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.
Previously, I talked about a storyworld as the social setting through which individuals interact with stories. These can be fan clubs, movie theaters, or anyplace where we talk about stories we love. (Yep, even the sports bar). I also defined narrative as the central sense-making structure that allows human beings to arrange, categorize and present symbolic ideas.
Now, we dive into an analytic framework that lets us look at how people integrate pieces of stories and storyworlds into their personal identities. This is an important step if we want to understand why this works and how we can create transformational stories that do it on purpose. The framework isn’t complicated and its still evolving. Think of it as a set of three connected boxes that allow you to separate certain elements and see how they interact with each other.
In a Nutshell
Let’s move past the scholar-speak and make it really simple for a moment. A person (the actor) loves a story (any story). They take bits of that story (narrative resources) like a character’s trait, a turn of phrase, or a fashion choice and integrates the bits into their own performance (they use the phrase in everyday life). Someone else (the audience) see the actor performing this, connects it to the story and understands what the actor is trying to convey.
Identity: The Us We Show Off
Identity, according to Joel Charon is “the name we all call ourselves” and also “the name we announce to others that tells them who we are.” (2009:84) Identities are positional or relational. They are “perceived social locations of the individual where one has situated [themselves] in relation to others,”¦[and] the name one tries to communicate with others” (Stone 2011:93).
So our working definition of identity is the socially constructed, socially maintained, and socially transformed meanings a person attributes to himself or herself (Berger 2011; Burke 1980). It is the internal “me” that nobody else sees, separate from the external “self” which is the perceptible and socially recognized or validated “me.” (Goffman 2002:103).
To further clarify definitions, I will call the internal “identity” the personal identity narrative, here meaning the story we tell ourselves, about ourselves. The external “identity” is the performative identity, meaning the “me” we attempt to show others. The external self is what is perceived by others.
These definitions come together in the theory of narrative identity which we described earlier as the interplay between narratives and social identity construction in which individuals incorporate elements from narratives (fictionalized, social, and others) into their personal identity narrative and attempt to project this identity narrative by way of a performative identity.
The triad of narrative identity is an analytical framework that is used to analyze narrative identity by describing the connectedness between the shaping and projecting of narrative identity using narrative resources.
Narrative resources are narrative elements that provide symbolic points of reference, context, and content for fashioning identity and for performing identity.
These three aspects work in concert together: personal identity narratives, performative identities, and narrative resources.
There are steps to the process:
- Narrative resources exist “out there” and are shared by both audience and performer. They do not have the exact same set, and both interpret these symbols differently.
- The actor uses these shared resources to cobble together a personal identity narrative. That is “Who do I say I am?”
- That personal identity feeds into the performative identity: Who do I want others to know I am?
- The performance is the observable interaction projected by the actor.
- The audience relies on the shared narrative resources for audience interpretation.
- This creates the perceived self, or perception of the actor. This is who the audience thinks the actor is.
- The audience provides feedback, both intentionally and unintentionally.
- That feedback influences the performance, which influences the performative identity, which can ultimately influence the personal identity narrative.
Consider this simple example: Jerry is a football fan. His personal identity narrative is, therefore, informed by narrative resources that may include sports narratives, sports jargon and personal experiences. Jerry also performs this identity in order to situate himself as an athlete among his circle of friends. In order to communicate this, he again draws on narrative resources. In this case, those resources may be a brand of clothing that carries symbolic weight and that the group understands to point towards athletes. He may also adopt (enact) certain gestures and language that have been made popular by celebrity athletes. The audience (individuals in his circle of friends) sees these performance features and associates Jerry with athletics, therefore perceiving him as an athlete.
Next, we will look at Anime Fandom as an example.