Movies, Books, and Identity: Exploring the Narrative Ecology of the Self


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Abstract

The media are an important agent of socialization; however, we know relatively little about how cultural stories encountered through the media influence the development of personal identity. The present research aimed to provide a foundation for future narrative research in this area. We report on 2 qualitative research studies that explore the influence of “media stories,” including stories read (e.g., books) and seen (e.g., movies, TV), on self and identity in emerging (Study 1) and midlife adults (Study 2). Findings suggest that media stories influence aspects of the self that are largely consistent with McAdams’ (2013; McAdams & Cox, 2010) tripartite framework of actor, agent and author, operating at the level of traits, values, identity projects, and orientation to the cultural concept of biography (Habermas & Bluck, 2000). Salient media stories also tended to focus on relational themes, highlighting the importance of others’ stories in the development of identity. Findings from Study 2 further suggest that media stories can contribute to a sense of collective identity, critical consciousness and an overarching life philosophy and that there exist individual differences in meaning-making in relation to media stories. The incorporation of questions about media stories into a larger life story interview provided insights into the place of media stories in the development of identity and suggests a tendency for congruence between participants’ descriptions of personally salient media stories and reported life themes. Findings are discussed with an orientation to theoretical and methodological considerations for future research.

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