Associate 1993-94

Peggy J. Miller


The Role of Narrative Practices in Childhood Socialization

All children grow up to be cultural beings. This characteristic is unique to our species and accounts for the prolonged period of human immaturity. Child development is thus inextricably bound to socialization, the collaborative process by which children come to orient themselves within systems of meaning. This project addresses the nature of this fundamental process.

In recent years, several theoretical currents from different disciplines have revitalized thinking about socialization by focusing attention on the key role that language, broadly conceived, plays in this process. These theories converge on a view of languages as socially situated practices that are organized beyond the sentence level into genres, forms of discourse, and multi-channeled performances. Language is recognized to be both reflective and generative of meaning, with the implication that an adequate model of socialization must incorporate talk in a principled way. In addition, these innovations promote a conception of socialization that slights neither culture nor development.

The goal of Professor Miller's project is to contribute to the refinement of this theoretical framework by examining the socializing implications of personal storytelling, a pervasive type of naturally-occurring discourse. When people tell personal stories, they recreate in conversation remembered experiences from their own lives. She will bring together in one volume the results of five years of interdisciplinary research on personal storytelling as it is practiced at home by young children and their families. Her research is comparative, involving four American groups (varying by class and ethnicity) and a Chinese group in Taiwan. This work revealed that children from all the communities under study participated regularly in a complex web of personal storytelling practices, led to insights into the process by which selves are constituted in culture-specific terms, and opened up to systematic inquiry the dynamics of how children use and re-use their stories in their everyday lives.