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Intellectual Narratives

Theory, History and Self-Characterization of Social Margins in Public Writings

Alex Ching-Shing Chan

This book aims to study the intellectual lives of three Hong Kong intellectuals by narrating their lives as self-reflections on theories related to social margins. Drawing on insights from Paul Ricoeur, Hannah Arendt and Zygmunt Bauman, the author analyses their narratives through in-depth interviews. Their stories point to an interpretative understanding of the works they had cursorily read when creating their historical narrations of Hong Kong from the 1970s to 2003. These stories of individual intellectuals, together with their interpretations of what they have individually read about various western theories, challenge theoretical prescriptions of historical contingent events in their narration. Such narration unfolds self-characterizations of intellectuals the author interviewed, and represents a neglected social marginal which demands that immediate attention in the public through their intellectual writings.


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4. Analysing and Defending Intellectual Narratives 61


61 CHAPTER 4 Analysing and Defending Intellectual Narratives This chapter deals with the methodological issues related to intellectual narratives. To briefl y recapitulate, intellectual narratives refer to the bio- graphical aspects of oneself in telling a personal story; these aspects are refl ected in public writings, often with reference to particular theoretical traditions and individual experiences in relation to historical emplotment. In terms of the primary concern of methodology, unlike other biographi- cal studies, in which biography is undoubtedly the primary material for the construction of an authentic self, intellectual narratives have one more requirement: the intellectuals I interviewed were given leeway to explain their own theoretical perspectives in narrating themselves, with minimum interruption from the researcher during their intellectual narrations. This requirement demands more cross-checking techniques and thick descrip- tions of the interviewees’ narratives in order to secure a grounded theoreti- cal perspective of a personal story. Attention has to be paid to issues that bring out the critical vulnerability of research into intellectual narratives, namely the refl exivity of the researcher in treating an intellectual as an autonomous self, as opposed to categorizing him or her in terms of the hegemonic interests of institutions, or, so to speak, institutional nominal- ism, and in treating the question of the other(s) as the methodological pre-emption of a research subject’s voice. Among social researchers, narrative is often classifi ed as a variant of life stories. Pertti Alasuutari specifi es the traditions of life stories: in one stream, life stories are...

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