Michael Chandler
University of British Columbia, Department of Psychology, Vancouver, Canada

E-mail:chandler@pop.interchange.ubc.ca

 

RECONSTRUCTING THE SELF IN THE FACE OF CULTURAL LOSS:
SUICIDE AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF LIFE TRAJECTORIES IN ABORIGINAL AND NON-ABORIGINAL YOUTH

 

Working out how to best predict likely trajectories in the ontogenetic flow of the dialogical self is not merely a professional obligation on the academy, but a personal life-task required to guarantee that each of us has a stake in our own as yet unrealized future. The program of cultural research to be presented focuses on changes in the self-dialogues of Aboriginal youth as they struggle to reconstruct a sense of meaning in the face of the traumatic deconstruction of their traditional culture. Comparisons between the distinctive ways in which native and non-native youth work to construct a diachronic sense of personal coherence indicate two things of particular note. One of these is that, not unlike many contemporary social scientists, non-Aboriginal youth regularly rely on mechanistic metaphors in considering the course of their own identity development. Aboriginal youth, by contrast, more commonly construct continuous personal meaning in their own lives by framing their identity development in primarily narrative and dialogical terms. Second, while the youth suicide rates in Aboriginal communities actively engaged in the multivoiced reconstruction their traditional culture are essentially zero, communities slow to narratively link their past and future suffer suicide rates hundreds of times the national average.