Contradiction in Lived and Told Narratives
Brownwyn Davies, University of New England, Australia
Rom Harré, University of Oxford
The ubiquity of contradiction in human affairs has long been commonplace. Social contradictions were identified by Marx as the source of social change. Repertoires of mutually contradictory “personas” have been demonstrated to be characteristic of people living in complex societies (Argyle, 1976; De Waele & Harré, 1976). At the same time it is evident that there have also been powerful social norms requiring at least the appearance of consistency in displays of character, in modes of talking and writing and even in patterns of thought.
Research on language and social interaction, vol. 2; 1991/1992: 1-36
Though contradiction is a logical concept that names a relation between propositions, it has a well established use as a general metaphor for incompatibilities of many kinds. It is one of the concepts by which “modernity” has bee defined. So in post-modernity one would expect at least some of the uses of “contradiction” to be called into question, particularly those in which it has a normative role. According to Parker (1989, p. 48), modernity itself, “is contradictory: Its discourse promises scientific truth as the solution to humanity’s problems on the one hand, and on the other attributes responsibility and the power to make meaning to individuals.”
We two, as individual authors, have been both constituted by, and active participants in, the construction of that modern world. We now find ourselves fascinated by the spaces opened up by its deconstruction, particularly in the work of feminist authors (1) such as Weedon (1987), Walkerdine (1981, 1984, 1985), Haug (1987). This paper, then, stands at the interface between the modern and the post modern worlds: While still being caught up, inevitably, in the discursive practices of the modern world we nonetheless wish to make contradiction a topic for examination in light of such feminist post-modern/ post-structuralist writing.
As a person in our contemporary world one has access to many ways of talking about oneself and one’s activities in that world: that is, one has access to multiple forms and styles of discourse. These ways of telling may remain discreet and the contradictions that sometimes exist between them may not become manifest nor present problems for resolution or accommodation. But they may overlap. They may be used as parts of some larger whole. And within that whole they may be profoundly contradictory. Furthermore each discourse may itself be made up of contradictory elements. Billig et al. (1988) give the example of liberal discourse containing ideological commitments to the rights both of the individual and the collective. He also cites educational discourse which espouses as values both equality and authority. In each case there is a discreet discourse containing oppositional and and contradictory imperatives.
Yet one of the predominant features of ways of producing ourselves as persons in the modern world is to present what we do as relatively coherent and non-contradictory, both as we interpret what we do and in the various accounts that we give of what we have done and will do. Numerous strategies exist for dealing with blatant contradictions in those productions. For instance there is the bureaucratic device of “wearing different hats.” Each “hat” represents a different set of constraints, aims and repertoires of proper actions.
The movement from the complex array of lived experience to the relatively coherent stories that we tell about that experience will be a central focus of this paper. Like Haug (1987) we see lived experience as inherently contradictory and the appearance of coherence and and non-contradiction as discursive constructions. As Haug (1987) puts it, “human beings, in the process of their socialization, work at restructuring the given elements of their lives until such time as their existence becomes relatively uncontradictory: In other words until social action becomes possible.” We wish to explore how it is that non- contradiction has become such a fundamental requirement of the production of self and in contrast how the recognition of contradiction has been greeted by feminist post structuralist authors in particular as fundamental to understanding their experience.
Told and Lived Narratives
Told narratives, including both the stories one tells about oneself and other people, and those narrations we call literature and drama, are generally framed within coherent conventions of discourse and tend to show each character as continuous and often, though not always, as predictable. The purpose of told stories in everyday life is often to show how conflicts and contradictions have been, might be, or even should be dealt with (Sabini & Silver 1981). Told stories are usually finite with well marked beginnings and endings. An orderly state of affairs is interrupted by the appearance of a predicament, a course of events unfolds in which the problem is resolved, and a new orderly state of affairs comes into being (Harré,1979). Such stories appear as accounts, told versions of events that are used retrospectively to order the complex array of lived experiences. As Huag (1987, p. 48) says:
We are not assuming that human beings live according to plan, or in continuities, nor even that they are always determined by the same consistent factors…continuities are manufactured retrospectively in the mind.
One focus in this paper is on those discursive practices through which intelligibility and warrantability are created.
Told stories are the means of providing the narrative frameworks through which we interpret strips of lived experience as they occur, that is they serve to guide the actions that make up lived narratives. Who one takes oneself to be at any one time and what one takes oneself to be doing form essential parts of the lived narrative. One’s actions are played out with interactive others who provide one with (and whom one provides with) subject positions in the collective flow of talk. These positions may be taken up or refused (however difficult that refusal might be), by any one of the members of the momentary collective. Thus lived narratives inform readings of told narratives and told narratives inform lived narratives (Bruner, 1986; Davies, 1989; Davies & Harré, 1990)...
Discourse As Constituted By Speakers And Constitutive Of Those Speakers
As Potter/Wetherell (‘87) point out, “discourse” and “discourse analysis” have been used in such a wide variety of ways and in such a wide variety of disciplines that it is possible to have two books on “discourse analysis” with no overlap in content at all. In this paper we draw upon two apparently opposite but inherently interwoven uses of the term. One is discourse as practice, or discursive practices, the analysis of which involves the examination of stretches of talk. Our particular interest in examining such stretches of talk is to discover the ways that people are constituted and constitute themselves as people and as particular kinds of people in that talk. But we also use “discourse” as a noun to refer to the way in which particular ways of speaking have been institutionalized, have taken on a life of their own, have, in fact, become constitutive of people and their actions.
This dual use is fundamental to the contradictions we daily live out between ourselves as individuals and ourselves as members of a number of collectives (cf. Shotter,1987). As “individuals” in the modern world, we “choose” our words, we “shape” our meanings, we “constitute” ourselves in our acts of speaking. We create the social world by speaking it into being. At the same time, every act of speaking is a social act. As Shotter says (1987) “any attempt on my part to enact my own plans and desires must be informed by the activities of those around me… We need to be in particular contexts or we become confused.” Those contexts are created in large part by the discursive practices that are regarded by the (individual) participants as required or appropriate within the context. The participants discursively constitute the context and thus create and maintain its existence. In the institutionalization of that “existence,” they bring into being the various discourses through which meaning is made, people are controlled, and through which the social world (and the individuals who make it up) are constituted. Weedon (1987) brings both of these uses of “discourse” together in her analysis of Foucault’s use of the term:
Discourses in Foucault’s work, are ways of constituting knowledge, together with the social practices, forms of subjectivity and power relations which inhere in such knowledges and the relations between them. Discourses are more than ways of thinking and producing meaning. They constitute the “nature” of the body, unconscious and conscious mind and emotional life of the subjects they seek to govern. Neither the body nor thoughts and feelings have meaning outside their discursive articulation, but the ways in which discourse constitutes the minds and bodies of individuals is always part of a wider network of power relations, often with institutional biases.
In the modern world, however, discourses have generally been understood as transparent descriptions of a real world. The task of adults is to socialize children to fit into that real world. In a post-modern, post-structuralist analysis, discourse is understood as constitutive. Through participating in the discursive practices of the collective and doing so from the positions made available to them (as male or female for example) individuals are constituted and re-constituted as they move from one context to another, one positioning to another, one discourse to another. To the extent that people do not use or see particular institutionalized discursive practices as malleable tools for achieving their own ends, but rather treat them as reflecting the way in which the world is, then those ways of speaking, those discourses, provide specific prescriptions for what it means to be a person, and specific positions for specific categories of person within them. These prescriptions and positionings then have material consequences for the persons caught up in them (Davies & Harré,1990).
In the modern world a contradictory statement is generally taken to be a signal of faulty socialization: The person has not learned to understand the way the world is and should be and thus engages in faulty, though remediable performances. In a post-structuralist analysis, the person who makes a contradictory statement is more likely to be seen as being positioned within and constituted through contradictory discourses. In this model it is not the person who needs remediation, nor even their statement, but rather the discourses themselves with their contradictory assumptions or imperatives which can be examined, understood, accepted, challenged, resisted or changed. The implications of this for the individual are twofold:
1) increased insight into one’s own subjectivity in all its complexity as it is constituted through varied and contradictory discourses;
2) increased political competence in dealing with unacceptable subject positions since their creation can be located within particular discourses.
The “enlightenment” model (the E-model), is the predominant discourse in the modern world.
It presents as an ideal a rational person leading a rational life in a rational universe in which contradictions must always be eliminated. According to Godwin (1798, p.61), succinctly expressing the enlightenment ideal, “Reason is the only legislator, and her decrees are irrevocable and uniform.” The E-model is based on the assumption of an orderly universe existing independently of human perception which is simply described by the use of appropriate forms of language. The person in this model is conceived of as a unitary and relatively fixed being. A person making contradictory statements or expressing contradictory beliefs or engaging in contradictory practices is seen as aberrant, their behavior calling in question their claims to adult human status.
The “dissonance reduction” tradition in social psychology inaugurated by Festinger (Abelson, 1968) is clearly built around an unexamined consensus is in favor of the E-model. It is instructive to look back to the heyday of consistency theories. According to McGuire (1968) the human task is to maintain the “internal consistency of the belief system.” “People do not simply minimize inconsistency but…they maximize consistency, this latter implying that they seek maximal interconnectedness in their belief system” (McGuire 1968). The search for consistency is thus presented as a natural human tendency. The thought that it might be a local social imperative appears to cross no one’s mind. Tannenbaum (1968) says, for example, “It is this state of incongruity [between expressed attitudes and a person’s subsequent actions] which generates a pressure for change in attitude toward either the source or the concept but always in the direction making for a newly congruent situation.” It is as if this “pressure for congruence” were both individual and natural.
In contrast many adherents to the post-structuralist model (the P-model) regard contradiction as an inherent feature of human life. To rule-out or not recognize the phenomenon of contradiction is to reduce the quality of thought and to impair the quality of the lived experience. Again, to take a passage from Haug (1987, p. 69), “Our perceived need for harmony is particularly detrimental to the expression of our knowledge. Like wishful thinking, the need for harmony ornaments ugly inconsistencies…The price we pay for the elimination of contradictions is acquiescence in a kind of narrow mindedness…”
The P-model, presuming the social world to be produced through talk and other symbolic exchanges, presents a human individual as caught in a number of discursive nets. One of these is the E-net. The E-net is unique in that it requires a coherence in thought and action which belies not only the inherent contradiction in any one net, but also the co-presence of the other nets. These nets are complexities of the concepts, storylines and metaphors through which human beings present themselves publicly and privately as persons. People in this model are not unitary beings, uniquely positioned, but “produced as a nexus of subjectivities, in relations of power which are constantly shifting” (Walkerdine, 1981, p. 14). These shifts occur within and between discourses as persons are positioned and position themselves in their interactions with others (Davies & Harré, 1990). Within and between these discourses and the positionings within them people experience contradictory imperatives for action, contradictory emotions, contradictory perceptions and contradictory ways of thinking.
What we argue in this paper, then, is that the E-model describes in some fundamental detail the product of “humanness” as that is discursively constituted in the modern world. In the E-model the individual is constituted as a unitary, rational being who is separate from the social world and its discursive practices. That separation is fundamentally implicated in the requirement that the individual take on the responsibility of making meaning (Parker, 1989, p.48) and moral responsibility for the coherence of self. In this model, words are understood as the transparent tools with which to describe that self and the separate world in which it is located. What the P-model gives us, in contrast, is a different way of viewing persons and the inevitable contradictions in their productions of self. This is done by shifting the focus from the person (as persons ought to be within the E-model), to the various discourses through which persons are constituted. What we will show in this paper are some of the strategies in use to maintain the E-model as the orderly base on which the social world is organized, at the same time calling in question the inevitable essentialism attendant on such a model.
The P-model, in the feminist version of it, does not involve a mindless, even amoral welcoming of multiple selves, along with the loss of creative tension created by the E-model demand to find a resolution between the multiplicities. Rather it involves a recognition of the inevitability of contradiction in a world made up of contradictory discourses and provides a fundamental shift in the definition of self such that the contradictions are not experienced as a personal flaw but as ways of constituting the social world which are themselves amenable to change. I speak myself into existence through the discourses available to me, I know myself through the stories I live and the stories I tell (each of these deeply imbricated in the other) and so I can choose, with others, to change the stories and to develop new ways of talking about them. Equally I can refuse discourses that speak me into existence in ways I no longer wish. That refusal is dependent on my ability to see the way in which my identity is discursively constituted (Davies, 1990).
Fundamental to this model is an eschewing of role as a means for interpreting behavior. Whenever “I” and “me” are separated out, then the personal and private “I” can justify separate social worlds in which the various public “me’s” play out the different and contradictory roles that “society” demands. This separation is one feminists have always found unconvincing and somewhat immoral. In rejecting the division between the public and the private as a legitimate and meaningful division, they have owned their various “me’s” and have not reserved these or distinguished them from some other “real” self. Perhaps for this very reason, feminists have found contradiction much more personally troubling as they try to integrate the unintegratable into one unified, rational, whole “me” as the E-model leads them to believe they should. It is almost inevitable, then, that feminists in particular have greeted the P-model with enthusiasm. A critical difference, though, between non- feminist post-modern writing and feminist P-model writing is that feminists have not tended to fall into the relativistic/ amoral anomie of much of the non- feminist post modern writing. Rather than the depressed, “so there is no me” of post-modernism, they have said with enthusiasm, “so this is how I get to be all of these things. And having understood this I now see how I can begin to change them.”
The Press Towards Non-contradiction in Both Told and Lived Narratives In The Modern World
The practical everyday social order
In order to know how to speak, to achieve intelligibility and warrantability in what one says on any particular occasion, one must be able to make assumptions both about oneself and about the other people involved in the conversation. Some of these assumptions are included in Grice’s conversational implicatures (Grice, 1975). In addition to these one must know what discursive practice it would be proper to adopt for this conversation and how to position oneself and other conversants appropriately. In most conversations the issue of the nature of oneself, at the moment of speaking, is not an overt topic. In order that that issue should remain in the background and the actions of all those engaged in the production of the strip of life then being lived, speakers require of each other that they present themselves as knowable and predicable.
The social definition of a “sane” adult person is that they accept responsibility for what they say and do. It is assumed within such a definition that such persons choose their actions in accordance with some set of moral principles. That this social ontology of selves is a social construction is evident from the fact that the idea of human individuals as absolute moral agents, in control of their lives, is relatively recent (Bruner, 1986). In locating the source of action in a choosing individual, rather than in fate or the social order or in discourse, a constraint is evidently placed on the thoughts and actions of each person, namely that they should make a coherent whole whose actions can consistently be accounted for within some moral order. Schools, law courts and psychiatric clinics are institutions in which those who have not learned to produce acceptable accounts of their actions are taught to do so. Those who never manage it are generally removed from the social world.
The linguistic order
Although people produce discursive practices and discourses, those practices and structures in turn produce them. As a speaker, a person is a kind of “point,” the location in an array of speakers at which a socially significant event, a speaking has occurred. “I” and “you” index speech actions with locations in that array. What someone has said, is saying, or will say is not just the words they utter, but the social meaning of those words, jointly constructed by speakers and those with whom they converse. Since one of one’s interlocutors is oneself, those aspects of individual minds that are conversational in character must share a basic structure with public discourse. A mind must then be organized around a self-identical conversational point, and its dynamics must share many of the features of the local discursive practices of which it is a partially concealed product. A further consistent feature of the discursive practices we use is their constitution of the categories male and female as exclusive, oppositional categories around which each person’s identity is organized. Individual people are not free to reject these categories as linguistic impositions, since their maleness or masculinity and their femaleness or femininity is defined as natural, rather than as discursively produced (Davies, 1989).
SINGULARITIES AND MULTIPLICITIES OF SELF
This paper depends on an underlying psychological theory of personhood according to which selves are nothing but the forms in which persons, that is embodied speakers, present themselves in social action, particularly speech. The fact that human awareness is reflexive, that is that people can come to pay attention to their own thoughts and actions, means that the possibility exists of the presentation of oneself to oneself. In general, reflexive self preservation has the same form or forms as public self preservation. One tells oneself the story of one’s life according to variants of the same grammatical and narratological conventions as one tells that story to someone else. Private and public self presentations are discursive acts and the way these acts are performed are discursive practices. All discursive practices, at least in English, include the use of formal singularities such as the use of a common subject of predication (I, my, mine) for all of a person’s reminiscences. They also include categorical singularities such as the qualification of all of a person’s actions as those proper to only one category of person, such as a male or female, adult or child. These discursive practices through which one publicly presents oneself as a singularity are matched by, and ultimately the source of, corresponding beliefs about oneself.
Generally speaking it has been assumed by traditional psychologists and social constructionists alike that people have one and only one personal identity, that is they act as if they are, and believe themselves to have, both formal and categorical singularities. The unitary, non-contradictory self assumed within E-model as natural and called into question in the P-model, must be distinguished from this formal and categorical singularity of persons. Formal singularity is in fact a logical prerequisite for the experience of contradiction. Preservation of the concept of identity as a psychic and presentational singularity is a necessary condition for anyone to be able to experience or talk about psychic and presentational multiplicity. That one be continuously embodied in the same flesh is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the possibility of experiencing or being seen as engaging sufficient acts. Formal singularity as one and the same speaker must also be maintained. There is no contradiction, for example, between a person being assertive and a person being submissive, unless they are understood as the very same person. That understanding is ensured by the discursive maintenance of oneself as the very same speaker.
The centrality of this singular formal identity to the way people are discursively produced can be grasped more readily if we examine cases where this formal singularity is absent - most notably in cases of multiple personality. Many of us could be said to have such multiplicities but these go unnoticed because the different selves are played out in different contexts and so need not call in question our discursive production of ourselves as a formal singularity. In some cases, however, such multiplicity is regarded as pathological, and that assessment seems directly related to a failure to discursively produce oneself as a formal singularity, or at least to show oneself to be striving to find a way of resolving or making sense of the multiplicity.
[* Multiple personality disorder case presented here, said to be resolved through pronominal management.]
The Problem Of The Meaning Of “Self”
Each human being is both a formal singularity and a cluster of discontinuous and diverse psychological and social multiplicities. At least some of the difficulties characteristic of self-studies have come from the persistence of the custom of using the word “self” both for the necessary similarity of what is taken to be non-pathological personhood and for the multiplicity of things we are to one another and to ourselves. The interrogative pronoun “who/whom” shares some of this ambiguity. In one sense of “who,” a remark like “I don’t know who I am!” is patent nonsense, while in another sense it can be used to express those doubts about what sort of person one is and should be, and have come to be called “identity crisis.” Only if one has a person identity in the first sense could one have and identity in the second. One way to resolve the ambiguity (Harré,1983) has been to call one’s experience of one’s self as a singularity the “sense of self.” But these were not felicitous expressions, in part because they tied singularity to subjectivity and multiplicity to objectivity, whereas there is experienced multiplicity and presented singularity. Unfortunately “self” has become the favored word for both aspects of personhood. Our resolution is simple. We shall call the presented singularity the “self-1” and the presented multiplicities the “self-2” whether the presentations are private, to oneself, or public, to others.
Philosophers have studied the concept of personal identity, self-1, in great detail, while social scientists have been largely concerned with self-2. But the two are intimately related. For there to be the kind of multiplicity of selfhood which interests feminist post structuralists, for example, there must be personal singularity of selfhood in the sense of the personal identity of self-1. In short, the persistence and integrity of self-1, is, analytically speaking, a necessary condition for the experience of diversity in self-2. If in the life of one human being there seems to have emerged a diversity or multiplicity of self-1 we take the case to be pathological. But the lived experience of diversity in self-2 is the common form of everyday life. To understand the discursive practices of self-production and presentation both self concepts are needed. The English language must bear some responsibility for these confusions. There is no single Castillian, for instance, into which the English word “self,” with its attendant and systematic ambiguities, can be translated. “Mi-mismo” captures self-1 but but cannot be used for self-2. Nor can French “moi-meme” do double duty either.
The E-model takes as fundamental what we have called self-1 and relies on rationality as the means whereby self-2 can also be made into a unitary whole.
Self As Process And Product
The human self that has been the object of study (i.e. the “subject” of experiments, the “actor” of Symbolic Interactionist and ethogenic ethnographies, the “member” of ethnomethodological studies, the “man” or “woman” in feminist ethnographies) has, in post-modern terms, ceased to exist. All we have left is the text, the process, the moments of production. The self is continually in process, it is created in multiple forms in multiple contexts through multiple discourses. These discourses, contexts and forms intersect, overlap, inform each other, leak into each other. But a fundamental element of all of these discourses, is that the self is an object. It is some thing or entity which is subjected to and controlled by structures external to itself and it is some thing which has will power, which can make choices, which is morally responsible for its acts. These are more than ways of speaking, they are the ways of speaking through which the person (in process) is constituted as human, as an individual, as recognizably one person and not another. Thus, we are the product we discursively produce. We are at one and the same time no more than a series of discursive productions and also that which is discursively produced: The unique individual with “thingness” in the world. This is the case for both what we have called self-1 and self-2.
The insight that that “thingness” is a discursive production appears to make the “thingness” disappear - how can it have substance, phenomenologically speaking, if at the next moment its substance can change and can be discursively produced as something else? How can it be a thing if it can simultaneously be two opposite things? How can it be a thing if it can retrospectively become not the thing that we thought it was at the time?
The embodiment of ourselves in our corporeal substance is perhaps part of the conceptual problem. When we refer to our “selves” as a “thing” we are eliding the two, the apparently solid and relatively unchanging substance of our bodies with the discursively constituted thingness of ourselves. To be embodied, as we are, is part of the condition for there to be personal identity. This is not to say that the perception of our bodies as solid is not also a social construction, but focus for the moment on the fact that our bodies are perceived generally as having solidity, thingness, substance. If we didn’t make this metaphoric link when thinking about ourselves with our bodies then we would perhaps have less difficulty. If we had a fluid metaphor, like water, then we could more readily grasp the fluid, multiple, changing nature of self-2. But the perception of solidity of an embodied self is what we do have. Thus we have self-1, a way of speaking the self into existence; we have self-2, fluid, multiple and discursively produced; and a phenomenological sense of self as solid, as unchanging, as having some existence independently of any social construction. This too is discursively produced. In a well known allegory Strawson (‘53) explored the way persons would be formed and modes of identity very different from ours come to exist, in a purely auditory world.
CONTRADICTION AND NON-CONTRADICTION
Contradiction And Contrariety Within Formal Logic
According to traditional formal logic in order for there to be a contradiction there must be a conjoint assertion of two propositions which are so structured that if one is true (false) the other must be false (true). Leaving aside tautologies, the following conditions must be satisfied:
i) Both propositions must have the same (numerically identical) logical subject;
ii) both propositions must refer to the same moment in history of the logical subject;
iii) the predicates must stand in the same kind of exclusion relation, for instance they might be different determinates under the same determinable (hues under colour) or they might refer to a set and part or all of its complement (sheep and non-sheep, e.g., goats).
Contraries are statements which cannot be true together though a pair of contraries could both be false; for instance, “everyone is really good” and “no one is really good.” Subcontaries are pairs of statements which could both be true but cannot both be false. “Some people are nice” and “some people are not nice” are subcontraries.
Among the many explanations of the cultural prohibition on formal contradiction is the thesis that an utterance and its contradictory cancel each other out, so nothing is finally said, no speech act is achieved (cf. Strawson,1953). But in real life the statement that follows but contradicts another statement is usually not to be taken as a taking back of what was said in the first statement, but as an additional truth. Often both statements are intended by the speaker to be taken seriously, and it is the other conversants who enquire about and resist the contradiction. Whereupon the speaker must do some further “work” to maintain both statements or else withdraw one.
The Ways In Which Non-contradictory E-type Narratives Are Produced
Challenges to the propriety and intelligibility of accounts usually take the form of reminders that narratives must be coherent and non-contradictory. The following are some of the means by which an incoherent and contradictory story line offered by an individual person can be maintained or, if necessary, repaired such that the person can maintain the illusion, both for themselves and for their various audiences, of a unitary non-contradictory self. That there are so many familiar strategies for getting around inconsistent productions of self indicates the extent to which the E-type person is a discursively constituted, rather than a natural being. The strategies bear an interesting relation to the rules of formal logic.
To serialize a story is to present potentially contradictory events, states and so on, as occurring at different times.
To separate a story is to present apparently contradictory descriptions of events, interpretations, character traits, and so on as belonging to different discourses and thus as bearing no relation to each other.
A tale which is incoherent as one person’s story may be divided, as in the case of Miss Beuchamp (a case of multiple personalities; example provided but excised from text above), such that the apparently contradictory episodes, traits, etc. belong to different persons, the stories of each of which are coherent. A more common form of this is to refer to different roles and the requirements of those roles which bear no relation to the bearer of those roles.
A narrative which includes apparently contradictory claims, whether these be made verbally or displayed in action, can be remodelled to meet the demands of the E-format or modernist style if the claims are reassigned to different levels in a logical hierarchy. For example, one claim may be assigned to a person as a member of a family or a profession or a nation and the other to that person as an individual. This strategy works on the widely assumed condition that no individual is expected to be an exact exemplification of familial or national stereotypes. “Of course I am English but..” and then follows a descriptive phrase by which a personal characteristic of self is attributed (“I really prefer coffee”) which contradicts some component of the assumed stereotype.
To illustrate the fifth strategy we use a much more complex case in which lived and told narratives interact with one another. In the kind of case we have in mind an episode includes two levels of acts. There are those which serve to realize the “official” story line, for instance that the group of people gathered there are conducting a funeral; and there are those which serve to display an ironic detachment from that story line. We could regard the second string of acts as a kind of told narrative which comments on the performances in the lived narrative. Thus the undertaker’s staff might adopt postures which by their studied casualness belie the general seriousness and reverence with which they handle the coffin. We call this strategy “ironization”: it involves a way of showing that one aspect or performance of a lived narrative, which seems to stand in contradiction to another, is to be taken as an ironic commentary on the major story line being realized in action. Goffman’s descriptions of displays of “role distance” (Goffman, 1972) pick out perfect cases of what we have in mind. A brain surgeon who chatters about the stock market throughout a demanding operation is behaving “contradictorily.” The chatter presents a persona which contradicts the seriousness that would be expected from someone accepting the level of responsibility implied by the major storyline of the activity in question. The mirror image of the strategy of ironization is described by Goffman in Stigma (1963) when he explains how the autobiographical facts which would contradict current displays of “self” are hidden or suppressed by various techniques of passing, so that a coherent lived narrative is publicly presented. And this might well be achieved through a told narrative assembling autobiographical fragments to create a certain impression in the hearers.
Most people most of the time do not closely monitor the consistency of their own motives or those of others. The illocutionary force of most speech acts remains vague and is only made relatively determinate after the event should some issue of necessary follow-up action arise. “But you said we would…” calls for an examination of consistency and act force. The number of strategies available for dealing with such accusations (“I forgot,” “did I say that?” “I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time,” etc.) indicate the extent of actual lived inconsistency and of contradiction between intention and act.
7. Retrospective/prospective sense of occurrences:
Presuming that the meaning will become clear in time as more information is gained (Cicourel, 1970).
8. A claim of human fallibility:
Inconsistent features are a matter of forgetting, of weakness, of cowardice, of “psychological disturbance,” etc., i.e., temporary features out of keeping with the way a person is or ought to be.
9. Re-working of a discourse:
One of the contradictions that feminists have written and worried about is between the discursive practices through which they constitute themselves as women in domestic settings and those through which they constitute themselves as people in professional settings (e.g., Smith, 1987).
Maslow’s hierarchy to self actualization and incommensurate gender agendas re-worked
to optimal individuation and White socialization.
Although this contradiction could be handled by many of the above strategies, such as keeping them temporally separate or ignoring the difference, it has instead been focussed on and worked with in a number of productive ways. One of the early catch cries of the feminist movement was the “personal is political.” Thus personal (private) life became something not to be separated out from one’s thinking in the workplace, but rather something that must be integrated: Workplace thinking must be able to make sense of one’s personal life if it is to be accorded any value, and the thinking one does in one’s personal life must not exclude or occlude or negate or contradict the thinking one does in one’s professional life. The work done by feminists and still being done, to bring to bear this personal knowledge on the disciplines they work with to modify and re-work them, has caused a considerable shift in some of those disciplines. Thus bringing contradictory discourses to bear on and to modify each other is one of the means of producing non-contradictory E-type narratives.
10. Production of a superordinate discourse:
A divine presence is constituted as the source of that which cannot be understood: “God moves in mysterious ways.” The inconsistency or lack of orderliness in the events is taken, then, to be proof of the divine presence.
Research on language and social interaction, vol. 2; 1991/1992: 1-36
* [... *] At this point in the essay there is a rather protracted case example of multiple personality disorder (the case of Miss Beauchamp) which is said to be resolved through negotiation of different pronominal positions. I will add this as a content footnote later; but for the time being it seems more a laborious distraction than illumination.
Additional Editorial Notes:
GW approaches academic treatments of social matters as the thoroughgoing enemy of what “is” - ontology. Whereas I look upon academic output as a mixed affair. I am looking for what I can use or by contrast, what is theoretically and rhetorically off the mark of my interests so that I can defend my interests against it. I do not apply communication theory because it was proposed to me, but because I sought it out, observing its utility. I find useful ideas in an essay like this. GW will not. He will say that there is absolutely nothing here that is worthwhile. Whereas I can see utility in an essay like this to help manage, for one example, the confusion as to what to do about White Christians and their destructive maps, or White Muslims, etc. They are White. But there is a contradiction to our advocacy and their maps which run contrary to advocacy of our specific interests. Do we advocate them? To what extent? How?
But GW will latch on to ready examples of how to not treat Harré as an intelligent being, let alone one who also takes careful account of ontology and a scientific approach to psychology. While not the focus in this social psychologically concerned essay, take note of ontology among Harré‘s interests:
Harré is one of the world’s most prolific social scientists. Has written on a wide variety of subjects including: philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of science, ontology, psychology, social psychology, sociology and philosophy. He was an important early influence on the British philosophical movement Critical Realism, publishing Causal Powers with Madden in 1975, the same year as A Realist Theory of Science. He supervised Roy Bhaskar’s doctoral studies, and has continued to maintain close involvement with realism. He also supervised Patrick Baert, German Berrios, and Jonathan Smith’s doctoral studies, respectively in social theory, history and epistemology of psychiatry, and social psychology. Another one of Harré‘s distinctive contributions was to the understanding of the social self in microsociology, which he called “ethogenics:” this method attempts to understand the systems of belief or means by which individuals can attach significance to their actions and form their identities, in addition to the structure of rules and cultural resources that underlie these actions.
Nevertheless, we may assume that GW is going to ignore and sweep everything aside, including the fact that among Harre’s concerns are ontology and cognitive science. For the length of this piece and for the fact that it looks at the de-ontological side, it will only contribute to GW’s penchant for ignoring and only selecting the weakest of low hanging fruit to criticize.
For its length and for the fact that it does not provide fully at once the corrective sides that my department and other colleagues of Harré set-out, this essay is a very inefficient way to make the point (to GW) that there are useful ideas here; it exposes some steps already moved beyond, which can be challenged by reductionists…but that has largely to do with the fact that it does represent steps in a process, even in Harre’s work. He has written whole texts on cognitive psychology, i.e, focusing more on the corporeal, ontological side. This piece does not show the alternating steps of his colleagues (including mine), providing corrections from other angles. That is likely to send up red flags for GW to object in kind, with concerns already voiced from my Department et al, that is, the extent to which Harré was coming from “the wrong end” - Harré and his colleague John Shotter were nevertheless cognizant and corrective, as were our Department’s efforts. The reader should not be discouraged by reductionist dismissal as is inevitably to come from GW, with a focus against the narrative end. Nevertheless, it is a necessary part of hermeneutic process that should begin to make its utility more clear once one reaches the section called “The Ways in Which Non-Contradictory E-narratives Are Produced.” Thus when this article is criticized it is likely to bring about reinventing not the wheel, but reinventing the criticism…and not getting to the meat of what is interesting here.
(1) Finally, the reader should not be discouraged by the invocation of feminism and feminist authors in this article as Harré tried to grapple with feminist projects, an effort of which he would ultimately revoke the willing suspension disbelief, viz. in his capacity to reconcile his projects with feminist projects.