Narrative Identity and Personal Responsibility


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Avisos de privacidad Condiciones de uso. Mi Cuenta. Search site:. The Criterion Collection Anime. Linda Ethell Lexington Books Narrative Identity and Personal Responsibility. Descarga inmediata En la app Kobo by Orbile. Editorial Lexington Books. If I am a neurotic person prone to negative affect, I am fated to be neurotic forever. There is nothing I can really do about it. By contrast, individuals with an incremental theory of the Me believe that their traits can be changed, through work and circumstances.

I may be neurotic, but I am working on that trait these days, and I hope to improve myself over time. An incremental theory of the self would appear to hold many psychological advantages over an entity theory, especially in the wake of failures and disappointments. People with an incremental theory may be better able to recover from failures and continue to work on improving themselves for future social performances.

As social actors, they know that they are still a work in progress, still becoming better. The entity understanding of the Me proves adaptive when the reviews of one's social performances are glowing. When their internal resources prove insufficient for the dramaturgic task, however, entity theorists are left with fewer options for a productive response, because they are skeptical about changing the way they inherently are.

In one study, Beer showed that shy incremental theorists prefer to engage in relatively challenging social interactions that they believe may help them develop new social skills, even though they find these interactions to be difficult. In sharp contrast, shy entity theorists typically take the easier way. They choose to interact only in those comfortable situations that do not challenge their social skills.

Should the person become a spouse, parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, these family roles come to occupy prominent positions in the Me. In a similar manner, changing roles at work and in the community become incorporated into the Me. Over time, roles are likely to change in important ways, for people show different kinds of social performances for different audiences and different purposes across the life course.

By contrast, trait attributions show more continuity over time Diehl, Even though I am doing different things than I used to do, I may be doing them in the same kinds of ways. From the first perspective, one may consider the extent to which people naturally or spontaneously include trait attributions in their verbal representations of the Me Diehl, Some shifting around on traits will invariably occur; people do indeed change, sometimes dramatically.

What happens in old age is less clear. What Caspi et al. Average agreeableness scores crept up slowly and nonsignificantly to age 50, showed sharp increase from 50 to 60, and then leveled off again. Neuroticism decreased through age 40 and then leveled off. Roberts et al. As the Me becomes increasingly structured around social roles that demand commitment and care, the trait attributions that depict how the actor expresses his or her roles shift accordingly, in the direction of greater conscientiousness and agreeableness and away from tendencies toward emotional instability.

In the view of Costa and McCrae , increases in agreeableness and conscientiousness may be correlated with increasing investment in certain social roles, but both developmental trends in the Me—changes in traits and roles—are a function of an unfolding biological program that helps to ensure that adults care for the next generation and take on the social responsibilities that group life among human beings demands. Whether the actor learns new roles as he matures Roberts et al. The I continues to reshape, refine, and transform the Me as new challenges present themselves on the social stage.

Human beings evolved to live in small tribes and bands, competing and cooperating in the face of limited resources, striving to get along and get ahead as social actors whose performances were and continue to be prime determinants of their survival and reproductive success. In the early years, these representations are simple and concrete, tied directly to behaviors, tangible objects, and momentary states. Gender and ethnicity play important roles in the young adult's efforts to construct a coherent sense of the self as a social actor.

Young adults who hold entity theories about the Me see their own characteristics as fixed and immutable, whereas those who think about themselves in more incremental and developmental terms hold out hope that they can improve their traits with effort and circumstances. As people move into middle adulthood, the I tends to see the Me in more conscientious and agreeable terms and as containing fewer neurotic tendencies. The general developmental trend is toward more effective social performances, at least through late middle age.

Selves have secrets that no observers can see. Actors play their roles on a social stage, but no matter how long the audience watches the performance, they can never know for sure what is going on in the actors' heads. Whether the actors themselves even know is the question that Freud asked, but everybody nonetheless agrees to this: Something is going on in the actors' heads. Something that the audience can only infer.

What does the actor want? What is the actor really trying to accomplish? One answer is this: The actor is trying to accomplish the role. The actor wants to enact the performance that the situation demands. This kind of answer satisfies nobody but Goffman Even the visitor from another galaxy, assigned to investigate human life on earth, probably expects more.


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If the visitor is psychologically designed in a manner that even remotely resembles human beings on earth, she will also be left wondering about the motivational secrets that assumedly lie somewhere inside the performers on stage, beyond her view. What is interesting here is not so much that the observers cannot know the secrets inside but rather that they know they cannot know, that observers always expect that there must be something beyond their direct observations, something inside the actors' heads, something motivational , something about desire and want.

We assume that actors want something within and beyond their social performances Klinger, ; Wellman, Selves often act not just for the sake of acting. Selves often act to accomplish personal ends. Even when they are not acting, even when it seems that selves are doing nothing at all, they still want something. Applied to the self, agency means many things. It means that a self has some modicum of ownership over subjective experience. Peter knows that his thoughts are his, and not Paul's. He virtually never mixes this up.

When Peter recalls yesterday's dinner with his sister, he knows that it is he who is recalling it the I and that it was indeed he, and again not Paul, who had dinner with his sister yesterday, and that his sister is indeed his sister part of Me and not Paul's. Agency also suggests some modicum of personal causation. Selves cause things to happen. If Peter wants to have dinner with his brother tomorrow, he can make it happen. He can send his brother a text message to work out the arrangements.

As Peter punches in the words on his BlackBerry, he knows not only that he is the one who is sending the message but also that he and not Paul, not anybody else has decided to do this, that he has made a choice. After all, Peter could stay in tomorrow evening and watch a movie instead of having dinner with his brother.

Why choose his brother over the movie? Because he wants to. He wants to tell his brother about the woman he is now dating. He wants to catch up on what has been going on in his brother's life. He wants to share with his brother a plan he has to start a new business. He hopes his brother will like the plan and agree to loan him some money so that the plan can get off the ground.

In Peter's mind, tomorrow night's dinner with his brother will be about more than merely ordering off the menu, exchanging pleasantries, and paying the bill. Agency is a defining feature of modern selfhood. Agents assume some degree of ownership and control over things, both internally I control my own thoughts and externally I make things happen in the environment.

In the ideal Republic, Plato wrote, different strata of society should strive for different aims. In Aristotle's view, the mature self aims to achieve the golden mean whereby the fulfillment of personal desires and goals contributes to the good of society as a whole. How could it indeed be otherwise? Quite easily, claimed Jaynes , in a provocative historical argument. Listen to the characters in The Iliad , as well as the patriarchs of Genesis, explain why they do what they do.

Voices in their heads told these men to go to war, to sire offspring, even to sacrifice their own children. Athene, Apollo, Zeus, the Old Testament God, and a host of other external agents called the motivational shots in these ancient texts, as if the human actors in these stories had not yet become agents. That is because they were not agents , Jaynes insisted, or the authors of these texts, passed down from antiquity, did not originally understand these actors to be agents, perhaps because they did not understand themselves to be agents either.

Even today, selves lose agency to the extent they feel controlled by external forces. Sometimes the overwhelming forces come from within, as both James and Freud knew. A person may feel possessed by forces over which the self cannot gain supremacy. Sometimes the internal forces are so strong that the self may feel pushed aside or split off from itself, in that parts of the person things I do, feel, think, and want seem as if they are not really parts of Me. What may follow is a feeling that the I is depleted, or that the I splits into multiple agencies, as in cases of dissociative identity disorder, more commonly known as multiple personality Hacking, We should not, therefore, take agency too much for granted.

Its status is always somewhat tentative and contingent, dependent on a wide range of psychological and cultural factors that shape how and to what extent people feel that they own and control their own experiences. Children appear to be aware of their own social performances before they are consistently aware of their motivations for performing as they do.

But eventually, of course, they do. Indeed, the two—actor and agent—are never separate entities in a literal sense. The human self assumes many guises. Yet the self continues to perform as an actor on the social stage. Much of what it is and does has little to do with agency per se. I may see myself as a friendly person who tends to work hard and who feels dread when I interact with authority figures who remind me of my father.

I do not need words that connote desires, goals, and plans—I do not need a language of agency—to convey to others and to myself those traitlike features of the Me. Nonetheless, I do need that motivational discourse to convey and understand those aspects of Me that are about what I want in life, what I am striving for, what I want to be but am not yet , and what, despite my best efforts, I fear I might become in the future. Like all animals, human beings are designed to pursue goals.

We must, in some manner, go out into the environment and identify what we need to survive and procreate , and we must move our bodies in some manner to get it. Throughout the 20th century, motivational theorists were quick to attribute a wide range of broad goals that infants and young children pursue. White argued that young children, as well as certain other primates, aim to achieve mastery and competence in their behavior. Murray identified more than 20 psychogenical needs that energize and direct human behavior across the life course, including the needs for play, affiliation, dominance, and order.

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Relations Between Narrative Coherence, Identity, and Psychological Well-being in Emerging Adulthood

It is nearly impossible to make psychological sense of human behavior without resorting to the language of goals, needs, motives, and human agency although some psychologists have tried, e. It is one thing, however, to say that human beings pursue goals this is so true as to be trivial , and it is quite another to say that the I reflexively conceives of the Me as an appropriating agent who seeks to achieve certain valued goals over time.

It requires even more to say, and to show, that the I evaluates the Me—confers upon the Me a certain degree of esteem—by determining the extent to which valued goals have been achieved. Newborns may implicitly, unknowingly pursue goals, but they are a long way from conceiving of themselves as goal seekers. Human beings take the first steps along that path toward the end of the first year of life, with the emergence of a special interest in intentionality Tomasello, At approximately 9 months of age, infants will begin to behave in ways suggesting that they understand what others are trying to do.

The Narrative Construction of the Self

They will attend to objects and events toward which adults express interest and positive emotions, as if to suggest that they, too, may want what others want. They will decode others' behaviors to determine the extent to which the actions are intended or wanted. They are more forgiving of the latter scenario, as if to suggest that trying is what really counts!

Behne et al. Most children now behave in ways to suggest that they do indeed understand that their own behavior, and the behavior of others, is motivated by the particular desires and beliefs that are located in the minds of the actor. Put differently, children now know that they are agents, and that others are agents, too. Children are now aware of their own goals and beliefs, and they understand that other people have their own goals and beliefs. As a motivated agent, my actions are the end results of my internal desires, beliefs, and plans.

It is the same for you—I now know that you, too, are a motivated agent, that your actions, like mine, result from those particular desires, beliefs, and plans that constitute your mind. It is hard to imagine what social life would be like if human beings were not endowed with theory of mind. If we did not understand ourselves as mindful agents who strive to put our desires and beliefs into action and if we did not understand others in the same terms, how would human beings be able to cooperate on joint ventures, establish alliances, develop commitments to others and to groups, and predict the future?

Research has shown that autistic children often perform poorly on experimental tasks designed to assess theory of mind. They often provide responses suggesting that they do not fully understand the agential mindfulness of other people's behaviors. Case studies of autism, furthermore, sometimes suggest a remarkable lack of personal agency, which can border on a sense of depersonalization.

Behavior may follow performance scripts, but it seems to lack an internally generated purpose, as if it were performed by a robot. In extreme cases, not only does the autistic child fail to articulate personal goals and desires, but he or she may find it difficult even to take personal ownership of subjective experience. For example, Sacks tells the story of Stephen Wiltshire, an autistic prodigy who, despite his extraordinary artistic talents, never seems to develop a sense of personal agency: I had the feeling that the whole visible world flowed through Stephen, like a river, without making sense, without being appropriated, without becoming part of him in the least.

That though he might, in a sense, retain everything he saw, it was retained as something external, unintegrated, and never built on, connected, revised, never influencing or influenced by anything else. Autism may strike many people as so strange because it violates a fundamental rule of human selfhood—that rule says that by the time they have reached their fifth birthday, most children find it easy and natural to interpret their own experiences and to imagine the experiences of others in terms of desire, motive, goal, and purpose. They will project agential qualities onto inanimate and even imaginary objects, such as favorite toys and imaginary companions.

The idea of an ultimate maker makes good sense to a mind primed to detect agency. Religious accounts of the creation of the world hold special appeal for children at this age, an appeal that often endures, depending on the cultural support it enjoys, for the remainder of the life span. God is imagined as a purposeful agent whose own desires, goals, and beliefs are translated into motivated action. Other may reflect spiritual and religious concerns Emmons, Still others may be more idiosyncratic and reflective of family, school, neighborhood, and other social influences B.

Little, ; T. A friendly person may set out to become a star athlete, a good student, a popular chum, the teacher's pet, the class clown, a successful entrepreneur, a fashion model, an artist, a scientist, a revolutionary, a good provider, a loyal wife, or president of the United States. A less friendly person might pursue the same goals.

If the Me now consists, in part, of those goals and aspirations that I pursue, then the I cannot resist the temptation to evaluate the progress of goal pursuit. I want to be a good student. OK, how am I doing on that goal? Well, not so well: I got a low grade on my last math test, and my teacher says that my essay on German history was really bad.

I also want Jessica to like me. Yesterday, she told me that I was cute, and she kissed me. That agential project is looking real good right now, and I feel good about that.

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Pretensions are those goals that we pursue; success is what we feel when we achieve them, or at least make good progress toward achieving them. In general, young children see themselves in a positive light. They do not evaluate the self in a critical way. To answer the question, I take stock of my goals and evaluate my progress toward them.

Social comparison facilitates the evaluation. I may look around and conclude that I am doing quite well compared with others. My pretensions may be high, but social comparison suggests to me that my successes are also substantial. Or I may see that I am not doing so well, compared with others in my social environment. The sex difference persists in varying degrees across much of the rest of the life span, with the largest advantages for males typically showing up in middle and late adolescence Harter, The findings from Robins et al.

What goals do I wish to achieve in the future? Where is my life going? What do I wish to become? As Erikson suggested, questions like these gather together around the big issue of identity in adolescence and young adulthood. According to Erikson, identity development involves the young person's broadening of consciousness to encompass a wide range of life goals and the eventual narrowing of consciousness so as to focus on and commit to those goals most worth pursuing.

When it comes to identity, you can be many things, but you cannot be everything. But the thing is simply impossible. Such different characters may conceivably at the outset of life be alike possible to a man. But to make any one of them actual, the rest must more or less be suppressed. So the seeker of his truest, strongest, deepest self must review the list carefully, and pick out the one on which to stake his salvation. All other selves thereupon become unreal, but the fortunes of this self are real. Its failures are real failures, its triumphs real triumphs, carrying shame and gladness with them.

The life goals to which adolescents and young adults must eventually commit themselves fall into the broad identity categories of occupation, ideology, and relationships. Marcia launched a long and fruitful line of research examining how young adults explore these identity options and make commitments to identity goals. At any given point in adolescence or young adulthood, Marcia showed, a person can be said to exist in one of four identity statuses. Individuals operating within the status of moratorium are actively exploring various ideologic, occupational, and interpersonal possibilities for identity, but they have not yet committed themselves fully to particular identity goals.

Individuals who have passed through moratorium and finally made strong commitments to goals in the areas of occupation, ideology, and relationships operate in the status of identity achievement. In Erikson's stage model of development, the identity achievers have successfully journeyed through the fifth stage identity vs.

By contrast, young people who fail to entertain different identity options but instead simply commit to occupational, ideologic, and interpersonal roles and goals set forth for them by parents and other authority figures exist in what Marcia called the foreclosure status. In a fundamental sense, foreclosures have failed the identity challenge; the foreclosed I fails to see the need for the kind of thoroughgoing revision of the Me that constitutes true identity achievement.

In a fundamental sense, individuals at identity diffusion have not yet entered Erikson's fifth stage of development. Each possible self exists as a concretely articulated and highly personalized motivational image in the Me. I will strive to be a great litigator, winning many cases in court. I will also defend poor clients who run afoul of the system.


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I will come home in the evening to a beautiful Italian wife. We will have three children. Their names will be…. Possible selves can be both declarative and subjunctive.

Narrative identity and personal responsibility - Bates College

Not only do they specify what I hope or fear I will become, but they also spell out what I might have been. King and Hicks described lost possible selves as those images that people develop of what they might have been had things worked out differently in their lives.

In a series of intriguing studies, King and Hicks asked a divorced women to describe how their lives might have turned out otherwise had their marriages remained intact, b gays and lesbians what their lives might have been like had they been heterosexual, and c mothers of Down syndrome children what their experiences as parents might have been like had their children been born without this disability. The researchers discovered that many of the participants in these studies constructed very clear and detailed portraits of their lost possible selves.

Individuals at high levels of ego development Loevinger, tended to show the most differentiated and fully developed understanding of what might have been. Furthermore, holding a rich and detailed lost possible self at the beginning of the study predicted greater positive change upward movement in ego development 2 years later. As King and Hicks saw it, psychological maturity in adulthood involves the ability to construct a detailed and thoughtful understanding of what one's life is all about now and how life might have been different had certain contingencies prevailed.

At the same time, King and Hicks reported that life satisfaction is unrelated to the level of detail and complexity expressed in lost possible selves. Instead, the most satisfied people in their studies were those who reported that they were able to let go of their lost possible selves and focus most of their energy on current goals. The most mature I constructs a psychologically complex Me that expresses a deep understanding of what is, what will be, and what might have been. The happiest people, however, keep their focus on the direct links between who they are now and what they plan to be in the near future.

Like a strategic investment banker, the I chooses to infuse capital into those strivings, projects, and longings that promise a good return in the future. It sets them up for business in the Me, providing them with the Me's best office space and suitable resources so that they can work, grow, and prosper. Individualistic societies like the United States typically place a strong premium on goals that enhance the autonomy, achievement, and power of the individual person, over and against the group.

Personal goals should promote broader group goals. Nonetheless, interesting cultural differences in goal pursuits have been revealed. For example, goals aimed at avoiding negative states seem to be rather more common among certain cultural groups than others. By contrast, European Americans show more goals aimed at approaching positive states. Avoidance goals suggest social vigilance and caution; the I takes care to construct a Me that does and receives no harm, aimed at achieving security and social harmony.

The development of the self in adulthood reveals continuity and change. In their midlife years, many people may reassess their goal priorities. Although the kind of dramatic midlife crisis described by Levinson may not be as common as the popular press believes, longitudinal data suggest that many adults in their 40s and 50s nonetheless engage in what Stewart and Vandewater termed midlife reviews and midcourse corrections. Regrets about goals not pursued in the past may motivate significant changes in direction. The patterns whereby young adults consider identity options and make commitments to life goals may presage later patterns of continuity and change.

Josselson found that college women classified as identity achievement having explored identity options and made commitments to identity goals; Marcia, tended to move forward into midlife as pathmakers. Josselson, , p. The women who held the moratorium status in college high exploration, little commitment continued to act as searchers in their 30s and 40s. Nonetheless, most of the searchers managed to make commitments, albeit provisional, to particular occupational and interpersonal goals.

Those with foreclosed identities in college low exploration, high commitment became guardians in midlife, according to Josselson , retaining a good deal of the ideological certitude they expressed as young adults. Developmental studies of goal constructs have traced the changes in the content and structure of goals over time and changes in the ways people think about, draw upon, pursue, and relinquish goals. Research conducted in modern societies suggests that among young adults goals related to education, intimacy, friendships, and careers are likely to be especially salient.

Goals indicative of prosocial societal engagement—generativity, civic involvement, improving one's community—become more pronounced as people move into midlife and remain relatively strong for many adults into their retirement years McAdams, de St. The ways in which people manage multiple and conflicting goals may change over time. Young adults seem better able to tolerate high levels of conflict among different life goals, but midlife and older adults manage goals in ways to minimize conflict.

In trying to reconcile their goals to environmental constraints, young adults are more likely to engage in what Heckhausen and Schulz called primary control strategies , which means that they try actively to change the environment to fit their goal pursuits. Compared with younger adults, they are often better able to disengage from blocked goals and to rescale personal expectations in the face of lost goals. As adults move into and through their midlife years, they become more adept at selecting goals that offer the best chances for reward, optimizing their efforts to attain the best payoffs for their projects and strivings, and compensating for their own limitations and losses in goal pursuit Baltes, As adults move into the later years, they may become increasingly focused on how much time they have left to live.

Older adults need to scale back some of their goals and put most of their energy into those that are most immediate—mainly health, family, and immediate social ties. As the ratio of gains to losses in one's life becomes increasingly negative, individuals shift their investment of resources toward the maintenance of functioning and counteracting loss, as opposed to focusing on growth and expansion of the self. Secondary control strategies come to predominate over the more active primary strategies, as older adults recalibrate their expectations and their hopes to carry on as best they can in the face of mounting losses and relentless decline.

To be an agent is to take ownership of subjective experience and to organize behavior for the future in the service of goals. At this time in development, children come to realize that other people have minds within which are housed desires and beliefs and that other people, in turn, act on those desires and beliefs to accomplish goals in life. The same insight is applied to the self: I am an agent who possesses desires and beliefs; I determine my own future; I am my goals.

Goals specify strivings, projects, plans, and programs into which the I invests various amounts of capital. Research on different identity statuses—identity achievement, moratorium, foreclosure, and diffusion—charts the extent to which young adults explore and eventually make commitments to various life goals with respect to occupation, ideology, and other identity arenas.

Different cultures provide different guidelines regarding the content and timing of life goals. For example, goals regarding generativity and civic involvement appear to rise in importance up through midlife. Goals in early adulthood often focus on expanding the self and gaining new information, but goals in later adulthood may focus more on the emotional quality of ongoing relationships. About years ago, a peculiar new literary form emerged in Western Europe.

It was called the novel. An extended prose narrative that imaginatively depicted human experience through a connected sequence of events involving a group of persons in a specific setting, the novel became a dominant artistic expression in the 19th and 20th centuries. From Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe to Toni Morrison's Beloved , the power of the novel lay in its ability to explore subjective human experience with extraordinary breadth, depth, and authenticity. The novel conveys the vicissitudes of social performance and human agency, as it chronicles what characters do in social contexts and explores the motivational reasons—the wants, desires, fears, goals, choices, and conflicts—behind their actions.

The novel does much, much more, however. By tracking action and agency over time , the novel expresses how characters change, as well as how they remain continuous, over the course of seconds, minutes, days, years, and decades. The reader can follow the development and the decline of characters over time, whether it be a single day in the life, as in James Joyce's Ulysses , or the full course of a character's entire life, from birth to death.

In addition, many novels convey how the characters themselves experience and make sense of their own development or decline or both.

Narrative identity and personal responsibility, Linda Ethell

The modern novel asks: How do conscious selves make sense of themselves from one moment to the next and over the long haul? How do people make meaning out of their social performances and motivated projects extending over time? How do those meanings shift, evolve, and interact across the sequence of moments, episodes, chapters, and epochs that comprise a human life? The rise of the novel parallels the historic evolution of the modern self C.

Cultural modernity ushered in an expanded understanding of the self and greater expectations regarding what the I should be able to know and to express about the Me Baumeister, ; Giddens, Under the conditions of cultural modernity, the I encounters the Me as an extraordinarily complex, even baffling, project into which it must invest a tremendous amount of work.

Much of that work involves making sense out of the Me, figuring it out, trying to integrate what seem to be its multiple parts and facets into something that seems to have some modicum of meaning, purpose, and wholeness. Sacks recounts the case of a patient with a memory disorder that rendered him unable to recognize not only others but himself — unable, that is, to retain the autobiographical facts which a person constellates into a selfhood.

To compensate for this amnesiac anomaly, the man unconsciously invented countless phantasmagorical narratives about who he was and what he had done in his life, crowding the void of his identity with imagined selves and experiences he fully believed were real, were his own, far surpassing what any one person could compress into a single lifetime.

Who are you? But just as depression can be seen as melancholy in the complex clinical extreme and bipolar disorder as moodiness in the complex clinical extreme, every pathological malady of the mind is a complex clinical extreme of a core human tendency that inheres in each of our minds in tamer degrees. By magnifying basic tendencies to such extraordinary extremes, clinical cases offer a singular lens on how the ordinary mind works — and that, of course, is the great gift of Oliver Sacks, who wrests from his particular patient case studies uncommon insight into the universals of human nature.

We have, each of us, a life-story, an inner narrative — whose continuity, whose sense, is our lives.

Narrative Identity and Personal Responsibility Narrative Identity and Personal Responsibility
Narrative Identity and Personal Responsibility Narrative Identity and Personal Responsibility
Narrative Identity and Personal Responsibility Narrative Identity and Personal Responsibility
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Narrative Identity and Personal Responsibility Narrative Identity and Personal Responsibility
Narrative Identity and Personal Responsibility Narrative Identity and Personal Responsibility
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