Wednesday 1 December 2021

Gender and Narrative in Meaning-Making: An interview with Robyn Fivush

In this post, part of a series on the new journal Memory, Mind & Media, Katie Laker interviews Robyn Fivush, whose article, co-authored with Ariel Grysman, is entitled: 'Narrative and gender as mutually constituted meaning-making systems’ and is available open access.

Robyn Fivush

KL: Firstly, thank you for being part of the Memory, Mind & Media inaugural collection. Why was MMM a good fit for your paper?

RF: The two core constructs that we explore in our paper, narrative and gender, are inherently interdisciplinary and culturally mediated. No single discipline can fully define or even describe either of these constructs; they require a broad synthesis across multiple ways of knowing. And both are fully culturally mediated; both narrative and gender derive from socially and culturally saturated lenses that find expression in multiple media formats, from books to memes. 

MMM is committed to fostering conversations at the intersection of cognitive, social and cultural approaches to how memory works in the world, and so was an ideal outlet for our paper. Publishing in MMM allowed us to explore in more depth how narratives and gender are both constructed by and with cultural tools, including media, that shape how we remember and recall our personal experiences. Moreover, our arguments, while rooted in deep evolutionary, psychological and feminist theory, is speculative. 

MMM provided a space where we could bring together these theoretical threads to weave a new way of thinking about how narrative and gender co-create each other in the process of remembering our personal experiences within the framework of culturally-mediated narrative forms.

KL: Why did you and your co-author Azriel Grysman decide to focus on gender and narrative in meaning-making?

RF: The two of us, both individually and collaboratively, have been studying the relations between gender and narratives in autobiographical remembering for many years. Our work has focused on gender differences in how individuals narrate their personal experiences, with women narrating their past in more elaborated, emotional and relational ways than do men. But why we see these differences has been more elusive. 

We know that narratives are fundamental to how humans make sense and meaning of their world, and thus gender differences in these narrative expressions suggest that there may be differences in meaning-making by gender. We also know that gender is a foundational category/dimension across human history and societies. So the question of if and how gender and narratives co-construct each other emerges as critical in understanding meaning-making more broadly.

KL: What key perspectives does your article cover?

RF: Our core argument is that the very act of narrating is a gendered activity that constructs, represents and narrates gender as a primary category of human existence, and these fundamentally gendered ways of narrating then construct, define and reify gendered ways of being in the world. We argue from multiple theoretical perspectives, including evolutionary, psychological and feminist theory, that both narrative and gender are foundational to human cognition. 

From an evolutionary perspective, biologically based reproductive division of labor focused women on emotions and relationships, using narrative means to create community, and narratives that focus on emotions and relationships, in turn, reify these as gendered ways of being in the world. 

From a psychological perspective, gender may undergird the basic duality of agency and communion, themes that are expressed in personal narratives that structure meaning-making. 

Finally, from a feminist perspective, narrative that focuses on multiple perspectives through emotional and relational language, becomes a form of consciousness for women in ways that it is not for men. From this perspective, narratives construct gender as a form of voice, and gender constructs narrative as a form of double consciousness focused on the emotions, intentions and relationships of multiple participants.

KL: What future research does your article direct people towards?

RF: Moving beyond stereotypes of gender, a narrative approach provides a framework for understanding how gender is created along temporally unfolding narrative dimensions of emotion and communion, and how gender underlies narrative processing along these same dimensions, in an ongoing dialectical relation. To fully understand this process requires deep qualitative and dialectical analyses that explores how narratives unfold in everyday culturally mediated interactions.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated.