This is one of the most interesting papers I have seen in a long time. It adds to how I understand some of the rifts that are happening in our society today. It, specifically, addresses the intersection between sociology and language, which is my thing.
Here, they look carefully at the stories that working class folks in Baltimore tell and contrast them to stories that nearby middle-class folks tell. They look at the stories that the children tell and the way parents tell stories to their children and interact in shared stories. They are markedly different.
They use the Russian philosopher, Bakhtin, as the foundation of their inquiry. Someone told me I would really like him, so I bought a book, which I started. It was dense and I did not know enough about him to see the point to it. After reading this paper, I am eager to pick it up again.
One of the things I was cloudy on was his use of the term “genre.” This paper clarifies it to be more along the lines of Brodeur’s habitus or Harrison White’s style. Roughly, meaning from your perspective in a particular social world that you inhabit. Things that people do in one genre might have a different meaning in a different genre.
Here they focus on the stories that people tell and find that working-class people tell nearly three times as many stories and they are more dramatic and elaborate. The stories are usually first-person, they have a linear sequence, they have a moral, and they are easy to distinguish from the surrounding conversation.
The stories are usually first-person, they have a linear sequence, they usually have a moral, and they are easy to distinguish from the surrounding conversation.
The researchers found that the working-class folks’ stories were way better told than the middle-class folks’ stories.
There is a lot more to it, but one other thing that stood out is that people in the working-class had to be more prepared to defend their story. When mothers were talking to their children, if their children said something incorrect, they would correct it directly. I am making up this example, there are real ones in the article that are close.
“That’s a horse”
“No. it isn’t, it’s an elephant.”
A middle-class mom might say,
“That’s right, it has four legs, but see that long nose and how big it is? When they look like that we call them, ‘elephants.'”
When I read this I started to think about interacting with some people who prefer personal stories to evidence and tend to say “you’re wrong,” seemingly, without thinking about it. It may be just the discourse style that people use in their social world.
It gives me something to be on the lookout for. I am always in interested in the stories we cobble together to make sense of ourselves and others. I have looked a lot at the metaphorical structure of the realities we live in, but this gives me a new perspective.
In my experience, some people like to swap stories, and some don’t. If you start telling stories about yourself in a place where people don’t like to do that, you can come off as a bit of a bore. This article gives me a new way of how such subtle things are part of how we are constructing ourselves and others.
Working-Class Children’s Experience through the Prism of Personal Storytelling
Miller P.J. · Cho G.E. · Bracey J.R. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ill., USA
Framed within recent developments in genre theory, this paper examines personal storytelling as practiced by working-class children and their families. Although both working-class and middle-class children encounter versions of oral storytelling that embody a personal perspective, these versions privilege different slants on experience. Drawing on a program of research that spans several decades and two European American working-class communities, we attempt to characterize the working-class slant on its own terms, not simply as a departure from a middle-class standard. We conclude that the working-class slant encourages children to see that they have the right and resources to narrate their own experiences in self-dramatizing ways, but that the right to be heard and to have one’s point of view accepted cannot be taken for granted.