THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF SELF STORIES

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THE PERFORMANCE OF LANGUAGE AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF SELF-STORIES

I have already discussed the background and implications of the development of Practical Theology as an operational science in a previous study (Engelbrecht 1996). In this chapter, I want to position myself within Practical Theology in the light of its relevance for the research. I am a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, and associate myself with the Reformed tradition. For me this implies a number of realist1 assumptions that I discuss in this chapter. Nevertheless, I see the „Reformed‟ tradition as a tradition that is historically and socially constructed and that can be critically reflected on. Even important Reformed notions such as the existence of God, Jesus Christ, Biblical inspiration, sin and grace are experienced relationally and receive meaning in the interaction with God and between humans. This is the content of this chapter. The first context for Practical Theology that I want to mention is the broader theoretical or epistemological positioning of Practical Theology within a postmodern discourse. This is important, because this research is informed by postmodern assumptions. This is followed by a discussion of contextual theology, feminism, social constructionism and narrative as manifestations of postmodern discourses, and their effect on a Practical Theological methodology. I share a few ideas on a Practical Theological view on the self. I discuss postmodernism in relation to the social construction of the self in Chapter 3. In this chapter, I therefore only make a few remarks about postmodernism that is relevant for a Practical Theological positioning. In the Western world, in primitive society, and up to the Middle Ages, personhood was not meaningfully defined apart from family and bureaucratic units (Sampson 1989:4). In the post-medieval world (in the Renaissance, Humanist and neo-classical period) people appear as autonomous subjects, as individuals who shape their own destiny. G.H. Mead‟s (cited by Logan 1987:15) well-known distinction between the self as the „I‟, the Knower, and the self as „me‟, the Known, indicates how the sense of self has changed in the course of post-Classical Western history. It is a change from the self as the self-as-subject to the self as self-as-object. The 19th century saw the emergence of the self as it is understood today, as an object, a „me‟ to be known and influenced by its context. It involved a shift from the notion of the self as creator that was common in the Renaissance to the notion of the self as created. It was a shift from „How do I (subject) reason about and observe the world?‟ to „How does the world make me (object) feel?‟ (Logan 1987:21). Within liberal and radical capitalism, the individual became a function of economic activity and progressively predetermined socioeconomic forces. Throughout this shift, however, „the ideology of autonomy and of individuality remain[ed] carved deeply in the subjective consciousness of the culture‟ (Sampson 1989:5). As long as problems in society could be linked to the individual, autonomous and free person, society itself could continue to produce its ideologies and human beings that fit into it. Self-concept and identity are linked as answers to the basic questions: „Who am I?‟ „Where do I belong?‟, and „How do I fit (or fit in)?‟ (Oyserman 2004:5). In modernist discourses about the self, this „I‟ is sometimes seen as the core, the heart, the existential „I‟, which is autonomous and chooses in freedom. The „self‟ or „me‟ is more inclusive, as all that the „I‟ has, and all that belongs to the „I‟. The „I‟ is seen as the principle that regulates the way the „self‟ is subjectively experienced and used. Conversely, the „self‟ is continuously creating the space for the becoming of the „I‟ (Wijngaarden 1969:30.) A great variety of discourses also arose around the concept of „personality‟; and these are mostly related to the concepts of the identity and the self. The Latin verb personare literally means „to sound through‟, referring to the voice of the actor emerging from behind the mask which an actor would wear in Roman times. Today, it refers to the individual, acting human being (Meyer et al 2003:9). Meyer et al (2003:11) define personality as follows: „Personality is the constantly changing but nevertheless

POSTSTRUCTURALISM  AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF SELF-STORIES

In order to understand how poststructuralism affects a postmodern construction of identity or self-stories, it is necessary to understand what is meant by poststructuralism. The overlap between social constructionism and poststructuralism with the theme of discursive positioning is offset in poststructuralism by the struggle for the meaning of language as experienced in competing invitations to subjectivity. Subjectivity as a site of struggle, is precarious, contradictory and in process, and is constantly being reconstituted in different discourses (Weedon 1987:33). In addition to answering the question about what poststructuralism means, this section also explores the effect of deconstruction and the power/knowledge duality on the constitution of subjectivity.

What is poststructuralism?

ststructuralism is a radicalising of the critique against the Enlightenment project of centring and institutionalising reason as the way to human emancipation. Politics are therefore high on the agenda of this broad and diverse movement (Cuff et al 1998:242). Its more direct background is its relationship to structuralism, as a counter to which it developed. It uses certain ideas from structuralism, but with the overt aim of being more political by deconstructing the constraints of modernist ideologies (Cuff et al 1998:238-239). Narrative therapies have been influenced by poststructuralist thought in various ways, specifically by the emphasis on the political, the way language is seen as an instrument of power with constitutive effects, and the deconstruction of dominant discourses which have a constraining influence in people‟s lives. Therefore it is important to look at poststructuralist thought in more detail.

NARRATIVE  THERAPY   AND   THE   CONSTRUCTION   OF    SELF-STORIES

section is important in the light of the research question, because social constructionists regard narrative as a fitting vehicle for the construction of self-stories (Freedman & Combs 1996:14-18; Gergen 1985:271; Hoffman 1990:11; Kotzé & Kotzé 1997; Socor 1997:17). Although I am not doing narrative therapy as such in this research, I have already mentioned in Section 1.7 that I am using the narrative approach and the methodology and practices of narrative therapy interviewing in this research, especially in the conversations with the participants. Here in Section 3.7, I look at some ways in which self-stories can be socially constructed in the practice of narrative therapy. As mentioned before, I hope that the research will contribute to change in the lives of the participants, and to the body of knowledge circulating in the therapeutic domain.

The narrative approach to therapy

I first want to explore the narrative approach to therapy so that it can be clearly distinguished from other approaches in order to reveal its context. When psychology is seen as a science in terms of modernist epistemology, its findings are presented as objective, decontextualised and depoliticised. It is given authority, because its truths about problem formation and resolution are perceived to be universal. Diagnostic systems such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association have been developed that describe abnormal or undesirable behaviour in deficit terms, as already mentioned, as psychopathology, disorders and dysfunctions. It ignores the specific, localised meanings of people in community. Through technologies of power in the professional discourses, people are coerced to enter into the continuum of normality/abnormality, autonomy/enmeshment, independence/dependence, or assertiveness/passivity (White 1997b:121). It is important to note that this professional vocabulary has fed back into popular culture. Our vocabulary of deficits and abnormality is ever-increasing. We now have a „spiralling cycle of enfeeblement‟ (Gergen 1991:15). As has already been discussed in this chapter in regard to dominant discourses (Section 3.6), psychology as a modernist discourse can be an instrument for controlling people. In this discourse, the therapist is autonomous, detached, disinterested, reinforcing the subject/object dualism, and in this way perpetuates the grand narratives of modernity (White 1997b:224). Narrative therapy challenges the isolation of the knowledges of the professional disciplines from all the other discontinuous knowledges (White 1997b:230-233). From a narrative point of view, all psychological theories are types of narrative, with the ambiguities and possibilities that all narratives present. The second area of concern that this study explores is the constitutive effect of religion/spirituality (God-stories) on self-stories. I expand on the argument that God-stories are social constructions that can form part of the context for the development of self-stories. I want to show in what ways God-stories can make a difference to self-stories. In this chapter I therefore consider God-stories mainly as a context for hope in the construction of self-stories, rather than as a restraint, thereby linking it to the social construction of self-stories in narrative therapy. This chapter also sets the stage for the next chapter, which is about self-God-stories in the context of substance abuse. This chapter is about the role of religion/spirituality in the social construction of identity. I first want to say a few words about my use of the terms „religion‟, „spirituality‟, „faith‟ and „beliefs‟. In Section 4.2, I explain why I prefer to talk about God-stories as a way to include spirituality, religion, beliefs, faith experiences, etc. In the rest of the chapter, I discuss the way in which various God-stories are constitutive in the construction of self-stories. Because of the possibility of inserting oneself into God-stories or taking up God-stories into self-stories, I write about „self-God-stories‟ as a way to talk about the mutual influence of self- and God-stories. The chapter ends with a few remarks on ways in which to begin to include God-stories in narrative therapy. „Spirituality‟ is a broad, overarching term that can have different meanings in different contexts. I find the following definition of spirituality as our connectedness to all that is particularly useful in the light of this study, because the social construction of the self is about connectedness: „Spirituality is a commitment to choose, as the primary context for understanding and acting, one‟s relatedness to all that is‟ (Griffith & Griffith 2002:15). Spirituality is inclusive of all experiences that relate to religious activities, theological theories and narratives about the Other, or to an ultimate human condition that we strive towards. It is an investment in a set of values that fosters a „sense of meaning, inner wholeness, harmony, and connection with others‟ (Walsh 1999a:6).

SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND SOCIO-CULTURAL CONTEXT

In this section, I deconstruct other socio-cultural restraints, such as social expectations, the culture of consumption and individualism, that a person can encounter in his or her struggle with substance abuse. These socio-cultural factors influence the construction of self-stories in the context of substance abuse.

Substance abuse and cultural expectations

In the addiction recovery movement, the focus is on the individual and his or her problems and personal improvement, resulting in a minimising of the socio-cultural structures that produce, exacerbate or promote problems with substances. From a social constructionist point of view, a relationship with substances is part of a larger communal and social pattern of activities, as discussed in the section on the social construction of addiction and cultural patterns of consumption (Section 5.2). The cultural environment is constitutive of a person‟s life. An individual is a personal expression of the cultural patterns of behaviour produced in language. Life is like a dance in which all are involved; we move together through life like drops in a river, also with regard to our struggle with substance abuse. Our total experience of substance abuse is modelled by our social group. Reactions to and patterns of substance abuse are learned (Davies 1992:x). Therefore, as mentioned, social imperatives are more powerful than a person‟s biological disposition in establishing a relationship with substances. As  a  whole  ecological  process,  addiction  cannot  be  considered  outside  a  person‟s environment in terms of the symptoms inside a person. Addiction is the result of a 203 discursive positioning, thus also a manifestation of what is happening in society. As Clinebell (1968:59) reminds us: „It is a healthy thing to recall that the alcoholic‟s conflicts are structured by the culture in which he [or she] lives.‟ A society can be too limited in the possibilities it offers its members to express themselves, so that they do not have a rich variety of self-narratives. Limited social roles can be a restraining influence in establishing a preferred relationship with substances and behaviours (Steyn Verwey 1999:310.) As a social phenomenon, addiction is therefore sometimes seen as a transgression of society against its own members, an expression of a culture‟s inability to take care of itself (Steyn & Verwey 1999:382). This can include the social values and assumptions that contribute to the experience of failure or disability, or to the need to cover up or escape from the pain of being different.

REFLECTION ON THE RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

The main focus of the research was on the theoretical discussion of the issues relating to the research question (see Section 1.7). I consulted literature on postmodernism, social constructionism, narrative ways of working, narrative therapy, the relationship between psychology and pastoral therapy, religious/spiritual knowledges and practices, dominating substance abuse stories, etc. In my consultation with literature, there was a search for more general or universal tendencies (see Section 1.7). The theoretical part of the research included definitions in order to use concepts in a more specific way, such as definitions of the self, religion, spirituality, social constructionism, poststructuralism, identity, addiction, etc. As I have mentioned (see Section 1.7), I also made use of a research proposition that I evaluate in this chapter. Regarding the theoretical part of the research, I also controlled the observation of data to a large extent by imposing my own structure on the research. The theoretical positions referred to in the literature are overwhelming in their diversity. My own perspectives co-determined the themes I developed in the theoretical discussion. I hope that I have succeeded in making clear my own theoretical position with regard to the issues discussed. The empirical part of the research was qualitative in nature, because the narratives that were drawn from the conversations were presented as the understandings of the people who told them, without trying to derive quantitative data or universal „truths‟ from them. The collaboration or participation that I intended (see Section 1.7) was limited, because the conversations were limited to two sessions with each participant (thus 24 conversations). Most of the themes uncovered in the conversations resonated with themes in the theoretical discussion, for example, forgiveness, grace and praying. I will say something more about the value and the qualitative outcome of the conversations in the following sections. I believe that, as I anticipated in Section 1.7, the literature study, together with the conversations contributed to more adequate results because more than one indicator was used. The literature study created a framework within which the conversations took place. With regard to self-stories, God-stories and substance abuse stories, there was some interaction between the more general findings of the literature and the micro-stories in the conversations. In the end, both indicators convey the message that God-stories can make a difference in self-stories in the context of substance abuse (see Section 8.9).

THE CONVERSATIONS WITH PARTICIPANTS

The research did not focus on people‟s internal psychological processes, but on the context, especially the God-context and substance abuse environment, in which they live. In the conversations, I created space for the introduction of people‟s God-stories and how these stories relate to their lives in the context of stories of substance abuse. In the light of the emphasis on the stories of the participants, perhaps using 12 participants was too ambitious. So many stories were told that it became impossible to discuss all the stories in depth. A different route would have been to involve fewer participants in more conversations over a longer period. This could have resulted in more reliable outcomes in terms of the effects of self-God-stories on substance abuse stories. I am satisfied with the diversity in participants. The participants came from different cultures (they were people of colour, Afrikaners and a German-speaking Namibian), genders (nine men and three women) and age-groups (their ages ranged from 26 to 60). The participants also struggled with different substances (ranging from alcohol to crack cocaine). The religious orientations of the participants include a range from the Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Reformed traditions. More diversity contributes to an increased range of restricting or helpful self-God-stories in the context of substance abuse. More diversity with regard to religious orientation could have been valuable, but I am not sure whether it could have been accommodated, given the limited scope of this kind of research. As I have indicated, I invited a variety self-God-stories to provide a wide range of meaning-making possibilities – self-God-stories that were also linked to the three kinds of stories or metaphors that I highlighted: the stories of re-membering God, grace and the migration of identity. The qualitative outcome of the diversity of stories that have been told (also see Section 8.9 for my reflections) met my expectations. The conversations were conducted in line with to the ethical requirements of a narrative methodology (see Section 3.7.1). Although the long-term effects of the conversations is not known, I refused to impose any judgement and did not manipulate the participants through normalising humanistic or religious discourses. Part of the research in a social constructionist paradigm means that it was important not to force my own themes or stories on the participants. I took the stories of participants seriously, because they are the experts on their own lives and meanings. The integrity of the research lies in taking seriously the stories of the participants. Narrative ways of working emphasise the uniqueness of each person and his or her stories. The results are not objective, universal truths, but the results of this research only. However, in the light of the theoretical part of the research, I hope that general tendencies that have been explored can contribute to more options in the engagement with people struggling with substance abuse.

CHAPITER 1 INTRODUCTION
1.1 MY INTEREST IN SELF-STORIES
1.2 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
1.3 ISSUES TO BE CONSIDERED
1.4 RESEARCH PURPOSE
1.5 EPISTEMOLOGY SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM AND POSTSTRUCTURALISM
1.6 PRATICAL THEOLOGICAL POSITIONING
1.7 METHODOLOGY ; QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH
1.8 RESEARCH PROCESS
1.9 OUTLINE OF THE STUDY
CHAPTER 2: SELF-STORIES AND GOD-STORIES IN PRACTICAL THEOLOGY
2.1 INTRODUCTION
2.2 PRACTICAL THEOLOGY AS POSTMODERN THEOLOGY
2.3 PRACTICAL THEOLOGY AS CONTEXTUAL THEOLOGY
2.4 PRACTICAL THEOLOGY AS CONTEXTUAL THEOLOGY
2.5 PRACTICAL THEOLOGY AND FEMINIST THEOLOGY
2.6 PRACTICAL THEOLOGY AND SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM
2.7 PRACTICAL THEOLOGY AND THE BIBLE
2.8 PRACTICAL THEOLOGY AS NARRATIVE THEOLOGY
2.9 A PRACTICAL THEOLOGICAL POSITIONING OF THE SELF
2.10 THE COMMUNICATIVE CHARACTER OF THEOLOGICAL ACTIONS
2.11 PASTORAL THERAPY
2.12 SUMMARY OF MY PRACTICAL THEOLOGICAL POSITION FOR THE RESEARCH
CHAPTER 3: THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF SELF STORIES
3.1 INTRODUCTION
3.2 SELF-STORIES IN MODERNISM
3.3 THE POSTMODERN CONTEXT FOR SELF-STORIES
3.4 SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF SELF-STORIES
3.5 THE PERFORMANCE OF LANGUAGE AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF SELF-STORIES
3.6 POSTSTRUCTURALISM AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF SELF-STORIES
3.7 NARRATIVE THERAPY AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF SELF-STORIES
3.8 THE IMPLICATION OF THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF SELF-STORIES FOR THE RESEARCH
CHAPTER 4: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GOD STORIES AND SELF-STORIES
4.1INTRODUCTION
4.2 THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF GOD-STORIES
4.3 GOD-STORIES THAT CONSTITUTE SELF-STORIES
4.4 SELF-GOD-STORIES BETWEEN PSYCHOLOGY AND RELIGION
4.5 SELF-GOD-STORIES AND META-NARRATIVES
4.6 SELF-GOD-STORIES AS A RECIPROCAL RELATIONSHIP
4.7 SELF-GOD-STORIES IN COMMUNITY
4.8 SELF-GOD-STORIES OF SIN AND GRACE
4.9 SELF-GOD-STORIES OF THE „OLD LIFE‟ AND THE „NEW LIFE‟
4.10 SELF-GOD-STORIES ABOUT THE EMPTYING OF THE SELF
4.11 SELF-GOD-STORIES OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH
4.12 SELF-GOD-STORIES OF ILLNESS
4.13 SELF-GOD-STORIES ABOUT MORALITY
4.14 SELF-STORIES EMBEDDED IN GOD-STORIES
4.15 SELF-GOD-STORIES IN THERAPY
4.16 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 5: SELF-STORIES AND GOD-STORIES IN THE STRUGGLE WITH SUBSTANCE ABUSE
5.1 INTRODUCTION
5.2 THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF ADDICTION
5.3 THE EXTERNALISING ABUSE BY SUBSTANCES
5.4 STORIES OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE AS SIN
5.5 STORIES OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE AS AN ILLNESS
5.6 SUBSTANCE ABUSE AS A DOMINATING-STORY
5.7 SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND SOCIO-CULTURAL CONTEXT
5.8 SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND POLITICS, GENDER AND OPPRESSION
5.9 THE CONTRIBUTION OF AA
5.10 GOD-STORIES IN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT SUBSTANCE ABUSE
5.11 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 6 : CONVERSATIONS ABOUT SELF-GOD – STORIES
6.1 INTRODUCTION
6.2 CONVERSATIONS
6.3 FEEDBACK
6.4 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 7: HOPE: SELF-GOD-STORIES IN THE CONTEXT OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE
7.1 INTRODUCTION
7.2 A CONCISE RE-TELLING OF THE STORY OF THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF SELF-GOD-STORIES IN THE CONTEXT OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE.
7.3 GOD-STORIES ON THE SIDE OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE
7.4 THE NEED FOR GOD IN THE STRUGGLE WITH SUBSTANCE ABUSE
7.5 STORIES OF RE-MEMBERING GOD
7.6 STORIES OF GRACE
7.7 STORIES OF MIGRATION OF IDENTITY
7.8 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 8: REFLECTION ON THE RESEARCH PROCESS
8.1 INTRODUCTION
8.2 REFLECTION ON THE RESEARCH QUESTION AND CONCERNS
8.3 REFLECTION ON THE EPISTEMOLOGICAL POSITION
8.4 THE CHALLENGES FOR PASTORAL CARE
8.5 REFLECTION ON THE RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
8.6 THE USE OF THE CONCEPT OF STORIES
8.7 THE CONVERSATIONS WITH PARTICIPANTS
8.8 SELF-GOD-STORIES IN SUBSTANCE ABUSE
8.9 THE RESULTS OF THE RESEARCH

GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
THE PERFORMANCE OF HOPE: THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF SELF-STORIES EMBEDDED IN GOD-STORIES IN THE CONTEXT OF A SHORT-TERM REHABILITATION PROGRAMME FOR ADDICTION

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