Chapter 2 Narrative and the Emergence of a Consciousness of SelfBy Katherine Nelsonof
We don't learn to narrate alone. Narrative is a social and cultural act. We grow from a biological being to a social-cultural being through narrative.
Narratives emerge as social forms,which include explanatory myths, among other genres that support the coherence and cohesiveness of the community. In this framework narrative making is a specifically human characteristic. However, it is not an individual capacity but a social-cultural one. It results from a long historical process of the development of social communicative skills at different levels (motoric and linguistic) and of concurrent development of group construction of communities. These are complex system developments that go beyond individual participants, wherein narrative emerges as an explanatory format of the cultural group. (p. 22)
Development of consciousness through narratives in children are summarized as follows. Through narratives children learn to see others as independent beings, begin to see themselves the self-observed ME as well as the Experiencing I.
A new level of consciousness emerges in the early childhood years that is based on the differentiation of the self-awareness of the early years and the self-and other awareness of the transition period. The first is consciousness of the here and now, informed by previous experience but without conscious reflection on that experience. The strong hypothesis that emerges from this perspective is that the new level of consciousness is dependent upon language used to exchange views of self and other, primarily through narratives but also through commentary on the self by others, as well as on their own feelings, thoughts, and expectations of what might happen (Nelson, 1993). This new kind of consciousness is a different kind of self-consciousness that brings the self into the observed world where others have been playing out their roles in the child's view of the experiential world. This is James's or Mead's ME rather than the Experiencing I (Nelson, 2001). The I of the transition period can be self-aware and therefore bashful and embarrassed but is not yet capable of both acting and observing at the same time. Perhaps this sketchily presented development (see Nelson, 1997, 2001), with such profound implications, seems too weighty to place on the vehicle of narrative. Yet it is worth the effort to see how far such a proposal can take us in understanding the early development of self, language, and cultural consciousness.
In brief, the account here is that narrative emerges from and belongs to the community, but in the individual lives of children it is a vehicle through which consciousness of both self and the wider social and temporal world becomes manifest and gradually emerges as a new subjective level of conscious awareness, with a sense of a specific past and awareness of a possible future, as well as with new insight into the consciousness of other people. (p. 33)
Nelson, K. (1993). Events, narratives, memories: What develops? In C. Nelson (Ed.),Minnesota Symposium on Child Psychology: Vol. 26 (pp. 1-24). Memory and affect in development Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Nelson, K. (1997). Finding oneself in time. In J. G. Snodgrass & R. I. Thompson (Eds.),The self across psychology: Self-recognition, self-awareness, and the self-concept, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 818, 103-118.
Nelson, K. (2001). From the Experiencing I to the Continuing Me. In C. Moore & K. Lemmon (Eds.), The self in time: Developmental issues(pp. 15-34). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.