Life Stories

In the last 15-20 years, the social sciences have witnessed a strong upsurge of interest in narrative and stories as they apply to human lives and social relationships. Narrative methods have proliferated in many fields, and psychological theorists such as Jerome Bruner and Theodore Sarbin have emphasized the storied nature of human lives and human conduct. Beginning with his 1985 book, Power, Intimacy, and the Life Story, Dan P. McAdams has developed a life-story model of adult identity. According to the model, people living in modern societies begin to organize their lives in narrative terms in late adolescence and young adulthood. People create internalized and evolving life stories that serve to reconstruct the past and anticipate the future in ways that provide their lives with some degree of unity and purpose. McAdams has argued that what Erik Erikson called "ego identity" is largely a personal narrative that situates a person in a particular psychosocial niche in the modern world. Like other literary constructions, life stories may be analyzed in terms of plots, settings, scenes, characters, and themes.

The Foley Center sponsors research into the structure, function, and development of life stories across the adult life course. Life-narrative data are typically obtained through Life Story Interviews or through open-ended written procedures that take the individual through a Guided Autobiography. Life-narrative data may be analyzed in many ways. Objective content analysis procedures have been developed to code such narrative categories as agency and communion themes, redemption and contamination sequences, emotional tone, and narrative coherence. Most of the individual research projects conducted under the Foley Center auspices employ some variation on narrative methods, or explicitly draw upon narrative concepts in interpreting findings.

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