Last updated: April 10, 2004

[Narrative Psychology]

 Narrative in Other Disciplines



Background  ||  Internet  ||  Bibliographical  ||  Theorists


Background Issues

The narrative perspective in the social sciences looks to the initiatives of the interpretative sociological tradition as a crucial foundation in its development and understanding. Prompted by his pragmatist beliefs, the social psychologist George Herbert Mead demanded that the individual self be understood as fundamentally a social reality, one constituted by the web of social relationships which characterize human life at all stages of develoment. The early publication of The Polish Peasant (Thomas & Znaniecki, 1919-1921), and the emergence of a distinctive sociological voice-- the "Chicago School" at the Univesity of Chicago--in the 1920s-1940s marked an engagement by the discipline with the daily lives of individuals as well as a concern with the girtty sorts of issues facing immigrants, the dispossessed, and others on the margins of society. In the 1940s and 1950s, Herbert Blumer and his colleagues in the symbolic interactionist camp emphasized the role of social communication in establishing meaning for the objects, practices, and people encountered in daily life. Rather than embrace the behaviorists' notion of individuals forever responding to environmental stimuli, the sociology of symbolic interaction credited persons as purposive agents for whom meaning, grounded in language and other significant symbolic tokens, guides action. Through the dramaturgical analyses of Goffman beginning in the mid-1950s, the metaphor of social life as theatrical performance linked social psychology with older traditions in literary criticism and expression. As the 20th century moved toward its close, the dominant academic face of the discipline--quantiative sociology enchanted by the rhetoric of complex statistical analytic technique (see Agger, 2000)--was complemented by the appearance of various "late modern", postmodern and poststructuralist social analysts. Anthony Giddens who rejects the label of postmodernist offers insightful comments on the conditions of late capitalism culturally and the contingencies of modern social life. His theory of structuration raises significant questions about the duality involved in individual agency and social practice. Other sociologists like Ken Plummer seek to recover or rediscover the voices and actual lives of the unvoiced and marginalized.

Theorists*Key Figures

Internet Resouces

Illuminations: The Critical Theory Website [University of Texas at Arlington]

"Firmly based in Frankfurt School thought, this site maintains a collection of articles, excerpts, and chapters from many contemporary writers of and about Critical Theory." (--from site description) The focus of this site are classical (Adorno, Benjamin, Marcuse, Fromm, Habermas, Horkheimer) and contemporary (Agger, Best, Bronner, Kelner) figures in the critical theoretical school.

History of the Department. Department of Sociology Website. University of Chicago.

Ben Agger [University of Texas at Arlington]

Agger is Professor of Sociology and Humanities at UTA. He is also the director of the Center for Theory which promotes cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional study of "contemporary social and cultural theory." Agger's critical stance adopts both Marxist and postmodernist perspectives.

Erving Goffman

Erving Goffman: The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Adam Barnhart, 1994): Synopsis & analysis of this text; sets Goffman's thought in the context of his own work and notes its shortcomings. [Mirror version at the Hewitt School, Norwich, Norfolk, UK]

Social Interaction in Everyday Life (Douglas E. Martin, Northwest Missouri State University). Brief but lucid textbook chapter outline from a General Sociology course. Succinct summary of dramaturgical analysis.


Bibliographical Resources

Abbott, A. (1992). From causes to events: Notes on narrative positivism. Sociological Methods and Research, 20, 428-455.

Abbott, A. (1999). Department and discipline: Chicago sociology at one hundred. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Provides an historical review and historiography of the U Chicago sociolology department. Chapters 1 & 7 are particularly relevant for narrativists.

Agger, B. (2000). Public sociology: From social facts to literary acts. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Bauman, Z. (1992). Imitations of postmodernity. New York: Routledge.

Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1967). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Bochner, A. P. (2001). Narrative's virtues. Qualitative Inquiry, 7, 131-157.

Branaman, A. (1997). Goffman's social theory. In E. Goffman, The Goffman reader (C. Lemert & A. Branaman, Eds; pp. xlv-lxxxii). Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Bulmer, M. (1984). The Chicago school of sociology: Institutionalization, diversity, and the rise of sociological research. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Calhoun, C. (1998). Explanation in historical sociology: Narrative, general theory, and historically specific theory. American Journal of Sociology, 104, 846-871.

Highly theoretical article establishing a balanced response to the question of narrative's utility in historical sociology.

Chamerlayne, P., Rustin, M., & Wengraf, T. (Eds.). (2002). Biography and social policy in Europe: Experiences and life journeys. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

Social policy analysis grounded in research involving 250 life history interviews in seven member nations of the European Union.

[Icon]"Chicago School" Sociology

In addition to the George Herbert Mead cited elsewhere in this guide, the short list below includes some of the classic works of the "University of Chicago School" of Sociology of the 1920s through 1940s. For a history of the "Chicago School" see Abbortt (1999), Bulmer (1984), Platt (1996), and Plummer (1990) elsewhere on this page.

Shaw, C. R. (1931). The natural history of a delinquent career. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Shaw, C. R. (1966). The jack-roller: A delinquent boy's own story. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. (Originally published 1930)

Thomas, W. I., & Znaniecki, F. (1958). The Polish peasant in Europe and America. New York: Dover Publications. (Originally published in 5 volumes, 1918-1921)

Craik, I. (1992). Anthony Giddens. New York: Routledge.

A synopsis of Giddens thought.

Ewick, P., & Silbey, S. S. (1995). Subversive stories and hegemonic tales: Toward a sociology of narrative. Law & Society Review, 29(2), 197-226.

Ezzy, D. (1998). Theorizing narrative identity: Symbolic interactionism and hermeneutics. Sociological Quarterly, 39, 239-252.

Freidson, E. (1983). Celebrating Erving Goffman, 1983. Contemporary Sociology, 12(4), 359-362.

Paper read at a memorial for Goffman at the Eastern Sociological Society meeing, Baltimore, March 4, 1983. Focuses upon Goffman's earlier work.

[Icon]Anthony Giddens (1938- )

Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Giddens, A. (1987). Social theory and modern sociology. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

Giddens, A. (1990). The consequences of modernity. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

This influential book focuses upon the self and the emergence of new mechanisms of self-identity that are shaped by-yet also shape-the institutions of modernity. Rather than using the term "postmodernism", Giddens prefers to speak about "high modernity" and its impact on the self, e.g., in the call for "pure relationships", the intense concerns for risk management in life, the sequestration of experience (such as madness, sickness, death), the privatization of passion, the rise of narcissism, the antimonies of self (unificaiton vs. fragmentation, powerlessness vs. appropriation, authority vs. uncertainty, personlized vs. commodified experience), and the emergence of what he calls "life politics".

Giddens, A. (1992). The transformation of intimacy. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

[Icon]Erving Goffman (1922-1982)

A complete bibliography of Goffman made be found at Goffman (1997, pp. 263-264) and a reasonably full one online (Gadi Algazi, Tel Aviv University).

Goffman, E. (1956). The presentation of self in everyday life. Edinburgh, UK: University of Edinburgh, Social Sciences Research Centre. (Republished in 1959 in a revised & expanded edition: Garden City, NY: Doubleday)

Goffman, E. (1961). Asylums: Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books. (a) (Republished in 1990)

Goffman, E. (1961). Encounters: Two studies in the sociology of interaction. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill. (b)

Goffman, E. (1963). Behavior in public places: Notes on the social organization of gatherings. New York: Free Press of Glencoe. (Republished in 1980: Westport, CT: Greenwood Press)

Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Goffman, E. (1967). Interaction ritual: Essays in face-to-face behavior. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.

Goffman, E. (1969). Strategic interaction. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Goffman, E. (1971). Relations in public: Micro-studies of the public order. New York: Basic Books.

Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. New York: Harper & Row.

Goffman, E. (1979). Gender advertisements: Studies in the anthropology of visual communication. New York: Harper & Row.

Goffman, E. (1981). Forms of talk. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Goffman, E. (1983). Felicity's condition. American Journal of Sociology, 89(1), 1-54. (a)

Goffman, E. (1983). The interaction order. American Sociological Review, 48, 1-17. (b)

Goffman's presidential address to the American Sociological Association's 1982 meeting which he could not deliver because of his terminal illness. [Online pdf version]

Goffman, E. (1984). Characteristics of total institutions. In D. Kelly (Ed.), Deviant behavior (pp. 464-477). New York: St. Martin's Press.

Goffman, E. (1997). The Goffman reader (C. Lemert & A. Branaman, Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Griffin, L. J. (1992). Temporality, events, and explanation in historical sociology: An introduction. British Journal of Sociology, 20, 403-427.

Introduction to a special issue of the journal on the use of time and narratives in historial sociology.

Lemert, C. (1997). "Goffman." In E. Goffman, The Goffman reader (C. Lemert & A. Branaman, Eds; pp. ix-xliii). Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

A synthetic survey of Goffman's intellectual journey and concerns.

Maines, D. R. (1993). Narrative's moment and sociology's phenomena: Toward a narrative sociology. The Sociological Quarterly, 34, 17-38. Link.

Manning, P.-K. (1987). Structuralism and social psychology. In N. K. Denzin (Ed.), Studies in symbolic interaction: A research annual, Vol. 8, (pp. 93-119). Greenwich, CT, US: JAI Press.

McCall, M., & Wittner, J. (1990). The good news about life history. In H. Becker, & M. McCall (Eds.), Symbolic interactive and cultural studies (pp. 46-89). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Platt, J. (1996). A history of sociological research methods in America, 1920-1960. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

[Icon]Kenneth Plummer (1946- )

Plummer, K. (1990). Herbert Blumer and the life history tradition. Symbolic Interaction, 13, 125-144.

Plummer, K. (1995). Telling sexual stories: Power, change and social worlds. New York: Routledge. (a)

Plummer examines the narratives of gays and lesbians (coming out stories), women's culture and rape stories, and tales of recovery from dysfunctional families to chart the sociology of sexuality at the end of the twentieth century.

Plummer, K. (1995). Life story research. In J. Smith, R. Harré, and L. Van Langhove (Eds.), Rethinking methods in psychology (pp. 50-64). London: Sage.

Plummer, K. (1997). The Chicago school (4 vols.). London, UK: Routledge.

Extremely expensive four-volume collection of important readings from the Chicago School of sociological research.

Plummer, K. (2001). Documents of life 2: An invitation to a critical humanism (2nd ed.). London, UK: Sage Publications.

In 1983, sociologist Ken Plummer published an important volume, Documents of life: An introduction to the problems and literature of a humanistic method, under the London imprint of George Allen & Unwin. Almost two decades have elapsed and Plummer has issued an extensively revised and updated edition through Sage. The focus of this text is the notion of "documents of life" -- be they diaries, films, letters, oral history recordings, etc. -- which permit us to understand individual lives with a depth and breadth not found in traditional sources of social science data. In those decades since his first volume, narratives and life documents have proliferated and caught the attention of many social scientists. In this revised edition, Plummer weighs these documentary sources and argues for their use (for which he gives broad historical and theoretical reviews of the literature) in achieving a "critical humanism". He is exquisitely sensitive to the blistering critiques of any form of "humanism" offered by many postmodern commentators; yet he maintains that social scientists must still seek to understand a human being as "always an embedded, dialogic, contingent, embodied, universal self with a moral (and political character)." (p. 262). This text draws deeply upon contemporary understandings of narrative (particularly in its middle and closing chapters) in developing approaches to the use of life documents within social science. The author's professional identity as a sociologist rather than psychologist is evident throughout. An especially valuable element of the text is the presence of short, annotated bibliographies of resources found at the end of each chapter. [View book description at Sage.]

Reed, J. S. (1989). On narrative and sociology. Social Forces, 68, 1-14.

Richardson, L. (1990). Narrative and sociology. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 19, 116-35.

Silbey, S. S. & Ewick, P. (1998). The common place of law: Stories of popular legal consciousness. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Stanfield, J.-H., II, & Dennis, R.-M. (Eds.). (1993). Race and ethnicity in research methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Woolgar, S. (Ed.). (1988). Knowledge and reflexivity: New frontiers in the sociology of knowledge. London, England: Sage Publications, Inc.

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Hevern, V. W. (2004, Apr). Sociology. Narrative psychology: Internet and resource guide. Retrieved [enter date] from the Le Moyne College Web site:

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