This mini-series looks at how we integrate elements of stories into our personal identities, literally letting stories transform who we are. We look at the storyworlds that grow up around stories, narrative identity, and create a basic framework to analyze further.

The research is pulled from my Master’s Thesis in Cultural Anthropology where I did an ethnographic study with a group of anime fans, but don’t get bogged down in the anime of it. A football game is a story. A band has a story. Televisions shows. All these things develop storyworlds through which we shape our personal identities and interact with others.

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In the first post of this mini-series, we defined “storytworlds” as the culture that grows up around stories, filled with all the trappings of culture like language, artifacts, and social convention. We talked about how individual identities can be seen as narratives, and hypothesized that storytworlds and stories influence the composition of those personal identity narratives. In the second post, I proposed a framework called the Triad of Narrative Identity that broke this narrative identity process into 3 parts: cultural resources, personal identity narrative, and performative identity.

This is the last post of this mini-series, and the simplest. Let’s see an example from real life ethnography:

Taylor, one of the informants from my ethnographic fieldwork, is a self-identified anime fan. She is in her mid-twenties, a college graduate, and a small business owner who says she watches anime, usually with her husband, at least fifteen hours a week. She frequents conventions, online social networks, and has begun learning Japanese. By way of her personal identity narrative, Taylor identifies with both anime fan culture and certain common character types that are commonplace in anime storylines.

“I always liked the creative, free girls that are in a lot of anime and manga. They always have great ideas and make beautiful things. They are fun to be around, but also can be really deep ““ have great ideas and solve problems and stuff like that. I guess if I was an anime character, I would want to be that one. A creative free spirit kind.”

The character type described by Taylor is typical in anime, an archetype. This archetype is common in anime and Japanese literature; I have dubbed her the “Creative Free Spirit Girl.” In both casual conversation and her non-directed interviews, Taylor talked about herself in these same terms. She expressed herself as creative, fun, free-spirited, but also deep and able to solve problems. When describing her life story, she drew parallels with this archetype and her own identity narrative, using this narrative resource to inform this aspect of her identity.

Taylor also performs this piece of her personal identity narrative, identifying herself to others as an anime fan and as a creative free spirit. For instance, a common anime gesture is the “slide-in surprised” movement, which is often, but not always associated with the creative free spirit. Here, a character literally slides into the frame of action. Her eyes are wide, mouth gaping open. Hands can be up as if in surrender or astonishment, but there is no movement of her face or hands. The character is, in effect, on pause, sliding into the frame, frozen. A slide whistle sound effect typically accompanies.

I observed Taylor performing this gesture, sound effect and all, in every-day conversation, among both anime and non-anime fans. When in the company of anime fans, the group will usually laugh and joke, or repeat this gesture or others from the shared narrative resource, anime. This sends a clear performative message by way of symbolic interactionism: “I am an anime fan,” for without the shared narrative resource, this gesture would carry much less weight. Furthermore, by appropriating this specific gesture, she is also identifying herself with the Creative Free Spirit. Other anime fans would likely recognize this mannerism and associate the archetype with it. Even among non-anime fans, when Taylor performs the “slide-in,” she typically explains it away as “an anime thing,” serving to identify her with anime fan culture. While the symbolic weight may be diminished in this context, it is still a part of her performative identity and is therefore expressed whenever appropriate.

This is only one small example of a large collection of personal identity narrative features that are present because of narrative resources connected with anime. The “slide-in” gesture is but a solitary action in a repertoire of symbolic interactions that can be adapted and acted out. Anime is, by no means, the only narrative resource or influence on these identity narratives and performative identities, but it is a powerful, observable and rich source. In the next section, I will detail the ethnographic methodology used to analyze the personal identity narratives and performative identities.


That wraps up this teaser into narrative identity. I will post more indepth articles concerning my research in the future, and am working towards publishing my findings in journals.

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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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