Telling Stories: The Use of Personal Narratives in the Social Sciences and History

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In Telling Stories, Mary Jo Maynes, Jennifer L. Pierce, and Barbara Laslett argue that personal narratives—autobiographies, oral histories, life history interviews, and memoirs—are an important research tool for understanding the relationship between people and their societies. Gathering examples from throughout the world and from premodern as well as contemporary cultures, they draw from labor history and class analysis, feminist sociology, race relations, and anthropology to demonstrate the value of personal narratives for scholars and students alike.

Telling Stories explores why and how personal narratives should be used as evidence, and the methods and pitfalls of their use. The authors stress the importance of recognizing that stories that people tell about their lives are never simply individual. Rather, they are told in historically specific times and settings and call on rules, models, and social experiences that govern how story elements link together in the process of self-narration. Stories show how individuals' motivations, emotions, and imaginations have been shaped by their cumulative life experiences. In turn, Telling Stories demonstrates how the knowledge produced by personal narrative analysis is not simply contained in the stories told; the understanding that takes place between narrator and analyst and between analyst and audience enriches the results immeasurably.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This decade has witnessed the publication of several anthologies that focus on how to design and conduct oral history projects; introduce and illustrate new applications of oral history to geographical, historical, and social research; and discuss the application of new technologies to oral history methodology. . . . In this new, important corollary to these works, the authors emphasize the research opportunities available through analysis of personal narratives: 'Read carefully, these sources provide unique insights into the connections between individual life trajectories and collective forces and institutions beyond the individual.' Telling Stories belongs in every oral history collection. Summing Up: Essential."—Choice, July 2009

"Each of these authors brings a wealth of insight and experience to this discussion of the distinctively illuminating arguments that can be drawn from personal narrative materials. Theoretically sophisticated and grounded in an intriguing array of empirical works, Telling Stories will be an indispensable resource for those interested in any variety of life-story research."—Marjorie DeVault, Syracuse University, author of Liberating Method: Feminism and Social Research

"Telling Stories is an invaluable guide to making sense of personal narratives across two key disciplines: social science and history. This clear, thoughtful, and comprehensive guide to key issues and their interpretation—questions on agency, subjectivity, intersubjectivity, the complexity of narrative genres—is essential reading as we work to comprehend this key source in the production of knowledge."—Faye Ginsburg, David B. Kriser Professor of Anthropology, Director, Graduate Program in Culture and Media, and Director, Center for Media, Culture and History, New York University

"Telling Stories provides an instructive and usable map of approaches to working with personal narratives. The authors' careful readings of a number of key texts are clear and graceful."—Michael Frisch, University at Buffalo, SUNY

"Telling Stories supports the value of the narrative turn and offers well-grounded advice to would-be narrative historians."—Arthur W. Frank, University of Calgary

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801473920
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2008
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction The Use of Personal Narratives in the Social Sciences and History 1

1 Agency, Subjectivity, and Narratives of the Self 15

2 Intersecting Stories: Personal Narratives in Historical Context 43

3 The Forms of Telling and Retelling Lives 70

4 Personal Narrative Research as Intersubjective Encounter 98

5 Making Arguments Based on Personal Narrative Sources 126

Notes 157

Index 181

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