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Identity in Communicative Contexts

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Kamila Ciepiela

The central focus of the book is the identification of the ways people engage in communicative encounters to (re)constitute personal and social identities. Its aim is to identify some principal themes that have emerged from the ample research on identity in a variety of contexts. A common thread of the articles is the role of language in the construction and performance of identities. It embraces an exploration of the sociocultural environments in which human communication takes place, the interplay between these environments, and the construction and display of identities through our communicative performances. Research located in a range of literary, sociological, psychological and linguistic perspectives is used to illustrate the potential of communication in establishing a sense of identity.

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‘The prologue of my story’ – positioning of selves in re-told migration stories

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Abstract Narratives have been identified as particularly interesting data for the study of identity; as the speaker can be both a character in the story and the teller at the moment of telling, there is a ‘doubling of roles’ that permits evaluation and positioning through what is represented in the story on one hand, and how it is told on the other (cf Wortham 2001). Recent theories and approaches around narrative and identity have, however, prioritised stories of personal experience as data for the study of identity, thus implicitly marking birth as the starting point of an individual’s life story. This paper draws on data from a study on language and identity among adults whose parents were migrants. Two migration stories, told by 18-year-old Farah and 33-year-old Gabriela, whose parents were refugees from Iraq to Finland and from Chile to Sweden respectively, are used to illuminate particular points on how positioning takes place in stories about events and experiences that took place before the birth of the teller. In the stories, Farah and Gabriela foreground characteristics of their parents that reflect their own individual values and attitudes, as well as collective identifications of the family. A linguistic analysis of the stories thus illuminates the processes of identity positioning in these re-told stories. The paper suggests an expansion of current theories to embrace stories about the family as ‘semi-autobiographical’.

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