Just Sociology

The Power of Narrative in Identity Formation

Narrative and Identity

Narratives are not only ways in which we communicate, understand, and interpret our experiences, but they also fundamentally shape our identity. French philosopher Paul Ricouer posits that humans perceive and process events and episodes through an interpretive process he calls emplotment, which means that every narrative presupposes a certain type of structure that shapes its interpretation.

Emplotment constructs the story by arranging and synthesizing the events into a trajectory that best describes the story being told. However, memory interpretation and teleological construction complement Ricouers emplotment because narratives not only tell us how we should interpret events, but they also inform us about what is significant, memorable, and worth remembering.

The narratives we create inform how we remember and how we understand our own identity. In 1932, Frederic Bartlett coined the term teleological to describe how memory is not solely determined by actual experiences, but also by mental schemas that are constructed from previous experiences.

In other words, people interpret their experiences based on their preconceptions and beliefs. This has important implications for the construction of the self, as our sense of self is deeply intertwined with our memory and interpretation of past events.

Bartletts ideas have been extended and developed in the field of memero-politics, which refers to how interpretation and reinterpretation of memory constructs, reinforces, and challenges social hierarchies, cultural norms, and political agendas. Narrative interpretation can lead to individuals resisting or conforming to mainstream and dominant ideologies.

Carol Steedman explores how the narrative of self is shaped by the intersection of personal and social relations in her book Landscape for a Good Woman. She argues that atomised individuals form themselves through their relations with others, and that the process of constructing the self in relation to others is central to understanding identity formation.

Trauma narratives are a particular form of identity formation that Steedman regards as important because they emphasize the impact of external events upon the shape of personal and social narratives. These stories are often about upheaval and crisis, and they involve not only the construction of the self and the selfs relation to others, but also how broader society influences and shapes the course of the narrative.

Sociological Thinking about Narratives

Over the past several decades, an interest in narrative has developed within the social sciences. Researchers have begun to take up narrative as a way of theorizing, researching, and analyzing complex social phenomena.

This trend started as a result of several factors, including a desire to expand beyond textuality (the idea that social realities are composed of texts) and a recognition of the importance of structure and agency, referentiality, attention to time, and intertextuality.

Narrative synthesis forms comprise several elements and types of narratives.

These narratives contain heterogeneous elements that often converge in ways that challenge dominant or mainstream narratives. The emphasis on dissonance alongside concordance in these narratives provides a fuller and more comprehensive account of the complexity of human experiences.

Open time, personal history, and the social world are all integral to the formation of narrative. Intersections and conflicts that occur between society and the individual are essential to constructing a comprehensive narrative.

Narratives can serve to foster identification or sympathetic understanding with those who have suffered, which can be a means of rendering their story visible, providing solidarity, understanding and support, and raising awareness or affecting social policy. On the other hand, narratives can also be a site of struggle over authority, power and meaning, as people with different narratives seek to assert control over the social discourse.


It is clear from the above discussion that narrative and identity are key concepts in social sciences. Narratives help us to construct an identity in relation to ourselves and others.

They shape our memories and beliefs, which then shape how we perceive ourselves and others. At the same time, narratives are also subject to contestation, manipulation, and subversion.

They can spread awareness, provide solidarity, and serve as an effective means of social change. Social scientists must, therefore, continue to explore the complex relationships between narrative and identity, and how these two concepts interact and shape our understanding of the world around us.

In conclusion, this article provided an in-depth exploration of the complex theories related to narratives and identity, and sociological thinking about narratives. The article highlighted the significance of narrative in shaping our identity and how structures of power and culture reinforce them.

Furthermore, it illustrated the importance of understanding the complexities of narratives to create informed social policies that are just and equitable. The FAQs below provide essential insights into the key topics of the article and strive to answer the common questions that might arise during reading.


1. What is emplotment?

Emplotment is the iterative process humans use to interpret events and episodes through narration. 2.

What is teleological theory? Teleological theory refers to how memory is constructed, reinforced, and challenged through interpretation.

3. How do narratives shaping identity?

Narratives help construct identity by providing meaning and context to the events of one’s life, shaping memories, and reinforcing beliefs. 4.

Why are trauma narratives important? Trauma narratives are a specific form of narrative that allows us to understand how broader society shapes the individual.

5. How have narratives contributed to sociological thinking?

Narratives have expanded our understanding of complex social experiences and helped us to recognize the importance of structure and agency, referentiality, attention to time, and intertextuality.

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