Sujata Sriram, Pooja Ralhan & Nandita Chaudhary
University of Delhi, Lady Irwin College, Department of Child Development, India

E-mail:ysssks@del3.vsnl.net.in

 

THE FAMILY AND SELF IN DIALOGUE

 

This paper presents findings from research on the dialogical construction of the self among urban Indian adolescents. The mapping of the self and Personal Position Repertoire (PPR)° constructions assisted the respondents to represent experiences they had already lived through, co-present current events and pre-present future circumstances along with the researcher. The method was found to be valuable, relevant and effective in creating a favorable atmosphere for self-disclosure in this cultural location. Among the 18 adolescents researched, it was revealed that social relationships, societal values and past experiences with people, particularly within the family occupied dominant places in the constructions of the self. Family members were found to be permanent inhabitants within the defined space with frequent reference to hierarchy, authority patterns and power relations. Relationships were evaluated both positively and negatively while creating spaces with distinct teleological relevance for self-definition and future projections. From within the family, it was the parents who were positioned in the dominant spaces and the adolescents often evaluated themselves as physically, psychologically and socially immature in comparison. There was a discernible allegiance to parents as the fundamental makers of the individual self of the adolescents with inextricable linkages to their very existence. Siblings were also incorporated as indispensable elements of the connected self with the older sibling having a quasi-parental character. All respondents mentioned extended kin as significant in the formative years of their life. The memories of growing up with other family members were particularly evident among youth that had lived in extended families. The function of extra-familial relationships was articulated with reference to companionable peers as significant mirrors of the self and schoolteachers as guides. Among friends, confidants were believed to be an important source of solidarity, reaffirmation and anchorage in the resolution of crises. The idea of the self emerged as a configuration of relationships comprizing dynamic, dialogical processes. This was re-emphasized in cases where there was loss of a significant other that resulted in shifts in constructions of the self in significant ways. The undifferentiated or diffuse pattern of representing the self was the most common. Gender emerged as the most powerful social parameter in the shaping of the self with the girls emerging as more communal and less agentic than the boys. With age, there was a greater internalization of standards of comparison as the subjects made a series of ever narrowing speculations and selections in personal, occupational, social and ideological domains. Respondents who had migrated from another cultural location supported the contention that the self differs across cultural boundaries.

 

° The Personal Position Repertoire (PPR) is a quantitative and qualitative method that allows for comparison using certain dimensions, commonalities and differences within an individual, and also between individuals. There is a standard list of internal and external positions to help generate a matrix, and that gives rise to the narratives that are used to study the dialogical self (Hermans, 2001).