Narrative Psychology: The Storied Nature of Human Conduct

By Theodore R. Sarbin | Go to book overview

Narrative repair is potentially an unending process. Retrospection, or reminiscing, can be viewed as a process of testing the continued validity of life experience stories. Sometimes new information relevant to an incident is discovered which creates discrepancies in the accepted story, but more often interpretive perspectives change prompting reevaluation of the causal model which organized the original account. These repairs may occur spontaneously during retrospection but may also require guidance and collaboration as, for example, in the life review procedures developed by Lewis and Butler ( 1974).

Finally, narrative repair may entail overcoming the restrictive tendencies of analogical thinking described earlier, that is, reaching out to other domains or other levels of abstraction for useful causal models.

The two kinds of narrative repair which we have described are probably the most common narrative tasks, but there is another which should be mentioned. The class of stories we will call puzzlements consists of accounts in search of explanations. Experiences that are puzzling or ambiguous may be recounted to a friend with the hope that the friend can explain why the incident occurred or what it means. Such cases require generation rather than replacement of information. In effect, the narrative task has been transferred to someone else.


CONCLUSION

Narrative thinking - storying - is a successful method of organizing perception, thought, memory, and action. It is not the only successful method, but within its natural domain of everyday interpersonal experience it is more effective than any other. Nevertheless, narrative thinking is widely disparaged. The bias against narrative thought has been illustrated in two recent discussions of classroom education. Cazden and Hymes ( 1978) and Barnes, Britton, and Rosen ( 1971) both observed that personal anecdotes offered by students during discussion or questioning were rejected by teachers as inappropriate. The schools try to inculcate a style of thinking which emphasizes definition, abstraction, conceptual analysis, and rigorous canons of evidence or proof. There can be no doubt that these procedures are essential for certain kinds of inquiry, but we can certainly challenge the rejection of narrative from the province of rationality.

It is important to distinguish the use of narrative in postdictive explanation from its use in prediction. After the fact, that is, postdictive

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