What do we mean when we refer to our “identity,” and how do we represent it in the stories we tell about our lives? Is “identity” a sustained private core, or does it change as circumstances and relationships shift? In this thoughtful and learned book, a recognized master of research interviewing explores these questions through analyses of in-depth interviews with five craftartists, who reflect on their lives and their efforts to sustain their form of work as committed artists in a world of mass production and standardization.
The artists describe their families of origin and the families they have created, and the conscious decisions, chance events, and life experiences that entered into the ways they achieved their adult artistic identities. Exploring these continuities, discontinuities, and unresolvable tensions in an analysis that brings new sophistication to a much-used term, Elliot Mishler suggests that “identity” is always dialogic and relational, a complex of partial subidentities rather than a unitary monad. More a verb than a noun, it reflects an individual’s modes of adaptation, appropriation, and resistance to sociocultural plots and roles.
With its critical review of narrative research methods, model of analysis for the systematic study of life stories and identity, and vision of how narrative studies may contribute to theory and research in the social sciences, Storylines is an eloquent and important book for narrative psychology and lifespan development.
Storylines is as much a narrative of Elliot Mishler’s love affair with the crafts and his own craft as a researcher in narratives of identity, as it is a richly textured account of the creative forces in the lives of the five craft artists he interviewed. On the basis of these interviews…[he] concludes that life narratives are not factual histories of the past but rather constructions that can only emerge in the dialogic process of talking about one’s life trajectory and personal identity to a participant listener… Mishler’s celebration of the craft artist and non-alienated labor is eloquently moral and well worth the effort… Expect to be alternately enchanted, challenged, bewildered, sometimes even disoriented and finally enlightened.
In this case, the researcher’s affinity with the artists’ lives is clear and, to my mind, makes the work on theory more readable and more credible because it emerges from Mishler’s own story…ultimately, readers can learn more about difference from a researcher like Mishler, who has carved from more than a decade’s research an unusual book that is both personal and professional in scope, philosophy, and evidence.
In the last two decades, there has been a significant shift in the study of persons and social life, away from counted-data methods to a focus on the life-story or narrative. Much of this shift has been a result of Elliot Mishler’s pioneering contributions. In this newest book, Mishler explores the meaning of the ‘hand-made’ for artisans devoting their lives to crafts, and in the process, enlarges both theory and method of human science study. This is truly a fascinating, sophisticated, and important study and one unique in showing the significance of taking seriously a reflexive and dialogic perspective in the study of identity.
- 208 pages
- 0-1/2 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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