Keeping Up with our Selves

:: KeePinG uP wiTh ouR seLveS ::

(excerpt chapter from “Reflective Space for Emerging Selves,” by Heidi May, 2009)

Is there a way of understanding the poetic construction of selfhood, as it occurs in autobiographical narration, while recognizing the passion, purpose, depth, and personal significance that frequently accompanies it, without positing that sort of autonomy Author-Origin enshrined in romantic thought? (Freeman, 1999, p. 110)

:: I have a habit of complicating matters, making things more difficult than they need to be. My research supervisor told me that I like to argue with myself, which I perceived as a complement towards my hermeneutic skills as a graduate student. My research self is lost within the borderlands…Can I be a constructionist without always attaching the ‘socio’ prefix? Can I move back and forth between phenomenological and constructionist points of view? Perhaps it comes down to defining my theory of the self. Mark Freeman (1999) writes that by privileging the social over the individual, a vision of selfhood has been created that is problematic in its own right. He further states, “even though the “tools” employed in the construction of selfhood are social in nature, the configurational acts through which this construction occurs are better conceived in poetic terms, as imaginative labor seeking to give form and meaning to experience” (Freeman, 1999, p. 99). Denzin (1985) expressed concerns about sociological research that places too much emphasis on ‘outer’ experiences, fostering a view of self as being totally socially constructed, “a precarious entity fashioned through social discourse” (Denzin, 1985, p. 233).

:: Denzin calls for “an interpretive perspective, which includes within its purview the rich and elaborated world of the inner self” (p. 233). I am interested in the philosophy of the self and how it has been explored within qualitative research, particularly the significant moments of self-development that occur within the educational process. Although I am fascinated by this continual desire we have to connect with the self, I do not believe a unitary self exists. On the other hand, I concur with Denzin in that the self is not constructed entirely by social forces. I also agree with Alexander Sidorkin, an educational research, who was inspired to extend Bakhtin’s theory of the polyphonic, multivoiced novel to an understanding of the self. In Beyond Discourse: Education, the Self, and Dialogue he writes:

Every voice within me has its own position, and can develop a convincing worldview, if only allowed to express itself. All these voices should be treated with respect;…The criteria of authenticity are found in the way different voices, inner and outer, interact in defining the self. It is not to be found in deciding which voices are given priority (Sidorkin, 1999, p. 43 and p. 69).

Sidorkin describes the condition for understanding the self as the “plurality of simultaneous representations…a multitude of mutually contradicting yet addressed-to-each other statements” (p. 43). This perspective aligns with Denzin’s notion of the process of embodied experience as “situated, circular, temporal and dialectial…turn[ing] back upon itself, affirming, denying and elaborating what is and is not felt” (p. 227). These words suggest an experience of self/selves that generates and feeds back into itself in a circular manner, constantly processing new information, a feedback loop. Within complexity theories of education, the principle of feedback is described as “any influence on a system that results from its own activity; both an effect of a system’s past activity and an influence on its future activity – an output and an input (See www.complexityandeducation.ualberta.ca/glossary/g_feedback.htm).  With this in mind, we might consider the emergent self as a temporal system that builds upon itself and its connections with other selves in a dialogical manner.

:: As researchers exploring the self, we should not be completely immune to personal experiences with our selves. I cannot help but relate the inner working of my own selves to the words these authors write. The extent to which a self is constructed, by inner and outer voices and acts, is a dilemma for all social researchers to embrace. Our selves are informed by the environments we learn within, and the actions we perform in these spaces. Our selves are temporal and never complete, similar to the knowledge we continue to search for and grasp.

…..

Denzin, N. (1985). Emotion as lived experience. Symbolic Interaction, 8(2), 223-240.
Freeman, M. (1999). Culture, narrative, and the poetic construction of selfhood.
Journal of _____Constructivist Psychology, 12(1), 99-116.
Schrag, Calvin (1997). The Self After Postmodernity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Sidorkin, A. (1999). Beyond discourse: Education, the self, and dialogue. State University
_____of New York Press.

*to download the full paper “Reflective Space for Emerging Selves: Understanding Self-Identity in Temporal Knowledge,” click HERE

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