Introduction: ‘But who is Mrs Galinsky, Mother?’

From Nana Sikes’ stories to studying lives and careers

Authored by: Pat Sikes

The Routledge International Handbook on Narrative and Life History

Print publication date:  October  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138784291
eBook ISBN: 9781315768199
Adobe ISBN: 9781317665717


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When Ivor Goodson said that he wanted each of the part editors to write about their personal and professional involvement with narrative and auto/biography, my heart sank. I had on a number of occasions and for different purposes (eg Sikes, 2009a, 2013a, b; Sikes & Goodson, 2003) produced such accounts and, apart from being particularly mindful that I had once written critically about self-plagiarism (2009b), I wasn’t convinced that I could tell the story in a way that added anything of significance to what I’d already said. Of course, when writing about our own lives ‘we may change our interpretations and our stories as we remember or forget different details and as we assume (for whatever reasons) different perspectives and acquire new information…. Different interpretations over time are almost inevitable’ (Goodson & Sikes, 2001, pp. 43–4). I’m in no doubt about this: I actually wrote those words; and I have always been entirely in agreement with Jerome Bruner when he states that

an autobiography is not and cannot be a way of simply signifying or referring to a ‘life as lived’. I take the view that there is no such thing as a ‘life as lived’ to be referred to. On this view, a life is created or constructed by the act of autobiography. It is a way of construing experience – and of reconstruing and reconstructing it until our breath and our pen fails us. Construal and reconstrual are interpretive … Obviously, then, there is no such thing as a ‘uniquely’ true, correct or even faithful autobiography.

(Bruner, 1993, pp. 38–9) All that aside and even though it’s possible that I have reached the point where my breath and pen actually have let me down, it is the case that the basic story of how I came to, and developed my thinking around, auto/biography and narrative hasn’t changed in terms of timing and of what happened when, or with regard to ‘facts’ such as getting particular jobs, meeting particular people, attending particular conferences or coming into contact with particular ideas. In detailing these chronological events and constructing an account that, as a life historian, I think is worth giving because it locates my experiences in the methodological and epistemological zeitgeist of the times I lived through, I would have had to repeat myself, at least up until the latest (Sikes, 2013b) version of my storied academic life. Such revisiting might not be unethical but I would feel a tad uncomfortable going over the same ground yet again. Consequently I decided to take a different tack, craft a story from my life that I hadn’t written before, and offer that, followed by a number of musings about aspects of narrative and auto/biographical research, as a temporary/current reflection of where I am now, hoping that this would at least begin to offer the brief I was set. This is a messy solution but then storying lives can only ever be a messy business, however much we may do it with the intention of creating a sense (a chimera?) of coherence!

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