Narrative, history and self: critical comments on the role of narrative in psychology

Allan Køster

Research output: Contribution to conference without publisher/journalPaper without publisher/journalResearchpeer-review


There is a strong tradition in psychology and philosophy, claiming that the self is a narrative construction. The paper examines this idea and concludes that the narrative self is not a viable theoretical construct, but that we should opt for an adjacent idea of a historical self. The aim is to establish this through four merging lines of critique, stemming primarily from contemporary philosophy and narratology. Taken together they all indicate the need to keep a clear distinction between the acts of narration and what is narrated. To resolve this problem the paper proposes that we consider the self as historical. Hereby is meant a depository of non-articulated experiences governing who I am, not primarily organised through a narrative structure, but rather through a process of sedimentation. Finally, the paper argues that this in no way implies that the focus on narratives is irrelevant to psychology. On the contrary, in so far as the self can be understood as historical, narratives play an important role in understanding the person. But whereas the hypothesis of a narrative self, claims narrative to be constitutive of the self, the paper argues for a more modest understanding, focussing on the functional roles narrative can play in our self-interpretation. This shift opens a new perspective on the systematically use of narratives in e.g. therapy; one that does not overburden the expectations of what can be achieved through changes in individual narratives.
Original languageDanish
Publication date2015
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes
EventInternational Society for Theoretical Psychology Conference - Coventry, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Jun 201530 Jun 2015
Conference number: 16


ConferenceInternational Society for Theoretical Psychology Conference
CountryUnited Kingdom

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