Personal narratives, relational selves: Residential histories in the living and telling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article is set in the context of debates about how far social identity and agency should be seen as individualised or relational concepts. It examines how people in a qualitative study in the North of England constructed personal narratives about their residential histories. These were fundamentally about identity and agency, because they centred upon 'what mattered' more widely to the narrator, and upon what had constrained or enabled action and change in their life. The narratives were characterised by contextuality, contingency and in particular by relationality. Four styles of relational narrative are explored: relational inclusion and co-presence, relational participation, relational constraint and conflict, and relational individualism. Overall, it is argued that both agency and identity need to be understood relationally, and that through their narratives people in the study were constructing relational selves. It is suggested that a misreading of personal narrative as an individualistic discursive form has fuelled the hold of the concept of individualism on popular and sociological imagination, in the face of increasingly compelling empirical evidence about the extent and nature of people's connectivity with others.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)162-294
Number of pages132
Journalsociological review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2004


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