Entitlement and empathy in personal narrative

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My review of the past thirty years of narrative scholarship returns to the work of Harvey Sacks and Erving Goffman, situated in Dell Hymes’ ethnography of communication, to examine where their interactive model for understanding narrative has taken us. Although in some disciplines, narrative research is used as empirical evidence of how people interpret their experiences, Sacks’ work points more to the ways that personal narrative destabilizes the relationship between narrative and experience. Current work focuses on narrative at its limits, including the study of fragmented, rather than coherent, selves; multiply voiced, rather than monologic, points of view; and compromised, rather than easily empathetic, relations of understanding. This work builds on, rather than departs from, research on narrative thirty years ago. In this essay, I suggest a connection between early research on entitlement and contemporary research on the ethics of narrative, and I focus in particular on the problem of empathy.


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