Aging Political Activists: Personal Narratives from the Old Left

By David P. Shuldiner | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
The Dialectics of Identity: Search for a Method

The dialectic approach presents a number of implications for lifespan development research. These include: a model that posits the interweaving of disparate elements in life experience and self identity; an acknowledgment of the emergent/discursive rather than fixed/linear nature of human development; the recognition that development takes place within a world of conflicting forces; and the idea that a primary role of the developing self is that of mediation, of negotiating those disparate, often conflicting, elements of life experience (rather than the ultimate resolution of those conflicts).

This work is an attempt to apply the dialectic method not only to the analysis of identity, but also to the investigative process itself-- specifically to the life-history interview.

The premise underlying such an approach is that the personal identity of these aging activists has been shaped through a lifelong process, set within specific individual, social, and historical contexts. It continues to be shaped by the various forms of identity and expression that have dominated their working lives. Further, it is informed by those individual, social, and historical events that have conditioned the course of their personal development.

On one level the stories of these elder statespeople of the left "movement" are seen as shaped by a dialectic relationship: among different aspects of their personal identity (in particular, occupation, ethnicity, class, gender, and age), as revealed in their self-narratives; and between their present self-identity and those forms of identity reflected in memories that reach back into previous periods of their development. Since age itself is one identity marker, the passage of time will have changed the character (and context) of that identity

-7-

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