LIFE AS FICTION

PhD by Kevin Murray

Department of Psychology, University of Melbourne, 1990

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Narrative Psych

Chapters

1. Introduction; 2. Narrative making sense; 3. Life manuals; 4. Life construction groups; 5. Travel space; 6. Travel and personal change; 7. Travel talk in context; 8. Narrative partitioning; References; A. Appendix

8 Narrative partitioning

In this chapter I will attempt the following: to summarise the points made from the materials of life manuals, life construction and travel talk; to position the term ‘narrative partitioning’ within a theoretical field; and to present a point of view about the use of such a term in the contemporary context.

8.1 Three questions of making sense

The course of this investigation began with three questions about the making sense of personal change: how one makes sense, what one makes sense of, and why one does it. The first framework for making sense of change was based on Aristotle’s theory of four causes. In the life manuals, narratives were represented in terms that referred to these four causes: trait, form, event and end. Change in this light is constituted by an event which triggers a difference that fits a particular form, is given an end or purpose, and signifies an enduring trait. This analytic is useful but fails to account for the dynamics of change present in each of the texts. Outside this analytic it is possible to point to the process of ‘pendulation’. The framework for change here is based on the acquisition of powers through a confrontation with lack of agency.

The Aristotelian analytic was also applied to contemporary life constructions. In many cases the event which prompted the acquisition of agency was a travel episode. It is from this evidence that the decision was taken to collect travel talk and examine the ways in which it presented pictures of personal change. The general function of travel here is to represent change: one finds the nature of oneself and others revealed while overseas. Rather than acting simply as a form of training or education that ‘increases’ one’s capacities, travel gives one the opportunity to ‘know’ what those capacities are. The question of ‘what’ one makes sense of in personal change thus has an answer in the revelatory potential of travel space: one looks to travel experiences to find evidence of change.

8.1.1 Why one makes sense

Chapter One introduced the metaphor of ideal scientist as presented in the school of social cognition—that one acts as a scientist towards others, developing and testing theories about their traits. It is argued that this metaphor fails to address the practices by which scientists refer to their objects of inquiry. On what grounds is information about another chosen for processing? The answer to this question depends on the region of social life that is the focus of study. For social cognitivists, this region is the experimental laboratory. In the laboratory, subjects are constituted by their need to control their environment in competition with others. Such a region does not promote shared interests between individuals. For structurationists, the region of action is the conversation. Here it is necessary to gain the co-operation of others in order to exercise one’s voice: power is expressed as an agency granted by others rather than a control that is wrested from someone else.

While a statistical reasoning is appropriate for a control-motivated making sense, in the region of the conversation the operation of narrative provides a means of representation which caters for agency. Narrative is open to agency at two ends: the element of possibility inherent in narrative works against attempts to predict actions; And the dual process of describing events and evaluating their meanings presents a situation with a variety of possible interpretations through which one can assert different points of view (e.g., the judgement of a jury). This duality is elaborated in the concept of ‘narrative partitioning’. The distinction between expressive and practical domains brings together the question of ‘what one makes sense of’ into relation with ‘why one does it’: it relates what one is given with what can be taken from it. Within the process of narrative partitioning, change is revealed in an expressive space and this is then related back to the practical space of everyday life.

The question of ‘why’ one makes sense of change is related to the exchange of interests within the conversational region: one looks for ‘useful’ information about another’s capacities and experiences of foreign situations. Yet this information does not fully account for the revelation of change: change is brought back into relation with interests by means of narrative partitioning. But this reintegration of information is not automatic. In the end such change may turn out to be ‘useless’: change may be experienced as a temporary ‘escape’ from normal life. Just as the test of hazard demands a sense of contingency, what one finds overseas may not succeed in winning the support of others (e.g., travellers who find no audience for their stories). ‘Why’ one makes sense is thus subject to the conversational context. This process of evaluation, however, does not fully account for the means by which character is revealed.

8.1.2 What one makes sense of

‘What’ is made sense of, when understanding personal change, entails the construction of a ‘space’ in which traits are seen to be revealed. This is a space which contains contingency, where things could happen otherwise, in contrast to the ordered patterns of behaviour in everyday life. In life manuals, this space is characterised by a ‘pendulation’ between two life alternatives (e.g., Saint Augustine’s alternation between guilt and redemption, Samuel Smiles’ rise from low origins to social status, and Gail Sheehy’s oscillation between depression and optimism). This pendulation is limited mostly to a particular biographical episode (i.e., conversion, training, midlife crisis). In life construction, this pendulation was generalised as a confrontation between a character and his/her ‘other’. Almost every life construction group sent their character overseas to achieve this (e.g., Heinrich confronts his corrupt self in America).

Such a confrontation with one’s other is not as evident in travel talk as it was in life construction. Yet there is an element of contingency in travel, at least in the possibilities of surviving or failing at finding one’s way around overseas. The process of pendulation is most evident here in the narratives of foreign situations (e.g., Pizza Hut, German forest and Red light district) which bring a traveller to a point of great uncertainty before providing a saving power. Given the uncertainty attached to the process of pendulation it is not surprising that it appears limited to a specific space such as travel: it runs counter to the routinization of everyday life. Yet it does appear as a necessary form for the revelation of agency: a power emerges outside one’s ability to control its appearance. This power cannot be used as a means to an end and thus serves to represent what is taken to be the goal towards which life may be organised; e.g., political justice, or the common human condition. Such is the expressive potential of travel space. The process of pendulation thus serves to account for the ‘space’ in which agency is revealed: the space which is outside the practical demands of normal life and in which one can forgo control in order to find the source of power. This space is where one finds what is made sense of.

8.1.3 How one makes sense

How one makes sense of personal change was initially examined by attempting to link change to a force that emanates outside the person. In the life manuals (Chapter Three), the forces of personal change appeared as moral values (continence, energy, hope) whose effects could be demonstrated in the lives of individuals; these values in their turn were administered by higher agencies (God, society, self). In life construction (Chapter Four), change is conceived in terms of a recognition of difference from or similarity to others: the characters relate themselves either to particular traits of distinction from others (e.g., genius, artist) or a sense of solidarity with others in the common human condition. Difference and similarity are represented by separate agencies. The agency of difference is often a supporting group overseas (e.g., New York), and the agency of similarity is often presented in confrontation with others (e.g., sister, mother, suffering Africans). In travel talk, personal change is also represented in terms of similarity and difference: one has either gained confidence or become more tolerant of others. The agency for this change relate to the ‘points’ made in travel talk. Such change is seen to reveal certain truths about the self and world: e.g., ‘People are the same’; ‘If you stick with something it will come good’; and ‘I get on well with other people’. These propositions refer to powers revealed in the space of travel (i.e., the common human condition; perseverance; and personal charisma). Reference to agencies that guided this education is restricted to travel itself (‘travel teaches you...’), or to particular destinations (e.g., India, Europe).

Statements of personal change are therefore often associated with claims that are of use to others, particularly in dealing with strangers, and authenticated by the reference to travel itself. From the point of view of those others, change is more likely to be credited, and a person granted a voice, where the conversation is ‘interested’ in the points made by the returned traveller. Linking change to the revelation overseas of points about ‘people’, ‘world’ and ‘history’ provides a relation between the expressive realm of travel space and the practice concerns of normal life at home. How one makes sense of change thus entails linking the forms of change with forces that are seen to govern human affairs.

Table 8.i Focus and Responses to the Three Questions of Making Sense

  EXPLANATORY FOCUS RESPONSES
Why? Conversation Travel talk
What? Expressive space Overseas
How? General forces Self, people, world, history, etc.

Table 8.i summarises the work of the three questions of making sense in this thesis. ‘Why?’ pertains to the region in which making sense occurs, which in this case is the travel talk exchanged within conversational groups. ‘What?’ focuses on the expressive space in which capacities are revealed: events which occur overseas are granted the status of showing certain states of affairs to exist in this world. And ‘How?’ links what is revealed to general forces that govern those affairs: change experienced overseas is related to what the individual can do (self), what makes individuals the same (people), the plenitude of different points of view (world), original events of the past (history), etc. In general, conversational groups partition off travel space for the revelation of capacities that are evaluated by reference to practical issues such as the limits of individual action, how to approach strangers, the identification of a common human project, and where one should live. Here, personal change is seen as a revelation that is staged in terms of an argument about how individuals should guide their actions. This is a processional understanding of making sense which, like rite of passage, entails stages of separation and reintegration. Narrative partitioning describes this trajectory of meaning as it departs from and returns to normal life—as a space is separated off from the demands of practical life and what occurs there is then read back into that life. Narrative partitioning is the discursive ‘gatekeeper’ monitoring what goes out and what comes in from the expressive space.

Such is the result of the present inquiry as it is constellated by the original three questions. But there is another way of representing the materials collected in this study. The process of life construction was used as a means of bringing to light assumptions in making sense of personal change. More than this, though, such a process suggests an understanding of what it is that is seen to constitute a ‘life’. Examining what this study has to say about constructing a life is a useful means of reiterating what the materials have demonstrated.

8.2 How to construct a life

The act of constructing a life entails the attempt to find a narrative form which adequately simulates the sense of what it is to have lived a life. The particular logic that was uncovered by the life construction method reflects the dual process of making different and same. Difference is made by positioning the character between social categories. This is typically covered by the trait of ‘loner’: someone who is not represented in the available social categories. Such difference is brought to life by having characters recognise their displacement and attach positive significance to their difference. For the character Nicola, travel to New York gives expression to the creative ability that had been repressed by the demands of her family. One ground for this recognition is the re-location to a community where one’s difference is counted for the same.

Sameness is made by having characters take a position where they occupy a role that is opposed to their normal traits. This is typically done through identification with the suffering produced by their actions. In the life of Jean, she confronts her lack of emotional understanding through the experience of vulnerability once her suitor has disappeared. This identification involves the recognition of necessary limits to their powers.

In travel talk, this process of ‘making different’ is associated with the demonstration of self-knowledge. The set-up of travel as a ‘test’ of one’s capacities of self-management provides one with a conventionally accepted demonstration of ability to go about independently in the world. The corresponding action of making same is reflected in the reports of greater tolerance on returning from overseas, often associated with re-tracing the paths of one’s parents.

Making different and same reflect the dual projects of social and personal identity. One finds a place for oneself by attaining a role within the social structure (social identity) against which one sets oneself to demonstrate a common humanity in defiance of one’s prescribed role (personal identity). A constructed life contains a balance of this difference and sameness. What appears to be essential is the process of standing back from a life, and recognising where one stands in relation to others. This principle of a life that comes alive when it is able to stand outside of itself gives the sense of life as fiction.[1] Moments of personal crisis in life manuals, and episodes of travel in real and constructed lives, provide the opportunity for individuals to recognise the powers that guide their lives in relation to others. In Sheehy’s case of Priscilla Blum, her midlife crisis entails a recognition of the power of authenticity as it is defined against conformity to others. Whereas travel to Africa in the constructed life of Nicola enables her to recognise the needs of others in opposition to her personal ambitions, recognition by the individual provides the ground for demonstrating these different powers. Constructing a life thus involves laying out a space in which characters corroborate certain values through their own experience.

Such is how the materials in this study suggest one constructs a life. Is this process universal? The talk collected in this study was shared among mainly middle class groups in Australia. Alternative types of lives may not present individual recognition as their ground; the Victorian biographies written by Samuel Smiles, for example, do not entail an episode of self-questioning, but more directly demonstrate the powers of childhood conditioning and moral virtues. What Smiles’ biographies lack is the possibility that these lives may have been chosen.[2] In the style of life construction presented in this study, characters may be seen to have determined their fate through decisions: what was imposed becomes what is freely adopted. Such a construction is certainly complementary to a Western democratic social organisation in which freedom of choice is seen as the governing political principle. How lives may be constructed in alternative settings, such as in Islamic or communist cultures, is likely to be a different matter.

Such a contextualisation of life construction is clearly important, but beyond the scope of this study. Where the materials have most to say is in the particular ways in which a distance is constructed between this reflective space and normal life that enables one to ‘stand back’ from life. As indicated at the end of Chapter Seven, the concept of narrative partitioning embraces important differences in how the expressive and practical domains are brought together. In the following section I attempt to identify some factors which might relate to these differences.

8.3 Narrative partitioning

The principle of narrative partitioning is simple: one makes a break between life as it is lived and the process of reflecting upon that life. Usefulness is distinguished from truthfulness. Despite this simplicity, the variety of connections possible between these two domains, and the number of levels of meaning involved, provide a complex picture of any particular instance of narrative partitioning. First I will describe three types of movement that make up the process of narrative partitioning in travel talk. Then I will identify types of narrative partitioning as they differentiate between conversational groups. And finally I will feature two factors, politics and geography, which might be related to these differences.

8.3.1 Making the break

What are the qualities associated with the space in which an individual is granted self-knowledge? It is possible to isolate three types of moves that characterise the separation of travel space. These movements are ways of conceptualising the relation of the traveller to the structures, routines, and habits that constitute life back home. Many of the travel cases combined more than one of these together.

The physical removal from home life is coincidental with the experience of remoteness. An overseas journey can subtract from life at home, both in terms of the time taken, and the economic resources lost in the process. Particularly for a first-time traveller, one is removed from accustomed sources of assistance, not only for material help, but also for someone to turn to for information and advice about what to do. This space foregrounds how capable one is without the support of others back home: it assesses the degree to which one can go alone in the world. Such a break provides the space in which to test one’s capacity for self-reliance.

The second movement is not directly linked to the physical act of journeying away from home. It is concerned with the type of logic that binds together space and time. This movement turns that logic upside down. Hierarchies are reversed and things are juxtaposed which normally are kept separate. One finds beauty and ugliness side-by-side. This is the ‘topsy-turvey’ quality associated with carnivalesque space. This movement conditions uncertainty and loss of control—individuals are taken away from their roles and made equal. This break grants one liberation from normal structural restraints.

The third movement runs contrary to the physical dislocation of travel. Rather than taking one away from structures, this movement brings one into proximity with invisible forces that shape normal life. One is able to come close to these elements: e.g., to meet strangers and learn how to deal with them (people); to see the foundation of one’s current world in history (history); and to see the world of which one’s home is just a place (world). What one is close to is often in the form of a macronarrative, of which one’s own biography may be a part. This break provides the opportunity to be taught lessons about the world.

The movements of leaving, upturning, and approaching represent re-orientations towards the world one lives in. They are responses to the break in one’s life entailed in overseas travel. The next question is how these movements are organised so that they eventually make sense.

8.3.2 Types of narrative partitioning

Making sense of these movements requires a proposition about the relative status of what happens during this break and normal life. Mostly these propositions appear readymade: e.g., ‘The child is father of the man’; and ‘All’s fair in love and war’. Yet embedded in these phrases are very different assumptions about what happens within these extraordinary episodes and what occurs in normal life. In ‘The child is father to the man’, the incidents during childhood are seen to set the parameters for the rest of one’s life. However, in ‘All’s fair in love and war’, the events of battle and romance are seen as separate from the rules that apply to the normal course of life. These two phrases set up different types of circulation of meaning between the expressive and practical domains. The term ‘narrative partitioning’ is designed to embrace just such a difference. This term is derived from the field of ecological perception (discussed in Chapter One). Partitioning refers to the foregrounding of difference (overseas) in a background of sameness (home). In travel talk this is done in at least three different ways: as ‘fiction’, ‘holiday’ and ‘romance’. I will use the different readings of ‘sense of history’ to differentiate between these types of narrative partitioning.

The construction of travel space as a domain where possibilities are revealed of how life could be lived grants overseas the status of a stage for fictions about life at home. While normal existence at home is real, and what happens there has serious implications for future life, travel is given a separate, provisional status. This is the sense of travel compared to a ‘dream’ or a ‘film’. What happens overseas is thus not seen as a means to an end, but as a representation of life. For example, a ‘sense of history’ discovered overseas would take the form of an imaginative involvement in alternative forms of life. What this ‘fictional’ type of narrative partitioning offers is evidence of possibilities of how life could be otherwise. For life at home, therefore, travel threatens to alter the sense of possibilities available for action. The Camerons appeared to employ this type of narrative partitioning.

The movements of reflection and discharge are combined in the second type of narrative partitioning, romance. While romance does provide release from the structured differences of everyday life, it also reveals a higher order of reality than this world. This experience can be at the collective level of world history, or at the individual level of emotional passion. Although it is a world that resembles the grand narratives often associated with novels, what happens there is not directly referred back to normal life, though life at home can appear much paler by comparison. ‘A sense of history’ gained overseas provides the individual with a refuge for lost feelings of grandeur and communion. Unlike the narrative partitioning of fiction, romance does not offer alternatives for life at home: it re-grooves pre-existing values, they are made ‘special’, and given human intentionality. The travel talk of the Pembertons seemed to be organised according to this type of narrative partitioning.

A different kind of separation is performed in the third type of narrative partitioning, holiday. This type constellates home life as a source of dissatisfaction and travel space as a vent through which desires may be safely channelled. Blocked wishes for freedom or desires may be safely fulfilled overseas without upsetting the disciplined organisation of those needs at home. As such it is a remissive space. Unlike the narrative partitioning of ‘fiction’, the type of ‘holiday’ does not have life reflect on itself, but instead allows life to discharge itself. And by contrast with ‘romance’, travel space is not presented as a serious alternative to life at home: it is simply a break within an ordered time frame. ‘A sense of history’ here would be the focus for frustrated lack of communion between people at home: it provides a space for a carnivalesque form of life that is at odds with competitive relations between individuals. What happens in travel is thus practically linked to normal life, though it is not likely to change the picture one has of life.[3] The Ryans talked about their travels in terms of this type of narrative partitioning.

NARRATIVE PARTITIONING

FUNCTION
Fiction Possibility
Romance Affirmation
Holiday Remission

Table 8.ii Functions of Three Types of Narrative Partitioning in Travel Talk

Table 8.ii presents the types of narrative partitioning of fiction, romance and holiday in terms of functions granted to travel space. Narrative partitioning here separates off a domain of serious practical life from an episode that appears to be without direct consequence. This space is then imbued with the significance of possibility, affirmation and remission respectively. What differs between them is partly the seriousness of what happens in travel space: i.e., the degree to which the events that occur on the journey are seen to affect life back at home. The effects are predominantly in terms of the picture one has of things, rather than any unmediated consequence.

There are a number of ways of evaluating these types of narrative partitioning. ‘Fiction’ appears to grant travel the serious possibility of change back home; ‘romance’ is conducive to the heightened emotions of passion and the sublime; and ‘holiday’ allows release from the interminable problems of life. One common factor worth attending to in this evaluation is the type of power granted to the individual by these types.

8.3.3 Politics

One of the issues that began this study was the notion of the ever-presence of making sense: i.e., the proposition in social cognition that the internal mechanisms of information processing are internal and always in operation. This proposition is inappropriate for the region of conversation where making sense is distributed according the ‘voice’ which participants are seen to possess. Here what is taken for information depends upon the conventions governing the conversation: in most cases information must come from a recognised source and be seen to have a legitimate point. As demonstrated in Chapter Seven, conversational groups can operate according to different conventions, particular in the forms of narrative partitioning. For a participant in one of these groups, the problem is whether or not what one has to say will be taken seriously within the conversation. In the case of the Camerons, for example, Matthew’s reading of travel purely in terms of personal fulfilment does not relate to the educative function assigned to overseas experience by the other members of the family. Such forms of exclusion point to the presence of what Gergen (1989) terms ‘conventions of warrant’. As well as bringing certain travel experiences into relation to life at home, narrative partitioning entails certain limits on what is taken seriously by the group.

One of the political implications of this situation involves the obstacles an individual may face in making claims to an increase in agency. For example, if one’s experience overseas entails the demonstration of certain capacities and one’s conversational group employed a form of narrative partitioning such as holiday, it is unlikely that one’s claims will be recognised. The formation of a generalised conversation between travellers—marked by such terms as the ‘travel bug’—indicates one alternative to this denial. Thus while one’s travel stories may not be credited by one’s original conversational group, they may enable one to circulate more widely in the community, particularly in conversations with strangers.

The drift of this political evaluation of narrative partitioning may appear to recommend one particular form: viz., that for which any revelation of character is incorporated into life at home—‘Individuals should have the right to have their capacities acknowledged by others: Sack the gatekeeper!. This raises the critical issue of what purpose might be served in the various forms of dismissal such revelations can face. Are there situations when it is better not to accept a claim to agency? There are two factors that might legitimate a denial of voice: one is ethical and the other structural. The first relates to the point that is given to one’s claim. For example, if one’s claim to voice rested on the supremacy of high European culture this might not find a place in a group concerned with ‘meeting the people’. This exclusion enables the group to assert a value through which experience can be read. The second factor relates to the structural necessity of ‘making the break’ between overseas and life at home. For travel space to work as an expressive domain it must be separated clearly from the practical demands of normal life. As such there must be some critical interpretation of situations when revelation of character overseas is seen to be motivated purely by the desire for greater agency at home. The doubt present in travel talk about facile forms of change is evidence of this ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ in operation. While clearly narrative partitioning does operate on a political level, these two factors should provide a hedge of caution before accepting one form as politically desirable in all cases.

8.3.4 Geography

Though it was not the ostensive purpose of this study to isolate the methods of life construction particular to Australian communities, it is possible to use the results of this study to speculate about the peculiar conditions of life construction in Australia. One could argue that the distance between Australia and the centres of Western civilisation encourages travellers to perceive their actions overseas as without consequence for life back home. This raises the question of whether this particular condition makes the biographical significance of travel greater for Australians than other similar cultures, such as the modern American.

Given the role of narrative partitioning in ‘making the break’ between expressive and practical life, where this is marked by an obvious geographical difference it should be easier to credit travel experience in Australia with greater significance. This is particularly the case with two points in the travel talk: travel as fiction and the sense of history. The distance of Western culture—the world of literature and images from paintings and films—from the reference to life in Australia can partly explain the sense of ‘being in a film/painting/dream’ while overseas. At the same time the relative lack of radical social change since the British settlement in Australia heightens the sense of history as something that occurs elsewhere: e.g., in the rise and fall of the European empires and the political conflicts in South America. These are clearly important cultural issues and require a more detailed analysis than is possible here. However, the focus on the experience of the world as it is negotiated off the official stage and in conversational groups might provide a fresh perspective on the regional differences on how lives are constructed.

8.4 Theoretical responses

The term ‘narrative partitioning’ promises a series of engagements in a wide range of theoretical arguments. To realise its potential and limits in all of these requires an extensive exegesis that is beyond the scope of this study. This section attempts to incorporate this term into the disciplinary field of social science that was set out in Chapter One.[4] It does not set out to provide a synthesis of this field, but to locate where this term may productively work within it. There are many terms already existing in this field that bear similarities to ‘narrative partitioning’: the differences will serve to define more clearly what the new term signifies. The comparative terms generally deal with a bifurcation between something that is taken for granted and something that is its response.

8.4.1 Social cognition

Social cognition contains two dualisms that are relevant here. The first concerns the general separation in cognitive psychology between information and theory: i.e., data coming into the mental system are subsequently processed by cognitive structures. In social cognition, much attention has been paid to the idea that these structures function as ‘schemas’. At the beginning of this study, it was claimed that this approach failed to account for the conditions in which the data are revealed in the first place. The seemingly natural division between perception and cognition contrasts with the constructed separation of reality and theatre that occurs in narrative partitioning. The field of social cognition ignores the possibility that there might be shared conventions about evidence from others: the travel talk clearly shows that different conversational groups attach different types of significance to what happens to someone while overseas. The universalist theory of social cognition has no way of dealing with this phenomenon. The laboratory, which is considered the neutral ground for revealing, appears in the light of ‘narrative partitioning’ to be dependent on different conventions of meaning among different conversational groups.

The second dualism relates to the normative model of making sense. The metaphor of person as scientist was modified in social cognition to allow for the distorting need to assert control in one’s surroundings (as such it entails itself a form of narrative partitioning). This is to see the process of making sense within the dimensions of control and reality. The need to control distorts one’s picture of others to make them more predictable and therefore manipulatable to one’s own ends. By contrast the reality dimension presents a picture of others that is independent of ends. The talk collected in this study conflicts with this aspect of social cognition in two ways. First, the types of personal change presented in life construction and travel talk are not only to attain greater agency, but also to decrease one’s power over others—to lessen ambitions and demands on others. And second, making sense of others is not something that is purely rendered towards one’s own ends, but also presented as useful to the ends of others. The talk about the nature of ‘people’ uncovered while overseas takes part in an argument available to others about how to deal with strangers: whether they are the same or different, etc. This second point reflects the understanding of power as a reciprocal phenomenon that entails trust. This was something brought out in particular when travellers reflected on the greater authority granted them after being away overseas.

8.4.2 Bruner’s narrative and paradigmatic modes of thought

At first, Bruner’s (1986) distinction between narrative and paradigmatic modes of thought seems to be a place in which narrative partitioning might operate: the difference between a fictional representation of things and a realism is partly what the process of narrative partitioning brings into being. However, there are a number of points of divergence. First, Bruner identifies ‘truth’ as the goal of the paradigmatic and ‘verisimilitude’ as the aim of the narrative. A critical difference between these two goals is the participation of the audience: truth is a universal abstraction, whereas verisimilitude depends upon conventions of realism.

Accordingly, Bruner’s dualism rests partly on the opposition of science and literature. However, the notion of narrative partitioning is not limited to the domain of literature. It is applicable to both science and literature. Both are seen to contain forms of partitioning: e.g., the separation of collecting and analysing data in scientific practice, and the framing devices—‘once upon a time’—which separate story from reality.

The corresponding divergence of goals set up by narrative partitioning is usefulness and truth.[5] There is some overlap here with Bruner. Bruner asserts that the paradigmatic grants more emphasis on consistency than the narrative form. Consistency entails necessary connections between elements in an explanatory system. This is something opposed to the presence of contingency, which is seen as necessary for the construction of a dramatic space. A consistent picture of things is clearly more useful than one with uncertainties: it is easier to move around such a picture without ‘looking’. To this degree there is a provisional alliance between Bruner’s work and the framework of this study. The issue of concern is to discover how Bruner conceives that the separation of these two different modes of thought is maintained. Bruner locates the narrative form of making sense in the subjunctive use of language. The choice between these narrative and paradigmatic modes of thought is shown to be partly a matter of context: the narrative mode is more often applied to situations with people than the paradigmatic. But Bruner is on an alternative path here. Narrative partitioning attends to the embeddedness of this difference in conversation: the difference is not something observable only to the social scientist, but actively constructed in everyday life.

A more complementary approach is offered in Bruner’s (1987) study of family narratives. The concept of ‘meshing’ gives some sense of the way a distinction between home and world might provide the common framework for articulating the differences within the family. Here, the active construction of the difference between the taken for granted space of the home and the revelations of the world is one of the forms by which a family reproduces itself. As shown in Chapter Eight, this difference becomes the ground into which other differences between and the within families may be folded. In this sense, the travel talk indicates the different forms such ‘meshing’ might take.

8.4.3 Harré’s distinction between practical and expressive

Harré’s (1979) distinction between practical and expressive domains of life is more directly appropriate to narrative partitioning than Bruner’s categories. The practical domain concerns the distribution of resources in a community and the expressive order concerns the separate issue of how respect is accorded. Harré goes further to claim cultural differences in the relations between these two orders. Harré contrasts those cultures which emphasise the expressive domain of meaning (e.g., Trobriand Islanders, Melanesians and contemporary Western culture) from cultures which privilege the practical (e.g., Victorian England). Harré claims that in modern times short-term expressive gain will be preferred to long-term practical benefits. In a later text (Harré, Clarke & de Carlo, 1984) he states that one of the tasks of social psychology is to disentangle the two domains of meaning in a community.

Harré’s theory can accommodate the concept of narrative partitioning where he deals with the notion of a relation between the two domains: how practical gains may be transferred into expressive credit, and vice versa. Where there is disagreement, however, it is at the point of how this differentiation is marked. Though Harré does not appear to address this question directly, his text implies that there is little historical evolution governing this differentiation—society, for example, is not steadily being reduced to the practical order—despite the occasional references to Marxist theory. What, then, makes the difference? The suggested answers which Harré appears to provide for this question refer either to evolutionary biologism (the palaeoanthropological necessity of a surplus to mark distinctions for the purpose of selection) or structural sociology (the Durkheimian intrusion of ‘societal icons’ in individual affairs). Though he does not appear to fully endorse these explanations, they are where Harré’s attempt at explanation seems to be heading.

The direction of this explanation is towards the practical. Harré attempts to reduce the expressive/practical distinction back to a practical order of meaning; i.e., the division is a means to an end, the end being the reproduction of the community. Can one say that therefore Harré’s discourse takes part in the practical dimension of life? Perhaps, but is not the theoretical response of social science part of its expressive life? To resolve this question, one must take up a position: Harré’s theory, of course, can be both practical and expressive, depending on where one stands towards it. Is it at all possible, therefore, to develop a theory of the expressive/practical differentiation that does not stand in one or other domain of meaning? Where does narrative partitioning stand?

What most sharply distinguishes narrative partitioning from Harré’s approach is that the differentiation of expressive/practical life is not in the readymade conditions of community life, such as the orientation to productivity inherited by a member of Victorian England. Rather this differentiation is seen to be actively constructed through the expressive activities of that community. Essentially, the distinction between doing and reflecting is seen to be made through discourse, not prior to it. The activity of constructing a space such as the travel episode which separates itself from ordinary practical life engages with the distinction between the domains of work and leisure. In other words, the differentiation is an active one—it is not readymade. By this it is not meant that individuals are free to choose which how they would like to relate the two domains (see Section 1.3.3). This partitioning occurs at the level of conversation rather than individual consciousness. This explanation serves to retain this split in the expressive order itself; and while it is there it will always be subject to argument.

Deconstructive theory offers an elaborate account of narrative partitioning which retains this difference in the expressive domain. From the standpoint of deconstruction, one would question seriously the independence of the practical and expressive from the act of identifying them. Deconstructive theory claims that similar oppositions, such as nature/culture, or painting/frame have always already been inscribed by a textual process, termed varyingly ‘supplementarity’ (Derrida, 1976), ‘parergon’ (Derrida, 1987), or more generally, ‘infrastructures’ (Gasché, 1986). For example, the condition of supplementarity that constellates the terms ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ places the former term in a position of abundance and originality in relation to the latter. It is not simply that a knowing subject picks up the separate and readymade spheres of practical and expressive action and puts them into relation with each other: their very relation is what brings them into being. By taking this proposition seriously, it is possible to investigate the mutual dependence of each term in an economy of meaning.[6]

However, while the deconstructive approach provides the framework for examining the expressive domain as autonomous to the practical, as the travel talk amply demonstrates, there are interests within the conversational groups to which revelations are eventually brought back into account. The relevance of the expressive to the distribution of credit within a community must clearly hold at some level.

8.4.4 Giddens’ theory of routinisation and power

While Harré explains expressive social action by the need to obtain the respect of others, Giddens concentrates on the converse demand: security. The need for honour in a community necessary entails risking dishonour, whereas it is the absence of this risk which is said by Giddens to ground the routinising practices that make up much of social life. Giddens’ theory seems organised around the explanation of the practical order more than the expressive. The situations of uncertainty that contain expressive potential are linked by Giddens to psychological traumas. Though Giddens (1984) refers to events, such as rites of passage, when change can occur as ‘critical situations’; he provides the example of a concentration camp to illustrate how such situations provide for the breakdown of ‘ontological security’. Contingency is traumatic and dehumanising in Giddens’ system.

Associated with this negative value of contingency is the absence of movement of an individual within the community. His system is static at an individual level: there is no space for the increase and decrease of individual agency. One of the reasons for this is the absence of any truly expressive space within Giddens’ understanding of society: discourse only ‘re-grooves’ established values, rather than grants them additional significance through their threatened loss. While providing some motivational device of security, Giddens fails to allow for a complementary motive of advancing one’s power. The only way Giddens might escape this lack is if the desire for power is part of some higher-order need for security? If this was so, then some dualistic theory of power would be required: something that deals with the venturesome and securing acts within power.[7] While Giddens’ account can speak for the securing of space and time within predictable sequences, he needs also to allow for the opposite process: the marking of space which is contingent and unpredictable. This must be part of narrative partitioning: the dialogical constitution of securing and revealing ends.

8.4.5 Gergen’s concept of conventions of warrant

Gergen’s (1989) concept of conventions of warrant speaks to the conditions in which what one has to say is taken seriously. Gergen illustrates this concept with the epistemological grounds for credibility offered by different philosophies. While these directly involve the objects referred to (e.g., ‘inner states of mind’), the materials of this study show how different conversational communities can grant different degrees of credibility to what happens to one while overseas. The prime difference is the degree of seriousness with which one’s account is treated. Seriousness here refers to the circulation of meaning from travel space back to normal life: how seriously does one take what happens overseas? The answer to this can be seen partly in the conventions of narrative partitioning that are reproduced in one’s conversational group.

8.4.6 Bourdieu’s concept of habitus

There are two levels of analysis at which Bourdieu’s work engages with narrative partitioning—‘habitus’ and ‘capital’.

In Distinction (1984), Bourdieu differentiates the types of habitus involved in cultural consumption. He contrasts the bourgeois habitus of distinction, in which art objects are evaluated according to the difficulty of finding an immediate response, with the working class habitus of participation, where art objects are given value according to the degree of involvement in life. These types of habitus can be understood as different forms of the expressive-practical split. In the former, the expressive domain is constructed as separate from the practical, whereas in the latter the expressive is seen in terms of the practical.

One of the dualisms which falls along the practical-expressive split is the distinction between economic and cultural capital. While economic capital consists mainly of financial assets, cultural capital involves reputation and displays of taste. In Distinction (1984) and Homo Academicus (1988), Bourdieu identifies laws of transformation between economic and cultural capital. Though he appears to grant neither of these forms of capital greater importance—they are separate accounts in a sociological banking system—there is a limited sub-text within his discourse, which posits as a governing principle the maximisation of capital. Bourdieu’s basic critical strategy is to make this difference intelligible in terms of class interest: particularly in modern times, cultural capital is a better medium for maintaining differences between class fractions than economic capital. While habitus relates to the reproduction of relations between the practical and expressive, Bourdieu’s understanding of economic and cultural capital does not. This dualism does not operate at the same level as narrative partitioning.

8.4.7 Bakhtin’s concept of chronotope

Bakhtin’s concept of chronotope seems closest to the explanatory plane of ‘narrative partitioning’. The questions invited by Bakhtin’s concept of chronotope deal with the differing relations of adventure time and real life in narratives, particularly with the direction of influence between the two. The adventure time chronotope of ‘ordeal’ accounts for the point of view of a god-like outsider, while the corresponding chronotope of ‘everyday life’ shows development between what happens in adventure time and everyday life, as mediated by the consciousness of the hero. The former narrative partitioning has the expressive function separated from human affairs, while the latter places it in those affairs, particularly when normal separations between people are disrupted. Bakhtin does not appear to dwell on the active construction of adventure time, though he does attempt to relate it to certain spaces. Thresholds (on the road, public squares, etc.), where different people and forms of life intersect, are seen as candidate spaces for adventure time.

There is a limit to Bakhtin’s theory. Chronotope deals largely with relatively stable region of the literary text. The difference between forms of chronotope is evident here in large historical shifts within literary history. The mechanics by which an adventure space is constructed are therefore not as evident as they are in travel talk, where different forms of narrative partitioning compete in argument with one another. Travel talk reveals the dependence of forms of separation on the types of conversation held within and between groups.

8.5 .To keep making sense

At this moment there is an indeterminacy in the positioning of ‘narrative partitioning’. Is it a term grounded in the practical domains of life, or the expressive patterns of existence? While in certain times it might be appropriate to leave this study with an undecided theoretical position, there are situations which demand another response.

‘Narrative partitioning’ underscores the significance of the expressive sphere. At its most basic, the expressive sphere is marked off from the practical by an operation of contingency: one cannot determine the nature of the expressive. It is thus the space of agency, where it is possible to ‘make a difference’. Harré (1979) provisionally places the expressive-practical dynamic within the horizon of evolutionary theory. The mutation-selection dynamic in this logic provides for an openness within the species by which it can adapt to change. In cultural terms, mutation is allied to what Lotman & Uspensky (1978) term a ‘de-automatising mechanism’. One of the problems with the introduction of evolutionary theory, however, is the tendency to consider that this openness is somehow ‘natural’ at a cultural level. While it is ‘natural’ it is seen to persist regardless of human actions. This evades the question of how such a sphere is actively maintained at a political level.

The distinction that McIntyre (1984) draws between the interior and exterior values of institutions provides a means of representing this process of maintenance. Interior values concern the virtues of justice, service, etc., which are defined outside the material life of the institution, whereas exterior values concern the problem of finding in the outside world the resources that enable the interior life to reproduce itself. The life inside and on the outside of an institution relates to its expressive and practical orders of meaning: at an institutional level, the practical maintains but does not determine the expressive. A similar limit to the expressive is provided for in Ryan’s (1982) notion of ‘agonistic limit’. The significance of the expressive is thus something that must be responded to at the practical level.[8]

Supporting the expressive domain is a complex act, particularly in a contemporary world where truth claims are seen as less convincing than pragmatic strategies. Truth now can only be supported as a ‘necessary fiction’, or form of ‘moral exhortation’ (Harré, 1986), for which there is no final answer. It is the form of life associated with truth that is the critical element. This truth requires both a belief and a wariness. At the same time as the expressive sphere requires practical assistance, a discourse such as the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ is necessary to maintain the boundary between truth and usefulness.

While this study might serve as a demonstration of the ongoing interpolation of lives in the narrative partitioning that occurs in the region of everyday talk, it hopefully also opens up for debate the political ramifications of this process: how making sense occurs, and how to keep making sense. By this means it may be possible to cast light on the gatekeeper, and so keep check on what is being exchanged between the world in which one lives and the world in which one sees.



[1]. Scheibe (1986) makes a similar point about `adventure': that it serves to reinforce the seriousness of life.

[2]. A similar difference is pointed to in Harré's (1984) distinction between Aquinas' `psychoethics' where life is laid out as a set of choices, and the Islamic principle of Qaadar in which a life is shown according to the degree of commitment to a particular path.

[3]. The difference between the narrative partitioning of `fiction' and `holiday' can be illustrated with the argument about pornography: i.e., does it encourage the acts of sexist against women or does it provide a safe outlet for frustrated sexuality? These alternatives assume the fictional and holiday forms of narrative partitioning respectively.

[4]. Further digestion of `narrative partioning' should eventually take into consideration Heidegger's (1975) concept of `dif-ference' in the distinction between `word' and `thing'. This concept seems the most direct point at which to draw in the phenomenological tradition for which such a term as `narrative partitioning' has clear precedents. One difference of orientation, though, is that the focus of this study is on the everyday practice of revealing things rather than the philosophical ground necessary to make such a practice possible. As such, the tenor is closer to Goffman's studies -- though this does not mean it would not benefit from a more rigorous philosophical analysis.

[5]. This is particularly evident if one extends narrative partitioning to the various institutional practices of revealing: in law courts, the discourse of jurisprudence distinguish between presenting evidence and arguing a case. These a differences between the process of making pictures of the way things are the applying them in practice. A complementary way of articulating the differences entailed in narrative partitioning is between means and ends. Ends are revealed independently of practical interest. The proscription of this interest is the process of narrative partitioning. In government, there is a separation of the process of making laws (legislative) and enforcing them (executive).

[6]. Parker (1989) takes deconstructive theory into the division of expressive and practical domains, though he limits its application to the expressive. The practical domain, for Parker, concerns the distribution of power that occurs in the expressive sphere; as such, it can be identified independently of deconstructive strategies. Parker willingly leaves his own discourse open to a further deconstruction of the expressive-practical split, particularly as it associates the expressive with misleading `ideology'; and an emphasis on the power of the expressive domain is seen as `sentimentality'.

[7]. Heidegger's (1977/1943), in his essay on Nietzsche, writes about the `preservation-enhancement conditions' of power.

[8]. This calls extends first into the political arena, where calls to the support for expressive activities in an electorate must be allowed to organise themselves around non-practical ends, such as `truth'. There is also a potential response in the psychoanalytic practice. The distinction in Winnicott's theory between `boundary' and `space' provides the sort of dynamic that is complementary to the expressive-practical dynamic (see Davies & Wellbridge, 1981). Providing the necessary degree of emotional security for playful activities may be seen as a socialisation practice which lays the ground for narrative partitioning in an individual life.

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