Narrative’s Virtues

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Reacting to the charge that personal narratives, especially illness narratives, constitute a “blind alley” that misconstrues the essential nature of narrative by substituting a therapeutic for a sociological view of the person, this article speaks back to critics who regard narratives of suffering as privileged, romantic, and/or hyperauthentic. The author argues that this critique of personal narrative rests on an idealized and discredited theory of inquiry, a monolithic conception of ethnographic inquiry, a distinctly masculine characterization of sociology, and a veiled resistance to the moral, political, existential, and therapeutic goals of this work. Layering his responses to the critique with brief personal stories regarding the suppressed emotionality that motivates academics to oppose innovations, the author examines his own motives as well as those of the critics, concluding that multiplicity is easier to pronounce than to live and urging a commitment to a social science that can accommodate diverse desires.

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Qualitative Inquiry, v. 7, issue 2, p. 131-157