Selfhood and the law

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Discussing the institutionalisation of the concept of ‘selfhood’, Jerome Bruner writes:

“Our legal system takes it as a given and constructs a corpus juris based upon notions like “voluntary consent,” “responsibility,” and the rest.  It does not matter whether “selfhood” can be proved scientifically or whether it is merely a “fiction” of folk psychology.  We simply take it as in the “nature of human nature.” P16

the culture of education – bruner

Possible selves – keeping your options open

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P42 “In a particularly penetrating article on the American self, Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius propose that we think not of a Self but of Possible Selves along with a Now Self. “Possible selves represent individuals’ ideas of what they might become, what they would like to become, and what they are afraid of becoming.”  Although not specifically intended to do so, their analysis highlights the extent to which American selfhood reflects the value placed in American culture on “keeping your options open.””

Folk psychology as an instrument of culture – bruner

History quotes

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“History offers two crucial channels to understanding ourselves better.  The first is the opportunity to learn from the past.  The second is psychological grounding.  We learn where we came from, how we got here and what has given our society its unique character.  History gives us context, richness and depth, continuity and perspective.”[1]

“For history, in some modest and domesticated way, is the canonical setting for individual autobiography.  It is [-p147] our sense of belonging to this canonical past that allows us to frame our self-accounts as, somehow, impelled by deviation from what was expected of us, while still maintaining complicity with the canon.” [2]

“… a historical narrative claims truth not merely for each of its individual statements taken distributively, but for the complex form of the narrative itself.” [3]


[1] Writers in Residence pvii

[2] Narrative construal of reality – bruner P146-147

[3] Narrative form as a cognitive instrument – louis o mink p144

Bruner – life as narrative (love his work)

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“… life narratives obviously reflect the prevailing theories about “possible lives” that are part of one’s culture. Indeed, one important way of characterizing a culture is by the narrative models it makes available for describing the course of life.  And the tool kit of any culture is replete not only with a stock of canonical life narratives (heroes, Marthas, tricksters, etc.) but with combinable formal constituents from which its members can construct their own life narratives: canonical stances and circumstances as it were.”

“…eventually the culturally shaped cognitive and linguistic processes that guide the self-telling of life narratives achieve the power to structure perceptual experience, to organize memory, to segment and purpose-build the very “events” of a life.  In the end, we become the autobiographical narratives by which we “tell about” our lives.  And given the cultural shaping to which I referred, we also become variants of the culture’s canonical forms.” … “… how our way of telling about ourselves changes …”[1]


[1] 15 Life as narrative – jerome bruner

More Bruner quotes

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“The fact that the historian’s “empirical” account and the novelist’s imaginative story share the narrative form is, on reflection, rather startling. …Why the same form for fact and fiction? Does the first mimic the second or vice versa? How does narrative acquire its form? One answer, of course, is tradition…”[1]


[1] P45 Folk psychology as an instrument of culture – bruner

Autobiography, community and James Boyd White’s Heracles’ Bow

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“[James Boyd White’s] interest is not so much in autobiography as in the conditions of existence in a society that can assure a requisite degree of congruence between a citizen’s sense of himself and his sense of his rights and obligations under law in a broader [-p43] community.  Can one conceive of oneself and of one’s community in a fashion to permit one to live without alienation?  He sees the challenge not as simply “establishing,” say, a just order.  The task of living with oneself and within society, he argues, is an exercise in “constructive rhetoric.”  That is to say, the discourse of social life (and, in his central argument, the discourse of the law) is designed not just to settle differences and resolve conflicts, but to constitute or construct realities that each individual can live with in a fashion that does not produce alienation.  There can be no effective self, he argues, unless a person can construct a sense of the world that is congruent with it.” [1]


[1] P42-43  – Pp38 -56 Jerome Bruner  The Autobiographical Process  – in Culture of autobiography?? [reference is to James Boyd White’s book, Heracles’ Bow]