Three notes on personal narratives and accounts

‘People organize and give meaning to their experiences and, thereby, their lives through the storying of experience: we live storied lives. Yet, our stories do not simply represent or reflect some inherent, pre-given, or incontestable meaning that exits. These stories do not, therefore, reflect a reality outside of the social meanings that we draw upon to make sense of our own experiences. Instead, socially mediated language ascribes meaning to our stories, and through language we reify social meaning, reconstituting our own lives, and often dominant social discourse. […] A dynamic process constitutes the way we participate in making sense of our lives. Individuals are active participants in the creation of their stories; however, these stories draw upon available social discourse and thus consist of both subjugated and dominant knowledge. As our lived experiences exist within a field or web of power and knowledge, no story is outside power. No telling or hearing of a story is outside of meaning and, therefore, neutrality is not possible.’ (Catrina Brown, ‘Anti-oppression through a postmodern lens: dismantling the Master’s conceptual tools in discursive social work practice’, Critical Social Work, 13, 1, pp. 45-46)

‘“Auto/biography” disrupts conventional taxonomies of life writing, disputing its divisions of self/other, public/private, and immediacy/memory. Relatedly, “the auto/biographical I” signals the active inquiring presence of sociologists in constructing, rather than discovering, knowledge.’ (Liz Stanley, ‘On auto/biography in sociology’, Sociology, 1993, 27, 1)

‘I would argue autobiography offers the same opportunity for twenty-first century women as well as in previous centuries. Henke continues to say, “Life-writing encourages the author/narrator to reassess the past and to reinterpret the intertextual codes inscribed on personal consciousness by society and culture…(autobiography) is an author attempting to fashion an enabling discourse of testimony and self-revelation, to establish a sense of agency” (Henke xv-xvi). At its core, autobiography is an attempt at agency through self-definition.’ (Tunisia Riley, From the Academy to the Streets: Documenting the Healing Power of Black Feminist Creative Expression, MA thesis, University of South Florida, 2009)