Psychology and Narrative
UNLIKE the disciplines of history and literature, the human sciences originated after the development of formal science, and were modelled on formal science principles. The interest in narrative by one of the human sciences, psychology, has been chosen for investigation in this chapter. Although a similar investigation of anthropology, sociology, or another human science could have been undertaken, psychology was chosen because of its renewed interest in narrative as a cognitive structure.
Psychology has passed through various phases of interest in narrative during its little more than a century as a separate discipline. During its early development, however, some of its members were concerned about investigating the lives of individuals in addition to factors affecting perception and memory. After 1950, the discipline turned almost exclusively to working within the limits of a positivistic definition of formal science. This meant that attention was given to behaviors and publicly accessible data, and almost all attention to narrative was extinguished. By the 1970's, however,the shortcomings of this approach became apparent, and the discipline opened itself to the investigation of cognitive processes and human experience. It is, in part, because of this renewed attention to human experience that psychology has begun to investigate narrative again.
This chapter begins with a recounting of psychology's early interest in individual psychology, including the role that life story and narrative played in these investigations. It will then turn to the investigations currently being undertaken that treat narrative as a cognitive structure. Self-narrative, narrative competence, and the role of narrative in life-span research will be explored. The chapter will conclude with a look at the Freudian tradition, which is especially concerned with stories and narrative, but which until recently has been excluded from mainstream academic psychology.
Notwithstanding the resistance of advocates of the formal science approach, psychology has made some use of narrative during its history, especially in the investigation of life histories, biographies, and case studies.