CHAPTER 3 LAYING THEORETICAL STEPPING STONES FOR THE “WHO AM I” NARRATIVES: TEXTS OF IDENTITY; REWRITING THE SELF
The question of “who am I?” is age-old and has evoked much debate. In Psychology humankind’s identity (also here dubbed selfhood and personhood) has been a major object – or subject – of enquiry. And as part of this particular exploration, I discuss “texts of identity” via central postmodern Community Psychology notions of “sense of self”, “human diversity”, as well as that of “multiculturalism”.
As the term postmodern has been used to mean so many different things that it is now often associated with loose, “anything goes” thinking, I henceforth call my position “postmodern”.
TEXTS OF IDENTITY
…. the primary medium within which identities are created and have their currency is not just linguistic but textual: persons are largely ascribed identities according to the manner of their embedding within a discourse – in their own or in the discourses of others.
(Shotter and Gergen, 1989:ix)
“Texts of Identity” is the title of a book edited by Shotter and Gergen (1989), to which they both also have contributed chapters. It is a metaphor which for all contributory authors denotes an exploration of how people’s identities are constructed out of, as well as constrained by, socially and culturally established forms of communication (i.e. texts), be it via discourses of others, or their own.
But while affirming this social constructionist viewpoint of “texts of identity”, the emphasis here also is on how “contributions of the past” inevitably “(remain) a resource for the present” (Cronbach, cited by Trickett, 1996:214), i.e. as part of a paradox and not as a monolithic conventional identity meta-discourse.
SENSE OF SELF
The Paradox of the “One” and the “Many”
To begin exploring how the metaphor of “texts of identity” can transcend the boundaries of a conventional identity logic, Newbrough’s (1995) postulations regarding Community Psychology is used as a point of departure:
As a critic of the community theory of his time, Newbrough (1995) used his paradox of the “One” and the “Many”” to place his Third Position within a Hegelian dialectical paradigm of Positions One (the thesis) and Two (the antithesis). The conflict thus is between Position One’s solution of the collectivity of “One” and Position Two’s solution of the individuality of “Many”.
In essence it is a contradictory dualistic viewpoint of how society functions that Newbrough (1995) elaborates on, via Kirkpatrick’s (1986) descriptions of an organic community and a contractarian community.
That is, in an organic community (as found in a feudal society) loyalty to the collectivity is of paramount importance (Position One); while in a contractarian community (as found in a free market society) the primary concern is to protect individual liberty and privacy (Position Two).
For Newbrough (1995) it is the over-commitment to either Position One or Two, which is problematic (for example, the American over-commitment to the philosophy of individualism and the African over-commitment to the collectivity), in the sense that it forces an either-or vision, in which the one pole has to be “good” and the other “bad” – a modern vision of society.
Newbrough (1995), therefore, creates the Third Position, which (as his solution to the juxtapositions of the “One” and the “Many”) is a synthesis of individuality and the collective – a grounding for a “postmodern” paradigm of personhood.
A Third Position Perspective
Adopting a Third Position thus means that the notion of identity no longer is seen as an either-or issue of whether humankind is the centred “master of their own universe” (an extreme modern viewpoint) or whether humankind’s identity is socially constructed – a decentred “postmodern” viewpoint, which at its extremity even questions the existence of an entity such as identity.
Rather, a Third Position circumvents the either-or trap by giving a perspective in which personhood is formulated in terms of a personal (individual) and a social (community) identification – a “postmodern” solution to the identity issue which automatically
negates the modern depiction of a non-reciprocal and hierarchical society, in which there is a domination of individual over individual, group over group, culture over culture; and
embraces a viewpoint of networks of belonging, comprising both social and personal identities, which are contextualised.
In Shotter’s (1989) language, it is a viewpoint that recognises that “I’s” in being “me’s” must inevitably be intermingled with the “you’s” of many “others”.
Ultimately, therefore, (again in Shotter’s (1989) language) it is a re-cognition of joint actions between first and second persons, rather than seeing people as owners of themselves, owing nothing to society. The formation of personhood then varies according to the social constructions of participants in a particular socio-cultural context – a “postmodern” epistemological framework that Trickett already in 1996 saw as paving the future way for Community Psychology.
A “Postmodern” Sense of Self
To sustain a “postmodern” viewpoint of selfhood, Adorno’s concept of a negative dialectics is added to the picture. That is, Adorno, a 20th century German philosopher, recommended a negative dialectics of a never-ending process, without beginning or end, as an antidote to the positive “resting place” of Hegel’s dialectics (Sim, 1999:180).
The “postmodern” formulation of the notion of identity thus may be seen as one that is an ongoing process, an ongoing debate, rather than a monolithic and progressive discourse.
For example, the notion of identity recently has been re-explored and re-debated by community psychologists in the context of McMillan, et. al.’s (1986) definitive notion of a “psychological sense of community”.
It is a re-exploration which has led to Obst, Smith and Zinkiewicz (2002) proposing that McMillan, et. al.’s (1986) original four elements of a “psychological sense of community” be expanded to a fifth, namely that of a conscious identification (an in-group/out-group identification).
Based on social identity theory, it is an added dimension that (among other things) emphasises that people’s group membership has strong affective and cognitive consequences, including a biased evaluation of in-groups/out -groups.
In Australia, too, the re-exploration of the notion of a “psychological sense of community” has led Fisher and Sonn (2002) to identify a series of salient Australian identity markers (e.g. common symbols and shared history) which can be used to help immigrants identify more easily with Australian communities, rather than resist changes in their lifestyle.
However, for Fisher, et. al., (2002) the challenge not only is to get immigrants to identify more easily with an Australian sense of community, it also includes getting Australians to incorporate into their sense of community the identity markers of the newcomers as well as those that they have developed together.
On a more radical note, Puddifoot (2003) proposes that the original notion of a “psychological sense of community” be re-defined as a “psychological sense of community identity” – a shift which he says replaces
the emphasis on an idealised picture of a community with an emphasis on the concrete realities of an actual community setting he explored (Durham City, England); and the emphasis on an individual’s own orientation to her or his community with an emphasis on both personal (a sense of personal support, personal contentedness and personal involvement) and shared aspects (perceived community engagement and perceived settledness) of a sense of community identity.
According to Puddifoot (2003), therefore, there are major differences between McMillan, et. al.’s (1986) notion of a “psychological sense of community” and his notion of a “psychological sense of community identity”.
The major difference being that a “psychological sense of community” is a social construct that refers purely to a personal orientation to a community; while in a “psychological sense of community identity”, no distinction is made between peoples’ personal perceptions and those that are widely shared.
Ultimately, therefore, a “psychological sense of community identity” reflects the complexities of real life, that allows for multiple psychological senses of community as well as multiple layers of identity within a community setting.
The Paradox of Sameness and Differences
Proponents of a “postmodern ” perspective also challenge (and deconstruct) the status quo of sameness, a modern viewpoint that interfaces with notions of “norms” and “deviances from norms”.
Inextricably linked to notions of ethnocentrism, oppression, and disenfranchisement, it is a fundamental viewpoint in which normative identifications remain that of the dominant culture, while the notion of differences (as deviances from those norms) means inferior as well as a lack of genes, culture, or personality to live a successful life.
In the field of Psychology in particular, there are a number of illustrations of this type of bias that apply to questions of race, ethnicity, gender, and other dimensions of differences.
To focus on one: The penchant to adopt male life as the norm in conventional Psychology has led to the human life cycle being depicted in the image of the male’s development – a norm that then frames the different notions of what is of value in lives of women as a sign of inferiority (Gilligan, 1982).
Pitting human sameness (the thesis) against human differences (the antithesis), however, ironically also can lead to postmodernists diminishing the common ground people share.
In fact, the deconstructionist attack on the status quo of man’s sameness has led to “revolutionaries” radically deconstructing the status quo of sameness to nothingness – a radical move that then represents the extreme pole of the antithetical argument.
“Postmodern” extremism thus also creates problems, in the sense that the extreme emphasis on differences could lead to a backlash – one that more and more (not less and less) supports sameness, for example, in the guise of ethnocentrism.
A Third Position Perspective
In terms of Cross-Cultural Psychology, cultural holism (a sameness notion) and cultural relativism (a difference notion) can be incorporated into a broader framework.
For example, in the cultural and ethnic ecosystemic perspective advocated by Berry (1994) they are incorporated into a flexible, multi-layered framework, in which the commonalities of humanity are recognised, without demanding uniformity – while the trap of radical cultural relativism is avoided by defining human differences in terms of inter and intra-cultural contact and exchanges.
It is a synthesis that not only allows for cross-fertilisation of cultures; it also intersects with perspectives of cultural pluralism, i.e. perspectives in which cultures have value in their own terms.
The Third Position of similar-differences thus ultimately also acknowledges that everyone has a culture, a race, a gender and a place in the social order, including alternative culture groups such as gays, lesbians, and so forth (Jones, 1994).
But part of the challenge of giving access to such new voices is replacing colloquial terms (e.g. “ethnic” or “racial”) with the language of human diversity, to convey
a framework which looks for both similarities and differences in the experiences of varied groups;
an acceptance that each cultural group has its own distinctive worldview embedded in its own culture-specific context;
a positive regard for human differences rather than emphasis on negative stereotypes perpetuated by deficit models; and
an avoidance of person-blame explanations (Jones, 1994; Trickett, et. al., 1994).
Both the terms “human diversity” and “cultural pluralism” are strongly implied in the new South African ideology of a “rainbow nation”, albeit easier to express on paper (e.g. in our constitution) than to implement on an everyday basis.
A “Postmodern” Human Diversity
In a “postmodern” perspective recognition also is given to the subjective aspect of a human psychological diversity, in which people derive a sense of identity from their own definitions of belonging.
Analogous to a “psychological sense of community”, it is a defined membership in which cultural/racial/ethnical components too can play an important role – although they are constructed differently in different parts of the world.
For example, in the USA the term Hispanic nowadays is applied to all Latin Americans regardless of the wide variety of races, ethnicities, and cultures of their ancestors.
In South Africa the apartheid policies of the past have conditioned many of us into believing that racial group membership is THE core aspect of our South African identity, an identification marker that now again plays a dominant role
– this time as a rationale for affirmative action and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) societal transformations.
But, as affirmative action efforts tend to not go beyond superficialities such as a concern with numbers, rather than concentrating more on “window dressing”, say Thomas and Ely (1996), people need to begin to perceive themselves as being part of a complex society in which they are on the same “team”, with their differences, not despite them – an affirmative diversity perspective in which the collective or group ideally is strengthened (and not weakened) by the diversity of their individual members (Jones, 1994).
Thus, perceiving our complex “postmodern” societies in terms of similar -differences is a way of thinking which affords us the possibility of moving
into a “postmodern” paradigm in which communities also are perceived in terms of similarities (common culture) and in terms of differences (different cultures).
For example, for quite a while there has been a major trend in the USA for people to describe themselves as Afro-American or Hispanic Americans, and so forth, an indication they are proud of their different cultures within the common culture.
In the South African context, this could mean that South Africans too could start thinking of defining themselves as Xhosa or Zulu South Africans, German or Austrian South Africans, Coloured South Africans, and so forth.
But to achieve such a mind shift, however, South Africans need either to stop harking back to the racial discourses of the apartheid era or propounding a post-apartheid non-racial utopia in which cultural specificity does not matter anymore – two poles of a binary that disenable people from achieving a satisfactory description of their own commonalities and diversities (Sastry, 2002).
The Paradox of Global Village and Globes of Villages
On the one hand, the global village is said to have opened up the world to individualism and democratic principles. On the other hand, globalisation paradoxically is seen to be a Western neo-colonial process, an acculturation process, which threatens to create one homogeneous worldwide culture of a global labour force, electronic communication and “designer” lifestyle or identities (Nikelly, 2000; Richmond, 2002).
As a proponent of the latter view, Arnett (2002), therefore, homes in on the psychological consequences of the growing pressures of globalisation (as another type of Western oppression), particularly relating to the formation and development of 20th and 21st century identities.
Concentrating mainly on the backlash to pressures of globalisations, Arnett (2002), for one, highlights a counter-movement, a counter-thesis, which in the instance of non-Westerners takes the form of identifying more, and not less, with indigenous cultures as a way of protesting against absorption into a global culture. Samoans, for example, have elevated traditional rituals associated with rites of passage into symbols of dissidence and resistance.
Globalisation pressures too, says Arnett (2002), can result in people taking refuge in self-selected cultures with like-minded persons, and developing their own contra-structures and identities distinct from and in opposition to the global culture and its values.
For example, although fundamentalist movements over the world differ in many ways, they have in common
a self-selected counter-culture based on a religious counter-response to the secular nature of globalisation; and
a belief in a hierarchy of authority, which starkly contrasts with globalisation’s democratic principles.
However, Arnett (2002) questions whether the appeal of such self-selected cultures is especially strong among people who have suffered from identity -confusion, a phenomenon that he says is becoming particularly pervasive among young people in non-Western cultures.
That, as local cultures change in response to globalisation, and the global culture undermines local cultural practices, many young people feel displaced and experience themselves as belonging neither to their local culture nor the global culture. The end-result is that their identity too is in flux.
A Third Position Perspective
In contrast to the confusions and stresses developed from experiencing conflict between an original culture and a new culture, the development of a bicultural identity is seen by Arnett (2002) to be a much more active and a more viable response to the internal dilemmas created by our ever-changing 21st century world.
As a Third Position perspective, a bicultural identity allows people to continue to develop a local identity, while additionally developing a global identity that allows them also to belong to a worldwide culture and to communicate with people from diverse places.
This includes communicating with people through media technology such as e-mail – a Third Position perspective encapsulated in a media giant’s advertising slogan of “Think Global – Act Local” (Wicker, 1997).
And, as such, a bicultural identity is seen to be based less on prescribed social roles and more on individual choices – more on decisions that each person makes about what values to embrace and what paths to pursue.
With a bicultural identification, therefore, the likelihood is greater that people will find a psychologically rewarding match between their choices and their individual desires and abilities.
It is a context in which globalisation ultimately also is seen to expand, and not curtail, the range of identity choices – an expansion in which the phenomenon of global flux and border-crossing of people (as is the case with immigrants and refugees) has to be described in more fluid terms such as multi, pluri and trans-cultural (Wicker, 1997; Richmond, 2002).
Complex cultural crossover and mixed identifications additionally also have spawned renewed interest in Caribbean writers such as Bernabe, Chamoiseau and Confiant, who elevate the various “shades of hybridity” of the Caribbean ethnic identity of Creoleness (a mixture of Caribbean, European, African, Asian and Levantine culture) to a privileged status, while repudiating the notion of pure ethnic categories (Sastry, 2002).
Other writers such as Bhabha (1994), even advocate celebrating “hybridity” as a “third space”, as an international cultural identity which integrates and bridges all polarities and fragmentations – a viewpoint which Bhabha (1994) saw as specifically applying to the South African coloured population (Friedman, 1997).
A “Postmodern” Multicultural Approach
In a “postmodern” worldview even biculturalism is viewed in “shades of greys”, thereby opening up the field to even more complex cultural notions such as blended biculturalism (in which an individual synthesises or “fuses” the two cultures); instrumental biculturalism (in which an individual’s “blendedness” is on a behavioural level but does not include a “psychological sense of identity”); and an integrated biculturalism (in which an individual is behaviourally involved in both cultures but has a firm sense of identity as a member of the culture of origin) (Birman, 1994; Helms, 1994).
Additionally, “postmodern” acculturation theorists nowadays even see both acculturation and enculturation as viable and understandable choices, dependant on the situation and context, a point that Birman (1994) illustrates by means of the roles Moses and Joseph played in Jewish history. To quote Birman (1994:281):
Joseph’s assimilationist attitudes in Egypt allowed him to rise to a high position in Pharaoh’s court and to help his family when they came there to survive the famine. Moses, however, was a separatist, leading the Jewish people out of Egypt to escape slavery. Both are heroes in Jewish history, for unless each of them did what they did, the Jewish people would not have survived either the famine in Canaan or slavery in Egypt.
To complicate matters further, one can safely assume that nowadays some of the worlds internalised by teenagers are determined by the “global village” media of movies and television; and a teenage sub-culture (Werbner,1997).
In fact, Berger, et. al., already in 1967 pointed out that, in contrast to the world acquired in the primary socialisation process (an enculturation process), the worlds internalised in secondary socialisation processes (an acculturation process) are generally partial realities.
Yet, they too are more or less cohesive realities developed out of a network of multiple attachments, of multiple options of identifications.
REWRITING THE SELF
In general people experience their present naively, as it were, without being able to form an estimate of its contents; they have first to put themselves at a distance from it – the present, that is to say, must have become past – before it can yield points of vantage from which to judge the future.
(Sigmund Freud, quoted by Freeman, 1993:front page) The 20th century “Material Girl”, Madonna, has re-invented herself so many times that she (like entertainer Cher) seems to epitomise the concept of “rewriting the self”.
But in spite of “re-invention” fast becoming yet another over-worked and hollow 20th century cliché, the notion still remains central to the psychologist’s understanding of humankind.
Understandings over the centuries, however, have vacillated between deciding that people are controlled internally (“free will”) or are controlled externally (“determinism”).
For example, American citizens in particular pride themselves in being self -made “free agents”, who are masters of their own destiny – an ideal and romantic image of the self that most prominently plays itself out in John Wayne Westerns, often ending with him “riding off into the blue” on his own.
The study, however, generally follows a “postmodern” train of thought, which questions to what extent people indeed are “free agents” while they simultaneously are constrained by their circumstances and histories.
The notion of “rewriting the self” is borrowed from Freeman (1995), who describes it as a “process by which one’s past and indeed oneself is figured anew through interpretation” (Freeman, 1995:3) – a description attuned to theà given “postmodern” framework; and processes of change and transformation.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
1.1. Contextualised Stories
1.2. Story Participants
1.3 Unfolding of the Story Project
CHAPTER 2: MAPPING OUT THE SMALLER AND THE BIGGER BACKDROPS FOR THE “WHO AM I” NARRATIVES
2.1. THE SMALLER BACKDROP: THE DEUTSCHE INTERNATIONALE SCHULE JOHANNESBURG
2.2. THE BIGGER BACKDROP: A POSTMODERN COMMUNITY PSYCHOLOGY FRAMEWORK
2.3. THE OVERARCHING BACKDROP
CHAPTER 3: LAYING THEORETICAL STEPPING STONES FOR THE “WHO AM I” NARRATIVES: TEXTS OF IDENTITY; REWRITING THE SELF
3.1. TEXTS OF IDENTITY
3.2. REWRITING THE SELF
3.3. THE OVERARCHING FRAMEWORK
CHAPTER 4: ANOTHER LINK IN THE CHAIN OF THEORETICAL STEPPING STONES: MULTICULTURALISM IN SCHOOLS
4.1. MULTICULTURALISM IN SCHOOLS: GLOBAL EXPERIENCES
4.2. MULTICULTURALISM IN SCHOOLS: LOCAL (SOUTH AFRICAN) EXPERIENCES
4.3. AN OVERARCHING FRAMEWORK
CHAPTER 5: CONSTRUCTING THE “WHO AM I” NARRATIVES WITHIN A “POSTMODERN” DISCOURSE: THE RESEARCH METHODOLOGY STORY
5.1. THE “POSTMODERN” NARRATIVE PARADIGM
5.2. A NARRATIVE RESEARCH PROCEDURE
5.3. AN OVERARCHING LINKAGE OF NARRATIVES AND STUDY
CHAPTER 6: DIALOGUES GENERATED IN PHASES ONE AND THREE: ARTICULATING COMMUNAL/PERSONAL VIEWPOINTS
6.1. ARTICULATING COMMUNAL VIEWPOINTS
6.2. ARTICULATING PERSONAL VIEWPOINTS
6.3. AN ECOLOGICAL CONSTRUCTIONISM
CHAPTER 7: NARRATIVES GENERATED IN PHASE TWO: THE PERSONALISED STORIES
7.1. THE PERSONALISED STORIES
7.2. STRETCHING ACROSS BOUNDARIES
CHAPTER 8: REFLECTING ON STUDY AS A WHOLE
8.1. REFLECTING THEORETICAL COMPONENTS
8.2. REFLECTING RESEARCH COMPONENTS
8.3. REFLECTING ON GENERAL CONCERNS
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT