It may not be exactly true, but it makes a great story.
(Sarah Schulman, The Sophie Horowitz Story) 1
When talking about their lives, people lie sometimes, forget a lot, exaggerate, become confused, and get things wrong. Yet they are revealing truths. These truths don’t reveal the past ‘as it actually was’, aspiring to a standard of objectivity. They give us instead the truth of our experiences. Unlike the Truth of the scientific ideal, the truths of personal narratives are neither open to proof nor self-evident. We come to understand them only through interpretation, paying careful attention to the contexts that shape their creation and to the world views that inform them. 2
To talk of stories and narrative has become very fashionable in the world of academic cultural studies. But to talk of stories is to sense an invented world of fantasy: of fiction, of fabrication, of ‘making up’. As children we come to see stories as an escapist world of make-believe. Thus, when social scientists of all persuasions come to use the term—as they recently have—they implicitly suggest that the world of story telling is not quite the world of truth. At their worst, they even seem to suggest that all we have are stories.
Such arguments are dangerous and have the most serious consequences for any analysis. For instance, to sense that people raped, or people with Aids are ‘simply’ telling stories may well be taken to imply something less than serious: that they too, like children, are ‘making up tales’. Rape victims know only too well the frequent charge that they are simply making up stories. This is not my argument. Likewise, to sense the importance of stories in social life is never to suggest that stories are all there is: the telling and reading of stories is always grounded in social processes that by definition are ‘beyond the stories’. There is more, much more, to life than stories.
And hence, although my concern throughout this book has been with stories, it has always also been with more than that. I have tried to show how stories are truly sociological phenomena—rather than mere narratives or texts in the abstract. I have asked how they get produced socially; how they get read socially; how certain kinds of stories can only be told at particular social moments; how they change socially; and how they are part of socio-political argument. In this concluding