Invited Panels 2008
Reflection, reflexivity and self-disclosure: Narrative and identity analysis at the cross-roads
Chairs: Michael Bamberg, Clark University & Alexandra Georgakopoulou, King’s College London
One of the longstanding assumptions of narrative research is that putting together a (life) story at a critical distance from the reported events prioritizes a process of reflection and reflexivity on the part of the teller (i.e. meaning-making a posteriori), thus making visible for the researcher more or less rehearsed positions and what may be signalled as ‘stable’ or ‘authentic’ self. In similar vein, self-disclosure, the privileged genre in the business of psychotherapy has been argued to rely on ‘a measure of reflection on either an event or experience’ (Freeman 2006: 132).
In this colloquium, we wish to register the latest dialogue on the above, some of it within the framework of ‘small stories’ (Bamberg 2004, Georgakopoulou 2007, Bamberg & Georgakopoulou forthcoming) as an epistemological antidote to canonical narrative research. Specifically, we intend to problematize the close links of reflection and self-disclosure with interview narrative research and, in turn, with narrative cum identity analysis and instead interrogate their relevance, validity for and relation with diverse contexts and kinds of stories; also to contribute language-minded analytical tools and modes to the recent shift of focus from the teller to the researcher and the researcher-researched relationship. Finally, with this theme, we wish to contribute to the recent attempts for cross-fertilization between life story approaches and interactionally based analyses.
Issues that the papers will address include: how reflection and self-disclosure are accomplished in stories and in turn which actions they accomplish; if and how they contribute to narrativity; the place of other-categorizations and representations in self-disclosure.
abstracts (click to expand):
Against Narrativity? On Strawson and the picaresque in migration narratives
Mike Baynham, University of Leeds
In his paper “Against Narrativity” the philosopher Galen Strawson provides a challenging critique of those who have privileged narrative as a vehicle for reflection and self disclosure. As such, the themes he evokes, if not perhaps his conclusions, resonate with the aim of this panel to provide “an epistemological antidote to canonical narrative research”. While I have much sympathy with the general terms of Strawson’s argument, I think there are signs in his paper that he himself is working with a rather restricted canonical view of narrative, implicit perhaps in his definition of narrative as having “a certain sort of developmental and hence temporal unity or coherence” in contrast to “random or radically unconnected sequences of events even when they are sequentially and indeed contiguously temporally ordered, or to purely picaresque or randomly ‘cut-up’ pieces of writing” (Strawson 2004: 439-440). Lurking within this definition I see E.M. Forster’s celebrated juxtaposition of temporal sequencing and causality in the definition of a narrative: the canonical life narrative demonstrating or even embodying in self-disclosure the experience of developmental coherence and unity. Empirical linguistic accounts of narrative necessarily challenge and force us to extend, as Georgakopoulou and Bamberg suggest, our canonical presuppositions about narratives. In this paper I would like to take up the challenge by considering oral narratives of migration, whose organizing principles are explicitly not those of the temporal/causal unity or coherence of canonical narrative but are instead driven by principles of chance, luck, randomness, accident, suggesting other kinds of narrative organization and other kinds of self-disclosure.
‘Self-disclosure’ in police interrogations
Elizabeth Stokoe, Loughborough University
This paper examines officers’ ‘self-disclosing’ responses to suspects’ stories told in British police interrogations. What counts as a self-disclosure is one question for the analysis; another issue is to demonstrate that the ‘truth’ of such disclosures is secondary or irrelevant to the action it accomplishes in the interaction. In the following interview, the suspect has been arrested for criminal damage to her neighbour’s door. She has admitted the damage and is now explaining mitigating circumstances.
A basic observation about this and similar sequences is that while suspects regularly tell police officers information about their personal lives, as S does here, police officers rarely do responses or first actions with ‘self-disclosures’. This makes P’s response, “I’ve got a girlfriend”, of particular analytic interest. It is a rare moment of explicit alignment or affiliation with S. S initially continues her narrative, before both participants laugh. The fact that the laughter is delayed indicates the ‘breach’ of usual interactional patterns in such interactions. This paper explains how self-disclosing responses to suspects’ stories are regularly organized and the actions they accomplish.
Some reflections on ‘reflection’ and ‘self-disclosure’ from the small stories perspective
Alexandra Georgakopoulou, King’s College London
Within biographical approaches, reflection and self-disclosure tend to be sought in statements and ascriptions about self (i.e. what tellers propositionalize about their lives) and, in turn, to be viewed as markers of identity. In the recent dialogue on small vs. big stories (e.g. Bamberg ¨C Georgakopoulou ¨C Freeman in Special Issue of Narrative Inquiry 2006), it has been argued that this longstanding pursuit assumes links of reflection and self-disclosure with the teller¡¯s critical distance from the reported events and the project of telling oneself within the environment of interviews. From the small stories perspective, such assumptions are part of the canonical idiom of narrative research that the attempt to put small stories on the map has problematized.
Departing from the above, this paper attempts an unlikely comparative enterprise: it interrogates the validity of reflection and self-disclosure in both conversational small stories and interview stories, and with a focus on instances of self- and other- ascriptions (sic categorizations, assessments) labelled as identity claims. The data are part of the ESRC Identities and Social Action Project on Urban Classroom Culture and Interaction (http://www.identities.org.uk) which has employed the methods of ethnographic sociolinguistics to research the inter-animation of ethnic, techno-popular culture and educational identities in a London comprehensive school.
The analysis attests to differences between identity claims in small stories amongst the students and those in their interviews in terms of a) their sequential context and management and b) if and how they invoke tellers’ roles that can be described as known or solidified.
From Confessions to Reality-TV — The role of self-disclosure in biography and therapy
Michael Bamberg, Clark University
While confessions, (auto-)biographies, therapy, all the way down to Reality-TV all seem to be genres that heavily rely on one common core, which is that speakers disclose authentic and important aspects of their identity, I will argue that self-disclosure itself consists of a repertoire of discursive devices that can be decomposed (and put together for effective disclosing performances). I will briefly discuss issues of content and interactive sequence, and elaborate in more detail on the discursive marking that indexes the “reflective work” that distinguishes self-disclosure from ‘talk about the self’ or simple ‘self-reference’. Of particular emphasis will be those verbal and non-verbal devices that redirect the audience from the world of characters to an inner mental entity of the narrating self. And I will argue that such devices aid in the construction of an empathy that is different from traditional story-telling – such as the novel and small stories.
Narrative and Place: Approaches for Sociolinguistics
Chair: Barbara Johnstone, Carnegie Mellon University
The papers in this panel, and the discussion after them, will explore how the study of narrative can address issues of place, space, and locality in sociolinguistics. Over a decade of intense work on identity has convinced most sociolinguists that describing who speakers are, and how who they are is related to how they talk, is a great deal more complex than we once thought. We have paid far less attention to the issue of where people are, often treating location as objective and determinate. We talk about conversations that take place “in Mauritania” or “in a drug-treatment facility”; we compare speakers “from Texas” with speakers “from Pennsylvania” or people who live in one neighborhood with people who live in another. We inscribe regional dialects onto clearly bounded areas on maps, and our maps represent political and topographical features in fairly unsystematic and sometimes misleading ways.
In recent work, however, sociolinguists have begun to think critically about place. We are paying attention to the role of discourse, our own and that of the people we study, in circulating ideas about places and their meanings. We are wondering what we ourselves mean by “isolated” or “rural” or “urban”; what it means to our research participants to be “from Korea” or “near Newcastle” and how those meanings arise in life experience; how ways of speaking get linked with places as we talk, hear others talk, and talk about talk; how where you are, and what it means to be there, affects how you speak and act. The papers in this panel illustrate some of the workings of narrative in processes such as these.
Each speaker will have 20 minutes to present a paper. Each will then give a 5-minute response to one other panelist’s paper. The session will conclude with general discussion of all the papers.
abstracts (click to expand):
Variationist approaches to narrative: Dialectal, interactional and identificational considerations
Natalie Schilling-Estes, Georgetown University
In this presentation, I look at narrative and place from a variationist perspective while also suggesting how variationist conceptualizations of narrative can be enriched by interactional sociolinguistic perspectives. I organize my discussion around three questions: (1) What is the place of narratives within variation analysis?, (2) What is the place of narratives within the sociolinguistic interview, and (3) How do storytellers use narratives in sociolinguistic interviews to place themselves within a particular sociocultural space that is partly grounded in geographic space but chiefly demarcated by one’s place in the still rigid ethnicity-based hierarchy that pervades US society.
Using data from sociolinguistic and sociological interviews with young adult and teenage African Americans from rural North Carolina and in inner-city Washington, DC, I first explore whether narratives are indeed rich sites for vernacular, unselfconscious speech, as has long been claimed. Secondly, I consider whether narratives in sociolinguistic interviews are indeed typically the result of direct elicitation and hence rather unnatural compared to the narratives that emerge more organically in everyday conversation (e.g. Schegloff 1997, Wolfson 1972). I further consider not only where narratives occur but, crucially, where they do not occur when expected. Finally, I consider how storytellers use narratives to position themselves with respect to their interactants in the storyworld and, by extension, to their lifeworlds. For example, one urban interviewee uses narratives to place himself at the heart of inner-city African American culture, while a rural speaker uses narratives to distance herself from very similar, very harsh sociocultural surroundings.
“Indians came from Asia”: Narratives of ethnicity and place in U.S. youth interaction
Elaine Chun, University of South Carolina
This paper examines short narratives of ethnicity and place appearing in a playful seven-minute debate between two high school students in Texas. By focusing on the interactional structure in which these narratives are embedded, rather than the internal structure of the narratives, I highlight the ways in which narratives of place serve both explicit and implicit social functions. At the explicit level, the intertextual reference to narratives that these students have ‘heard before’ bolsters each student’s argument within the current context of talk, ultimately supporting their interactional goal of providing evidence of their own ethnic superiority. They construct their ethnicities as ‘Korean’ and ‘black’, respectively, within this interaction, although both often identified as multiethnic in other interactions. I illustrate that while the interaction is playfully antagonistic at an explicit level, the students implicitly engage in a cooperatively organized activity that respects a poetic turn-taking structure and maintains ideological assumptions about the links between ethnicity and place, the value of authenticity, and the inheritability of ethnic group prestige by individuals who claim ethnic membership. Specifically, the students construct ethnic status as being based on spatial origination (e.g. “Indians came from Asia”), temporal order (“[the first people on earth] were Hebrews”) and political validation (“I’ve never seen a Korean president. . . in North America”). I thus suggest that narratives can be fruitfully investigated by examining the larger interaction in which narrators strategically embed them and the underlying ideological assumptions that allow such narratives to serve as legitimate forms of evidence.
“They immediately know you’re from Pennsylvania”: Linking dialect and place in narratives of linguistic encounter
Barbara Johnstone, Carnegie Mellon University
I begin by tracing traditional ways of conceptualizing place and dialect in dialectology and sociolinguistics, where place has typically been thought of in physical terms as geographical location and dialect has sometimes been thought of as a relatively autonomous, clearly bounded linguistic system observable to analysts using the appropriate methods. Drawing on work by cultural geographers and anthropologists, I then sketch an alternative approach that explores how “place” and “dialect” are evoked, construed, and linked in narrative and other discursive practices. I illustrate this with reference to a corpus of narratives about encounters with people who sound different or use different words than the narrator, or who claim to recognize the narrator’s origin by the way he or she speaks. I suggest that these narratives, along with other discursive practices that serve to differentiate places and dialects are, ironically, made possible by changes associated with globalization and the threat of cultural and linguistic homogenization. The paper illustrates how vernacular language ideology arises in particular historical and economic conditions and in particular linguistic practices. It also helps explain the counter-intuitive but recurring finding that dialect leveling and ideological differentiation among dialects occur simultaneously.
Ways of Talking About Place in Filipino Canadian Life Histories
Christianne Collantes, Valerie Damasco, Angela DeOcampo, Monina Febria, Coneley De Leon, Bonnie McElhinny, Jason Salonga, and Shirley Yeung (The Toronto Filipino-Canadian Life History Group)
Caren Kaplan (1994) has noted that one of the key methodological challenges of understanding the everyday and grounded meaning of transnationalism is understanding what “location” means. Similarly, Yen Le Espiritu’s (2003) collection Home Bound: Filipino American Lives Across Cultures, Communities and Countries, provides a critical interrogation of what home means and how it is understood in the life stories of Filipino Americans. The notion of location is also seen as a key problematic for conversation analysis. Schegloff (1972:81) describes the problem in this way: “For any location to which reference is made, there is a set of terms each of which, by a correspondence test, is a correct way to refer to it. On any actual occasion of use, however, not any member of the set is ‘right’. How is it that on particular occasions of use some term from the set is selected and other terms are rejected?” He argues that a close analysis of the ways that people use place terms will yield a sense of their “common sense geography.” In this paper, we analyze 25 life histories of Filipino-Canadians gathered by our life history group to get a sense of what the “common sense geography” of different speakers, some born in the Philippines and some in Canada, is when they talk about the Philippines, Canada, Toronto and key neighborhoods within Toronto.
The Narrative Construction of Identity: Interdisciplinary and Transmedial Approaches
Chair: David Herman, Ohio State University
This panel investigates a range of narrative practices in several media, including conversational storytelling, written narrative accounts, narrative performances in Hip Hop music, and word-image complexes used to convey stories in comics and graphic novels. The four papers are linked by their common focus on how narrative constitutes a primary resource for the construction of identity-for situating the self in interactional and more broadly sociocultural contexts, reconfiguring its boundaries over time, and exploring the scope and limits of its modes of agency.
abstracts (click to expand):
Using Public Narratives to Shape Private Lives: ‘Borrowing’ the Holocaust
Irene Kacandes, Dartmouth College
In this paper I compare four recitals of war experiences given by John G. Kacandes at four different periods in his life: a newspaper interview from 1945; a newspaper interview from 1965; a public talk given in 1990; and an oral interview given to one of his daughters in 2005. In particular, I focus on how mention of an arrest by the Gestapo transforms over the course of the sixty years concerned from a mere mention into an elaborate story of misidentification as a Jew, arrest, deportation, torture, and liberation. I mainly aim to elucidate how interlocutor/addressee and cultural/historical setting of each telling affect, indeed transform the story recited, as the teller progressively borrows more and more from a “standard,” by which I mean deportation to a concentration camp, Holocaust narrative.
Multimodal Storytelling and Identity Construction in Graphic Narratives
David Herman, Ohio State University
Multimodal storytelling encompasses narrative practices that exploit more than one semiotic channel to evoke a narrated world, or storyworld. Thus, at the most general level, research on narrative and multimodality requires studying both (1) the narrative-enabling and narrative-constraining effects of the interaction among multiple semiotic environments, and (2) the inferential processes used to identify and make sense of narrative structures emerging from this interplay of semiotic modes. This paper’s specific concern is how multimodality bears on narrative representations of identity-on the portrayal of a self’s emergent position in sociointeractional as well as physical or geographic space. Using case studies that range from superhero comics to Alison Bechdel’s award-winning 2006 graphic memoir, Fun Home, the paper explores how word-image combinations in graphic narratives provide resources for identity construction along three dimensions: by affording a basis for mapping roles onto narrative agents as they undergo processes of transformation; by structuring shifts in perspective in ways that indicate how characters orient to one another and to other elements of the storyworld; and by creating a double temporal logic according to which narrated occurrences are not only localized episodes within a chronology, but also complex event-structures whose effects are distributed across time(s).
Mortal Lyricism: Preconstruction and Ethnopoetics in Rap Narratives
James Peterson, Bucknell University
Rap artists have produced a vast repertoire of narratives known intimately to what Kitwana (2004) has characterized as the Hip Hop Generation. This presentation focuses on the recorded rap narratives of several of Hip Hop’s foremost storytellers, including Biggie Smalls, Nas, and Jay-Z. Taking urban inner-city violence as the central theme for analysis, and drawing both on Labov’s (2006) concept of preconstruction and Bloomaert’s (2006) and Hymes’s (1996) models for ethnopoetic analysis, this research dissects some of the most well-known narratives of violence produced by the Hip Hop Generation to explore how these narratives represent-and reconfigure-the violent urban realities on which they report. My analysis relies especially on Labov’s account of reportability or tellability as a general constraint on narrative production and interpretation; further, I relate this key concept to ethnopoetic work on the formal and aesthetic patterning of narrative discourse. This integrative approach allows me to identify within mortal rap narratives a complex sociocultural engagement with death and murder by artists who use Hip Hop not just to transcribe but also to re-imagine their own and others’ violent inner-city experiences.
In the Name of the Nation
Andreea Deciu Ritivoi, Carnegie Mellon University
In this presentation I propose to analyze the way in which narratives of defection served as strategies of legitimation for war refugees trying to form governments-in-exile. Specifically, I concentrate on two cases: German refugees during world war two and Romanian refugees during the Cold War. These former political elites contested the legitimacy of the regimes in power at home, and tried to convince Western states to give them political and financial support in the fight against the local authorities at in their countries. Although stripped of their official political functions, these now private individuals addressed Western officials-primarily members of the State Department in the United States-from a rhetorically fashioned stance designed to introduce them as legitimate representatives of their country. In constructing their identity as not just refugees or exiles, but as statesmen and official representatives of their nations, these individuals relied on carefully elaborated stories of their defection. Using archival documents, my analysis examines the construction of these narratives as strategies of self-legitimation, focusing on the use of focalization through naming devices-the particular linguistic expressions of self-reference, as well as the phrases employed in reference to the country and the nation.
Discursive Psychology: Influence of Positioning on Effective Story-lines
Chair: Rom Harre, Oxford University & Georgetown University
abstracts (click to expand):
Positioning as a Metagrammar for Discursive Story-lines
Rom Harré, Georgetown University
Borrowing the notion of a `grammar’, as a loose cluster of rules and conventions, shared knowledge of which shapes most of the episodes of human life, story-lines can be represented as grammars. According to Positioning Theory beliefs about rights and duties to perform certain kinds of acts determine how social interactions, such as conversations, are understood as contributing to this or that story-line. These beliefs are a metagrammar transcendent to the rules and conventions that constitute the grammar of whatever story-line is taken to be unfolding.
Nuclear Positioning and Supererogatory Duties: The case of Iran, the USA and the EU
Kathryn A. Kuvalich & Fathali Moghaddam, Georgetown University
The focus of this study is Farsi and Englishj narratives presented on the nuclear issue by representatives of Iran, the EU and the USA during a critical period of international tensions in 2006. We argue that disputes between Iran, the EU and the USA revolve particularly around supererogatory duties, those duties that people are not obliged to carry out, but receive credit for what they do carry out. We discuss examples of how the `international community’ is cited in narratives to support particular interpretations of supererogatory duties.
Narratives of Civilian Casualties in State-sponsored Wars
Daniel Rothbart, George Mason University
The “realities of war” explanation of civilian casualties caught in the tumult of war is a familiar component of official statements by military leaders. According to such an explanation, once military forces are unleashed in a combat zone, a certain degree of devastation of noncombatants is routine, unavoidable, and ultimately acceptable. Of course, noncombatants are treated as “objects” lying in the path of enormous military machines; they neither start nor end wars. I argue that such explanations disguise a major re-positioning of the innocent. In “routine” practices of military checkpoints, civilian inspections, and movement of troop conveys, noncombatants are recast negatively. They are stripped of their capacities for political union and denied a sense of agency in life and death decisions. This is revealed through analysis of letters, interviews, and testimony of soldiers engaged in combat in Vietnam and in Iraq. As a collectivity, noncombatants are de facto radically dis-empowered. And, I argue, this change is causally linked to their devastation by military forces operating in state-sponsored wars.
Resisting the Act of Demagoguery: How Miller and others used positioning moves to establish and resist character attributions in political story-lines.
Tracey Pilkerton, George Mason University & Georgetown University
History reminds us there are points at which the larger political processes of government along with bureaucracy touch the lives of ordinary citizens. Government hearings such as those conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the mid-1940s and late-50s are examples of episodes that are essential part of the political process. This study focuses on the dramatis personae in terms of the prominent positions, speech-acts and story lines that emerged in some of the hearings, revealing the social psychological dynamics between government and its citizens.
Narrative in Family Discourse
Chair: Deborah Tannen, Georgetown University
Analysis of narrative has a long history in linguistics, tracing to Labov and Waletzky’s classic 1967 essay and Labov’s chapter “The transformation of experience in narrative syntax” in his book Language in the Inner City. Moreover, narrative is constructed of many of the linguistic elements that are studied by linguists who work in the domain of interactional sociolinguistics. It also plays a role in the theoretical frameworks that have received attention in recent years, such as intertextuality and identity. In this session, a group of linguists who have been analyzing family discourse build on previous work, our own and others’, to focus on the role of narrative in family discourse (talk that takes place among family members) and in family Discourse (societal notions of family as reflected in and created by ways people talk about family). Tovares considers the role of narrative in constructing pets as family members; Al Zidjaly compares contrasting narratives of a family conflict as told by a brother and sister, with particular attention to the resulting assignment of responsibility and blame. Gordon, too, considers the management of responsibility through self-presentation, and expands our conception of narrative to include “hypothetical visual narratives,” a creation of a “reality” television program. Kendall also examines narratives that look to the future–in this case, the impending birth of a child and the pregnancy that will lead to that birth–with an eye to their role in creating the expectant couple’s parental identities. Tannen examines narratives that were told in interviews she conducted about communication between sisters, and explores the place of narrative analysis in interactional sociolinguistics. Taken together, the papers in this section explore the role of narrative in family discourse at the same time that they expand our understanding of narrative as a genre and a linguistic strategy.
abstracts (click to expand):
Parental Responsibility and Impression Management: Responding to Hypothetical Visual Narratives on Reality TV
Cynthia Gordon, Wayne State University
Responsibility and blame are central dimensions of family interactions involving children’s health (Paugh & Izquierdo 2007). When parents are confronted about their children’s unhealthy lifestyles–as they are by a nutrition expert at the beginning of each episode of a reality television program about improving child wellbeing, “‘Honey, We’re Killing the Kids'”–they must negotiate responsibility for their children’s poor eating and exercise habits while simultaneously managing their own self-presentations as competent parents. Goffman (1959:249) remarks that people engage in “impression management” “now”–in ongoing interaction-about the past and the future. This paper examines how 25 parents appearing on the television program respond to the expert”s presentation of computer-generated projections, or hypothetical visual narratives, that show their children physically developing into obese, unhealthy adults. In responding to these future-oriented narratives, the parents take responsibility for the past while also establishing their status as good parents from “now” on. Nearly all parents endorse the narratives’ validity and express some sense of responsibility in conversation with the expert. However, parents often linguistically mitigate personal responsibility through using generalized “you” and passive constructions. When parents accept full blame, they show remorse too; this serves to separate their current “good” self from the past “bad” self (Goffman 1971). Important for the program”s unfolding and for impression management, parents also articulate commitment to the expert”s family health plan. This study contributes to our growing understanding of the interrelationships between health behaviors and discourse, and of how creating “alternative realities” (Per??kyl?? 1993) shapes health-related interactions.
“All Relationships are Stories”: Searching for Narratives to Understand Sister Discourse
Deborah Tannen,Georgetown University
In Talking Voices, I propose that “involvement strategies”–linguistic elements which we think of as quintessentially literary, such as repetition, dialogue, and details–are the fundamental meaning-making strategies of everyday conversation. Narrative is a similar meaning-making strategy, even as it makes use of the other involvement strategies. My basic analytic method over many years of practicing discourse analysis consists of tape-recording and transcribing naturally occurring conversation, then analyzing the resulting transcript while bearing in mind that the recording, in all its paralinguistic glory, is the real object of analysis. In conducting research on family interaction, however, I interview people, asking them to tell me about their relationships with family members. In these interviews, I listen for dialogue, details, and repetition, but most of all, I listen for stories. Happily, the people I talk to frequently volunteer stories to encapsulate their view of relationships. As one person I spoke to put it, “All relationships are stories.” In this paper, I examine the role of stories in interviews I’ve conducted about sisters, and suggest a distinction between big-N Narrative and small-n narrative, analogous to the distinction often made between big-D Discourse and small-d discourse. I also explore the connection between narrative, on one hand, and, on the other, the linguistic strategies I previously identified as underlying both literary and everyday discourse. In the end, I try to answer the question, “What’s an interactional sociolinguist like you doing interviewing people like this?”
Conceptualizing Family: Assigning Blame in Siblings’ Narratives of a Family Conflict
Najma Al Zidjaly, Sultan Qaboos University
I combine ethnographic observations with close linguistic analysis to examine the construction of narratives of blame and responsibility by two adult siblings engaged in an argument about a previous family conflict involving both of them and two other absent family members (their mother and sister). Specifically, I analyze an extended audiotaped sequence collected as part of a case study analysis of the everyday discursive practices of Yahya, a quadriplegic man from the Islamic Arab country of Oman. I focus on exploring how Yahya and his oldest sister Zubeida strategically reconstruct two similar past events differently to reach different interactional ends: whereas Zubeida’s narrative places the blame solely on the absent party, Yahya’s version distributes the blame among all involved participants. This is achieved through the use of certain pronouns and reference terms, deletion of particular narrated events, and embellishment of details. I suggest that these different constructions are motivated by Yahya’s and Zubeida’s dissimilar conceptions of responsibility and obligation toward other family members and what constitutes a family in their Islamic and global communities: whether a family is an entity that consists of individuals or one collective team. This study thus suggests that family discourse needs to be examined in its cultural context, especially in cases in which blame is negotiated. It also adds to research on linguistic realization of blame and responsibility.
A Couple Sharing Pregnancy: Negotiating Parental Identities Through Narrative
Shari Kendall, Texas A&M University
In childbirth narratives, Page (2003) found that fathers presentedthemselves as being peripheral and inadequate during the recent birthof a child, whereas women who participated as birthing partners presentedthemselves as competent supporters of the birth mothers based onempathy. Sunderland (2000) found that childcare texts representfathers as incompetent assistants to mothers. In interviews, primarycaregiving fathers report that mothers’ greater competence withinfants stems from the physical involvement of pregnancy (Doucet2006). To identify how couples discursively negotiate parentalidentities during pregnancy, I examine the discourse of one couple toconsider when and how talk about pregnancy emerges in naturally-occurring interaction during a week in which they tape-recordedthemselves from morning until night. The discourse of this couple,who are expecting a second child, reveals that they are committed tosharing caregiving; however, empathy, the physicality of pregnancy,and competence emerge as crucial themes. Specifically, the motheruses narratives to frame the pregnancy as a joint activity and toshare the physical experience of being pregnant. In both cases, sheattempts to elicit empathy from the father through involvementstrategies (Tannen 1989) and by foregrounding her affective responsesto the physical demands of pregnancy through evaluative devices(Labov 1972). However, despite her discursive attempts to engage thefather and elicit empathy, both partners construct the father’sidentity as lacking in competence and, perhaps, set the stage for thegendered parental identities they will perform during the upcomingbirth and care of the child.
Narrative Construction of Pets as Family Members
Alla Tovares, Howard University
Research in a variety of disciplines shows that in modern American society pets are not only anthropomorphized, they are often viewed as family members (e.g., Albert and Bulcroft 1988, Beck 1996, Grier 2006). I investigate how one family consisting of a mother, father and their almost five-year-old son use narratives as linguistic tools to portray their two dogs as family members. The data come from a research project for which dual-income families taped their interactions at home and work for one week. Drawing on the same data set, Tannen (2007: 61) shows how talking to, for or through pets not only serves as a resource for communicating between humans but also creates “the identity of the human-and-animal grouping as a family.” Whereas Tannen looked at dialogue, I examine family stories, focusing on referring terms, choice of words, and positioning of humans and animals in story-worlds. Following Kerby’s (1991) idea that narratives are often driven by conflict and dichotomy and Gordon’s (2004) work on linguistic construction of a shared family identity, I also demonstrate how this family uses narratives to construct themselves as animal-lovers, in opposition to people who treat animals differently: from hunters to the grandmother who finds it unacceptable for a family dog to lick her grandson’s face. In addition, I suggest that narratives are not only valuable resources family members use to construct their family identity as pet-inclusive, but also reflect and co-construct a larger social Discourse (Gee 1999) of treating pets as family members.
Narrative development among Spanish-speaking Latino children
Chairs: Gigliana Melzi, New York University & Kendall King, Georgetown University
Narrative is a linguistic tool that represents ideas and actions in memory; that structures and evaluates experiences; and that helps humans make sense of the world around them. As such, narrative, literacy, and education are intimately interwoven, as early narratives lay the foundation for literacy development, and literacy, in turn, is the cornerstone of a successful learning in schools. While the relationship between narrative and literacy development is well established empirically, the bulk of this research is English-based and thus relatively little is known about how Spanish-speaking Latino children develop narrative skills within home, school, and community contexts. Given that Latino children are among the fastest growing population of school-aged children in the United States, greater knowledge in this area is of crucial importance for educators as well as researchers. This symposium brings together five studies that examine the socio-cultural origins and the associated development of narrative abilities in diverse samples in Spanish-speaking children across varied contexts. Employing a range of quantitative and qualitative data analysis techniques, this session sheds light on the possible shared aspects of Latino narrative development and simultaneously documents the diversity of those experiences.
abstracts (click to expand):
Mestizaje: Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous Costa Rican Children’s Narratives and Links with Other Traditions
C. Nicholas Cuneo, Duke University & Allyssa McCabe, UMass Lowell
Narrative is the linguistic meeting ground of culture, cognition, and emotion. Children who might all be labeled Latino or Spanish-speaking have diverse cultural backgrounds and those backgrounds have an impact on the structure of their narratives. This study examined the relationship between children’s narratives and a number of diverse social and cultural influences in one Dominican American and four Costa Rican indigenous communities to explore Spanish narration in areas of linguistic and social contact. Thirty narratives were collected from 17 children (7 girls, 10 boys) of indigenous or Afro-Caribbean descent and 36 narratives were collected from 12 children (6 girls, 6 boys) from the Dominican Republic living in the United States. All children interviewed were native speakers of Spanish between the ages of 6 and 9 (M age = 7.1). Personal narratives were isolated from recorded conversations, transcribed, and scored using both High Point and Story Grammar analyses. When compared to a number of other ethnic groups both inside and outside of Latin America, the Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean narratives gathered in this study differed considerably and suggest that, while many distinct ethnic minority groups are absorbing a national language and traditions, vestigial cultural elements are being retained in children’s narrative structure and content. Results are discussed in relation to the narrative practices emerging from cultural and linguistic contact.
Cultural variations in mother-child narrative discourse style
Gigliana Melzi & Margaret Caspe, New York University
Children develop narrative ability in the context of the conversations they have with significant others, mainly family members. Within these conversations children acquire language and literacy and become socialized to the discourse patterns, beliefs, and values of the community in which they live. Recent research has begun to highlight that Latino mothers scaffold their children’s narratives differently than might mothers from other cultures. The goal of the present study was to explore how Peruvian, U.S. American, and Puerto Rican mothers of comparable socio-economic backgrounds, living in their country of origin, scaffold their children’s narratives in a semi-structured book sharing paradigm. Specifically, the study addressed two main questions: (1) Do variations exist in the styles Puerto Rican, European American, and Peruvian mothers use to engage their children while sharing a wordless children’s picture book? (2) Are there cultural preferences in these styles? Forty-five mothers were visited in their homes and asked to share a wordless children’s picture book with their children. Book sharing interactions were audio-taped, transcribed and verified using a standardized format, and coded at the utterance-level. Results of a cluster analysis revealed two book sharing styles that hinged on the degree to which mothers provided or requested narrative information from their children. Storytellers provided rich narrative information to their children and took control of the narrative, whereas storybuilders co-constructed the story with their children, creating a story together. The book sharing style mothers adopted was associated with culture. Peruvian mothers were more likely to adopt a storytelling style whereas U.S. American and, to a lesser extent, Puerto Rican mothers were more likely to adopt the storybuilding style. Findings demonstrate the heterogeneity and similarities among different Latino groups and are discussed in relation to implications for educational programs for families and their young children.
Love, diminutives and gender socialization in Andean mother-child narrative conversations
Kendall A. King & Colleen Gallagher, Georgetown University
This paper investigates how emotional words and diminutives function as evaluative resources within mother-child narrative conversations. Participants included 32 Indigenous Spanish-speaking mother-child pairs from the southern Ecuadorian Andes. Mothers were asked to record interactions in which they participated in narrative conversations with their children. Findings suggest that diminutives played a salient part in the socialization of emotion in this Indigenous community. Both quantitative and qualitative analyses indicated gender differences in uses of these types of evaluation, and in particular, in how diminutives and emotional words were used together, with five-year-old girls hearing significantly more diminutives in emotional utterances than three-year-old girls and than boys of both age groups. Implications for narrative evaluation and language socialization are discussed.
Latino mothers and their preschool children talk about the past: Implications for language and literacy
Alison Sparks, Clark University
This study explores the ways Latino mothers and their preschoolers reminisce. The data presented here are from a longitudinal intervention study of parents and children from Head Start Centers in Worcester, Massachusetts (N = 23 Latino families). Parent-child interactions were assessed during a home visit via conversations about past events. These interactions were coded for the level of elaboration parents provided to children during past event talk. The children also told independent personal narratives to an unfamiliar examiner. Their independent narratives were examined to determine if they displayed elements said to characterize Latino narrative. Parents were not found to be highly elaborative in any of the past event conversation contexts, but tended to score towards the middle of a five-point scale. The relationship between maternal elaboration and the child’s provision of contextualizing elements in independent narration points to talk about misbehavior as a culturally salient context for reminiscing. A qualitative analysis of talk between a single mother and child was undertaken to examine other possible strategies Latino caregivers use to engage their young ones in conversations about the past. Implications for developing narrative structure and literacy in the preschool classroom are discussed.
The Contribution of Spanish-Language Narration to the Assessment of Early Academic Performance of Latino Students
Alison L. Bailey, University of California, Los Angeles & Ani Moughamian, Assistant Research Professor, TIMES, University of Houston
Evaluations of bilingual programming have largely looked to students?academic performance as the measure of success. This study ascertains the role of Spanish-language narrative abilities in the academic achievement of Spanish-dominant 1st-3rd grade students, as well as in other developments related to school environments. Specifically, we asked: 1) What are the Spanish-language narrative abilities of school-age bilingual children? 2) How do children’s Spanish-language and English-language narrative abilities compare? and 3) What are the relationships between Spanish-language narrative abilities and school achievement both narrowly and broadly defined? Spanish- and English-language personal narratives were elicited from 20 Spanish-dominant students enrolled in a two-way bilingual program in California. The children came from predominantly low-mid income Mexican and Central American-heritage families. Elicitation prompts included stories about participation in school and their communities. Spanish narratives were analyzed at the microstructural level for grammatical accuracy and complexity and the macrostructural sophistication of both Spanish and English narratives was examined using Highpoint analysis. Results suggest that most of the Spanish narratives were grammatically complex and contained few grammatical errors, but far fewer were as structurally sophisticated as the English-language narratives. Narrative ability was related to measures of students?oral Spanish-language abilities, English language arts skills, and their level of metapragmatic awareness in English. Understanding these and other relationships is particularly important with Latino children whose school dropout rates cannot be explained by academic performance alone. The study underscores the importance of children’s native language discourse abilities to both their success in U.S. schools and to measuring the success of their schools.