Chapter 3. The quest for a third space

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While a narrative approach to the construction of identity opens up quite “naturally” to the question of who I am in time, i.e. to a temporal order, it is inclined to neglect the question of who I am part of, i.e. of belonging. This essay argues that the adherence to a plurality of social worlds provides the teller with options of self-positioning in his or her self-narratives. Even within the confinement of a limited story world a whole variety of self-positions is regularly evoked. Social exclusion, on the other hand, can be described in positioning theory as the experience of other positioning, of being positioned by dominant others. Other positioning endangers the possibility of narrating oneself as an agent in one’s own self-stories and consequently obstructs the process of identity construction. This raises the question how individuals manage to maintain the dynamics of self-positioning in self stories, which are largely shaped by the experience of social exclusion. To answer this question, Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopias as used by Kevin Hetherington is discussed as the conceptualization of a – real – social world, which is related to the dominant social order in an ambivalent way. Heterotopias offer the experience of a third space, beyond the binary logics of an “either-or” or “in-out” and thus allow for the development of self-positions beyond these oppositions. Two empirical examples of heterotopic self-positioning are presented. The characteristics of these narratives are discussed.


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