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Self, Time and Narrative: Re-thinking the Contribution of GH Mead

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Publication details

JournalLife Writing
DatePublished - 25 Aug 2010
Issue number2
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)123-136
Original languageEnglish


The idea of the self has re-emerged in recent sociological writing through the idea of the late modern project of the self and through Foucault's conceptualisation of technologies of self. Here, however I advocate a return to an older tradition of theorising on the self, deriving from the pragmatist thought of George Herbert Mead. In reading Mead's theorisation of the self in conjunction with his work on time I highlight the temporality, reflexivity and sociality of the self. Mead's approach, I argue, has a number of advantages for analysing the self and narrative constructions of self. It allows for human agency while insisting on the sociality of the self; it bridges the conceptual divide between the self as self-consciously fashioned and narrated and subjectivity as precarious and unstable; it eschews any notion of a fixed or core self while avoiding an overly fragmented and decentred view of the self; and, while conceptualising narratives of self as symbolic constructions, it acknowledges the actuality of past events and experience. Finally I suggest that this perspective could be particularly fruitful for feminist analyses of gendered and sexual selves.

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