A narrative analysis of possible selves- An explorative study of letters from the future.

Gräbel, Bianca Friederike (2013) A narrative analysis of possible selves- An explorative study of letters from the future.

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Abstract:The relation of future imagining and wellbeing has been topic of interest in many studies. One form of future imagining is the construction of possible selves, e.g. “…future oriented conceptions of how humans want to be or not want to be. “ (Markus & Nurius, 1986, 1987). Studies have already indicated that the imagination of future oriented best possible selves influences wellbeing. Another form of future imagining is the construction of future scenarios via narrations. The field of narrative psychology researches, in what way narrative futuring (imagining the future through stories) can influence actual wellbeing and promotes mental health in the present. Narrative futuring is a new branch in the field of narrative psychology. Studies examining the main elements involved in the process of narrative futuring lack. The actual research project “Letters from the future” of the Life Story Lab at the University of Twente is designed to examine, in what way narrative futuring works. The new aspect of the study is the analysis of the narrative construction of possible selves in the process of narrative futuring to promote mental health and wellbeing in the present. Via the webpage of the Life Story Lab of the University of Twente, respondents were invited to write a letter from the future to their actual self or anybody else in the present. The letter needs to have a positive character and should transport hope out of a better future. In the present explorative study, 30 future letters were selected out of a pool of 491 letters. These letters were analyzed, using the method of storyline analysis. This method is based on Burkes (1949) conception of “Dramatism”. According to Burkes (1949), life can be understood as a drama, consisting of „Act“, “Scene“, “Agent“, “Agency“ and “Purpose“, characterized by human motives. The storylines of the future letters were analyzed in terms of these elements. In the process of purposive sampling the different main story lines in the future letters, were explored and categorized into prototype plots. Each prototype plot is characterized by specific key topic, which can be recognized in a couple of future letters. Based on this categorization, it was further possible to define the different constructions of possible selves embedded in these plots. The storyline analysis resulted in the categorization of 6 different prototypes of narrative plots. In each of these plots a specific type of possible self has been identified. These possible selves vary in their content, their grade of individuality, their dynamic, their function and their time horizon. Furthermore the plots contain different types of “Trouble” (implicit/explicit). “Trouble” is here identified as a kind of imbalance between the elements of the narration, developed by Burke (1949). The research results confirm the definitions of possible selves already available in corresponding scientific literature. The results support the thesis of Markus & Nurius (1986, 1987) that “Possible selves” can be defined as future oriented conceptions of how humans want to be…..” (Markus & Nurius, 1986, 1987). Whereas in other studies it is mainly focused on best possible selves this study also provides new insights in terms of the exploration of other, new types of possible selves and their characteristic structure. These findings indicate that the narrative construction of future oriented possible selves and narrative futuring in general, are new branches of the field of psychology, which need to be researched further. The future letters represent an effective research tool to collect a great variety of data for the further narrative analysis of possible selves. The storyline analysis is a useful method, to make the different types of possible selves visible. The main new aspect of this study is that by analyzing the construction of possible selves in a narrative way, the dynamic process of developing a certain type of possible self has been made visible. The study also provides limitations. By categorizing the letter’s individual content into prototype plots, specific, individual elements of each respondent’s possible self are lost. Furthermore the results need to be checked in terms of their interrater-reliability and needs to be repeated within different samples This explorative study is a first attempt to define different types of possible selves and narrative plots in the letters from the future. It is intended to serve as starting point for further research, to examine the relation of possible selves and wellbeing.
Item Type:Essay (Bachelor)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:77 psychology
Programme:Psychology BSc (56604)
Link to this item:http://purl.utwente.nl/essays/64014
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