Personality, modernity, and the storied self: A contemporary framework for studying persons

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Abstract

As the scientific study of the individual person, personality psychology historically has struggled to provide the kind of broad conceptual framework capable of orienting theory and research around human individuality in cultural context. This article presents a new integrative framework for studying persons that brings together recent advances in the field of personality with the emerging social science emphasis on the narrative study of lives, while situating personality inquiry within the cultural context of contemporary modernity and the unique problems of the modern self. The frame-work builds on a clear distinction between the "I" and the "Me" features of personality in the modem world and the delineation of three relatively independent levels on which modern persons 5 be described. In personality, the I 5 be viewed as the process of "selfing," of narrating experience to create a modern self whereas the Me 5 be viewed as the self that the I constructs. Personality traits, like those included within the Big Five taxonomy, reside at Level I of personality description and provide a general, comparative, and nonconditional dispositional signature for the person. Level II subsumes tasks, goals, projects, tactics, defenses, values, and other developmental, motivational, and/or strategic concerns that contextualize a person's life in time, place, and role. Speaking directly to the modern problem of reflexively creating a unified and purposeful configuration of the Me, life stories reside at the third level of personality, as internalized integrative narrations of the personal past, present, and future. It is mainly through the psychosocial construction of life stories that modern adults create identity in the Me. Life stories 5 be examined in terms of their structure and content, function, development, individual differences, and relation to mental health and psychosocial adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-321
JournalPsychological Inquiry
Volume7
DOIs
StatePublished - 1996

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