Postmodern Dialogical and Narrative Theories

The advancement since the 1970's of postmodernism has led many psychologists to recognize that persons construct their own realities through social rules, roles, and structures. Kenneth Gergen, an American social psychologist, proposes that the self gains its unity and identity from the consistency of the social roles a person plays. He points out that the more a person's roles multiply and conflict, as is common in fast-paced technological societies, the less cohesive and the more obsolete the concept of self becomes.

New Zealand-born cognitive psychologist Rom Harre and American psychologists Edward Sampson and Frank Richardson have each advanced alternative theories in which the concept of self is still viable but which emphasize the necessity of recognizing the multiplicity of perspectives within a self. Drawing on the sociological traditions of symbolic interactionism, especially the "looking-glass self' of American sociologists George Herbert Mead and Charles Cooley, these theorists see the self as constructed only through intimate involvement in interpersonal interaction and especially language, which allow one to reflect on oneself and create the social bonds that define one as a self. The unique and specific manner with which one articulates oneself appears to reflect one's culture and social audience but also one's beliefs and commitments about identity.

American developmental psychologist Dan McAdams has led research on the narratives people tell to describe and explain their lives to themselves and others, concluding that the linguistic construction of the self is a continuous and central task of the entire life span. Jerome Bruner, an American cognitive psychologist, suggests that through narrative, the various dimensions of self—public and private, structure and activity—become interrelated in meaningful stories and serve to promote both the growth of the individual and the survival of human culture.

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