chapter  1
10 Pages

Introduction

WithANN-MARIE BATHMAKER

How the connections between personal and public concerns may be understood and interpreted are important questions for narrative and life history research. This is particularly so at a time when such research is shaped by ‘the ubiquity of personal narratives in contemporary Western culture and politics’ (Chase 2005: 669). Our news is filled with personal stories of success and despair, our television is saturated with the melodrama of the ‘real’ lives of ‘ordinary’ individuals staged on TV through contrived scenarios, produced for entertainment, focusing on the personal and the spectacular (Wood and Skeggs 2008), and our policymakers use individual narrative vignettes to promote their causes. As Chase cautions, we need to be wary of ‘the extraordinary self-conscious fascination with story telling that prevails at present’ (Chase 2005: 212). The creation of what Berlant (2008) calls ‘intimate publics’ through such story telling links to political processes that work at the level of sensation and emotion (Wood and Skeggs 2008). In educational contexts, Ecclestone (2004; 2007) has raised concerns about what she describes as a therapeutic turn, where students are encouraged to tell their personal stories and explore their emotions in the public space of schools. Though not intended for sensation and spectacle, Ecclestone argues that such practices diminish individuals and provide the state with new opportunities for surveillance and control.