our advice on how to reduce criminal recidivism or teen pregnancies, or even on how to lose weight, has had little appreciable impact on the problems at hand.

Several personal anecdotes increased my concern. A friend who has been successful in the grantsmanship game was told by a New York City official that they had decided to cut back their funding of social science research because they did not see that the social sciences were being of much help. Another friend reported that the director of a medical center had said that he had decided to shift

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Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences *
  • To My Parents, Elmer and Marge *
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter I - Introduction 1
  • Chapter II - Narrative Expression 13
  • Chapter III - History and Narrative 37
  • Chapter IV - Literature and Narrative 71
  • Chapter V - Psychology and Narrative 101
  • Chapter VI - Human Existence and Narrative 125
  • Chapter VII - Practice and Narrative 157
  • Notes 185
  • References 215
  • Index 229
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