Self Representation:
Life Narrative Studies of Identity and its Ideology


Introduction                                                        xiii

1 The Rat Man                                                     1

2  Mack and Larry                                              15

3 Moha and Mohammed                                    35

4  Structure, Antistructure, and
    Nonstructure in Personality                           45

5  Tofu and Junk Food                                      73

6  A Good Heart                                                97

7  A Diamond in the Rough                             129

8  A Structural Theory of Self-
    Representation                                            177

Select Bibliography                                         215

Index                                                               225



     "This unique contribution to the psychology of personality is the most exciting reading in the field that I have encountered in a log time. My enthusiasm about Gary Gregg's achievement is partly attributable to my surprise and delight to find him doing what I have been calling upon psychologists to do (without knowing how to do it myself), and haven't seen any of the "post-modern" critics of mainstream psychology actually doing...

     "Gary Gregg has made a substantial contribution here to a humanistic psychology of intrepretation, meaning and value -- but in a vein that can be conjoined with a scientific, explanatory psychology.  In doing so he has also made a major contribution to the methodology and theory of personality research.

M. Brewster Smith     

     Gregg's model, based on the analogy between self and tonal music, brings together a wide range of divergent perspectives.  As voices in a dialogue, the different sub-parts of the self represent the intrinsic social nature of the self in such a way that personaltiy psychologists and social psychologists find themselves on common ground...

     This is an exceptional book that represents an audacious attempt to arrive at an integrative, structural theory of the self, which builds on both classical sources and significant trends in concemorary psychology and anthropology.

Hubert Hermans    


     Based on analyzes of life-narrative texts, Self Representation develops a "structural" theory of identity as multiple but integrated by "key symbols" that can represent contradictory self-conceptions.  It proposes people fashion identities from the same kind of "generative" cognitive operations and structures found to underly tonal music, which means that self-representation takes shape as a system of structured ambiguity that makes possible the fluid shifting between alternative meanings observed in life-narratives.

     The first two chapters show the multiplicity of identity by re-analyzing famous case histories:  Freud's "Rat Man" case and the cases of "Mack" and "Larry" from the Authoritarian Personality.  The first follows Freud's description of the Rat Man as "oscillating" among "three personalities," which share the rat-money symbolism that represents his core psychological conflict, but with different meanings in each personality.  The second demonstrates multiplicity in the way both Mack and Larry shift between authoritarian and democratic stances, with Mack voicing mainly authoritarian views and Larry mainly democratic ones.  The authors also report finding that emotionally-charged "nuclear ideas" appeared to underly characteristics these men attribute to both in-groups and out-groups, but with positive features highlighted in the case of in-groups and negative features in the case of out-groups.  Chapter 3 presents a brief analysis of naming practices in rural Morocco, which shows how the shortening of full names (e.g., "Mohammed") to common or nick-names (e.g., "Moha") can organize contrasting self-presentations, within which an indiviudal also remains "the same."

     Chapter 4 shows why social psychologists'information processing-inspired models of self as hierarchies or repertoires of schemata are inadequate, because they cannot account for the shifts and reversals of meaning that point toward a "deep structure" that generates multiple "surface structures."  It introduces the analogy to tonal music, proposing that generative theories of music cognition provide much more adequte models for self-representation than the currently-popular schema and attribution models.

     Chapters 5, 6, and 7 present analyses of life-narratives I elicited in 6 to 16 hours of interviewing with each individual.   These show (1) that individuals tend to shift among two to four self-representational discourses, which define contrasting identities; (2) that these discourses appear to have a layered structure, with the contrasting discourses -- surface structures -- generated from a deep structure of emotional tensions and binary conceptual oppositions they all share; and (3) that the elementary unit of self-representation appears to be an octave relation between structurally-ambiguous "key" symbols, which establishes them as different versions of the same thing, but one as morally/psychologically superior and the other inferior.  Self-representation thus articulates a person's commitment to (in Sartrean terms) an authentic project, against temptations to evil, failure, or chaos.

     Chapter 8 summarizes the theory developed in the previous chapters, in the context of a century of investigations -- including those by William James, G.H. Mead, Erik Erikson, Adorno et al, and Victor Turner -- that find self-representation organized as an internalization of the pervailing social structure, and identity as a small set of contrasting positions an individual really or imaginally occupies within it.