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The Narrative Construction of the Self Selfhood as a Rhizomatic Story Jasmina Sermijn Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

Patrick Devlieger Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium University of Illinois, Chicago

Gerrit Loots Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium University of Ghent, Belgium

In this article, the authors use the metaphor of the rhizome of the French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari as an experimental methodological concept to study the narrative construction of the self. By considering the self as a rhizomatic story, the authors create a story structure that not only offers a useful view on the way in which people narratively construct their selfhood but also stimulates an experiment with alternative, nontraditional presentation forms. The researcher is no longer listening from a distance to the stories of the participant and subsequently represents these stories. She or he becomes a part of the rhizome. The authors illustrate this rhizomatic approach and its research possibilities by presenting story fragments from their research. Keywords: narrative construction; self; rhizome; nontraditional presentation forms

Researcher: As I already mentioned by e-mail and phone, I’m interested in the way people who have received a medical–psychiatric diagnosis tell about themselves. So the idea is that you tell me more about yourself and your life today. I don’t have any prepared questions, so it’s really the idea that you tell about what’s important to you. Every once in a while I’ll ask a question if I haven’t understood something. Authors’ Note: We thank Charlotte for sharing her story with us. We also thank Norman K. Denzin and the reviewers of Qualitative Inquiry for their useful comments. 632

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Charlotte: OK. [laughs] OK, so where can I start. . . . Researcher: You really can start where you want to, tell about what’s important to you. Charlotte: Yeah, . . . let’s see, yeah, that’s hard. [laughs] Yeah, I just say, that’s tricky, it’s so hard to start from nothing, . . . Yeah, maybe I’ll just tell what I’m thinking right now. . . . So last year, or was it two years ago in the summer, I wasn’t happy with myself. I didn’t feel fat, but I didn’t feel good about myself and I started to eat less and less, I didn’t think I was pretty, but I still ate. But I ate less and less and then I noticed that that made me feel good and that I was so strict and imposed these rules on myself. So I did that for a year and it got worse and worse, eating less, eating nothing. It got worse and worse and then I really started to think that I was fat. I think about something else: actually I was already interested in anorexia earlier. I remember that I used to read books, novels about girls who thought they were fat, and once I gave a presentation about it. Maybe that’s the reason, what made me actually get it. I don’t know. . . . The psychologist says it’s other stuff, that it has to do with my relationship with my parents . . . but I don’t believe that. I think that maybe it comes from those books. . . . What would my parents have to do with it? . . . Yeah, I knew it wasn’t good, but I didn’t want to admit that something was wrong because I felt perfect, still not good, but I felt better and better if I ate less and so and when I went to the hospital I had to go to the psychologist every week for an hour and I really liked that. In the beginning it was so hard there . . . then my eating schedule was adjusted. I had to eat more, that was really hard, all these things I never wanted to eat. Now I don’t have problems anymore with it. Now I’m completely better. . . . I don’t know if I’m really completely better but I feel completely better, but I don’t know if I’m completely better. I feel completely better. This period’s kind of in the past. Yeah, it’s still . . . if I see other girls eating an apple for lunch, then I think, “Uh oh, they have anorexia.” I don’t want to talk with anyone about it, especially not with girls, it’s kind of being scared that others can do what I couldn’t. Now I can just . . . if I went out to eat, “Oh no, then I have to eat something again, oh no, not a school trip because then I have to eat again. Oh no,” the whole time with food and now school trips aren’t a problem and I can go on vacation again with others. There are still some of those things in my head, there are still some of those things, I want to eat healthy: no fries, I never want to eat that, no cake, that kind of thing and still with other girls I notice what they eat. Watch what I eat. I used to think about it all the time when I came home: “Oh, she ate an apple, maybe she’ll get skinnier than me.” Now it’s not like that anymore, now I think “Stupid girl.” I still notice that stuff, for instance yesterday there was a girl at school who only ate an apple for lunch. Yeah, just an apple! So now it’s all much easier, life’s a lot easier. Yeah, and otherwise . . .

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I have a lot of hobbies, especially sports, tennis and hockey, I really enjoy that and I want to do it well, just like at school. I’m in my last year and get good grades, I expect a lot from myself. . . . Wait a minute, look, this is a photo of my dog who ran away a while ago. When I was six he showed up and my dad wanted a dog and me and the others, my mom and my sisters liked the idea too.

The above story fragment is an excerpt of the first conversation I had with Charlotte1—the very first participant whom I met in the context of a research project about the way narrative selfhood is constructed.2 When I asked her to tell about herself and her life experiences, I noticed that the manner in which she was telling was different from what I implicitly had expected. I expected a coherent story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. This implicit expectation originates from the (Western) dominant traditional discourse of how a self-story should look. The traditional notion considers a story as “a linear and complete whole which is characterized by a plot, a unity which is—just like an embroidered quilt—spatially and temporally structured” (e.g., Bruner, 1986, 2002; Connelly & Clandinin, 1986, 1990; Polkinghorne, 1995; Ricoeur, 1983, 1985, 1990).3 From this viewpoint, the narrative self of a person can be seen as a traditional story which, although it is temporally variable, is characterized by the presence of a plot that turns the story (and the self) into a linear, structured whole.4 However, the story fragment that Charlotte told me (just like the rest of her tellings) about herself is neither completely coherent nor completely linearly structured around one plot. On the contrary, Charlotte rather told an amalgam of separate—sometimes contradictory—fragments of memories, feelings, events, and ideas. Although some parts of her story do share some traditional story properties, there are just as many contradictory and discontinuous story elements present as well. This experience formed the starting point for us to search for an alternative story notion, an alternative view on narrative selfhood that can offer researchers a supporting framework when listening to, interpreting, and presenting the stories that research participants tell about themselves.

Untamed Stories: Selfhood as a Postmodern Story The gap that we experienced between the traditional story notion and the manner in which Charlotte told us about herself automatically raised the following question: Are the narrative characteristics—as described in the traditional story notion—actually typical for human nature? The postmodern

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perspective that everything is a story (Currie, 1998) stems from the idea that traditional story characteristics are not inherent in stories, nor in people, but rather must be viewed as sociocultural constructs (see Butler, 1990; Linde, 1993; Maan, 1999). Numerous inter- and intracultural research projects (e.g., Carrithers, Collins, & Lukes, 1985; Foucault, 1975, 1976, 1988; Geertz, 1973; Schneebaum, 1969; Shorter, 1977) have shown that the way people view themselves and tell about themselves is not universal and that the traditional story characteristics and also the traditional story itself are no more than effects of discourse, creations that are used within certain subcultures. Postmodern narratologists hence assume that as narrative characteristics are not inherent in human nature, a universal definition of the essence of a story is impossible. Although the vagueness and lack of boundaries that are typical for the postmodern story notion make it impossible to clearly define what a story is or is not, we do find several characteristics in postmodern narrative theory (see Currie, 1998; Gibson, 2004; Herman & Vervaeck, 2005) that are considered as “typical” for postmodern stories: • No synthesis of heterogeneity (the story elements are not synthesized around a plot) • No hierarchy but rather narrative laterality (a story is a compilation of horizontal story elements) • Acceptance of the “monster” (of the entirety of elements that do not fit in a traditional story structure):5 • Monstrous time (nonlinearly organized time; e.g., story elements that are difficult to date or that conflict with the separation among past– present–future) • Monstrous causality (a lack of clear, linear cause and effect relationships) • Monstrous space (space that is constantly in motion and that lacks a fixed central point)

These characteristics clarify that the postmodern notion looks at stories through a completely different lens than does the traditional notion. Although the traditional notion emphasizes the necessity of streamlining all story elements into one complete, organized whole (like the motif of the embroidered quilt), the postmodern notion emphasizes everything that is excluded from the traditional story notion. The postmodern notion values the acceptance of everything that does not fit in a streamlined story, of the story elements that do not find a place in a traditional story structure. Just like the motif of a patchwork quilt,6 a postmodern story is characterized not by an embroidered, continuous pattern but by the juxtaposition of more or less disjunctive elements. Consequently, postmodern stories are also referred

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to as “untamed stories” or “les savages narratives” (Herman & Vervaeck, 2005, p. 114). Adopting the postmodern story notion, we could view the self as an untamed story, a story that consists of a heterogeneous collection of horizontal and sometimes “monstrous” story elements that persons tell about themselves and that are not synthesized into one coherent story from which they derive their selfhood. This vision—the narrative self as a postmodern story—is related to the postmodern idea that the self has no stable core but is multiple, multivoiced, discontinuous, and fragmented (e.g., Davies & Harré, 1990; Derrida, 1976; Gergen, 1989, 1991; Lyotard, 1979). From this viewpoint, the self is not something that is inherently given, is fixed, or has one core. On the contrary, the self can be compared with “a buzzing beehive so agile and inconsistent, we can barely keep track of it” (Rosseel, 2001, p. 127). In this “buzzing beehive” there aren’t fixed coherent and united stories but rather variable, temporary, interacting components. When we look back at Charlotte’s story fragment, we see that the postmodern story notion clearly fits better with daily narrative practice than the traditional story notion. The story that Charlotte tells about herself is not a traditional story but rather a heterogeneous collection of sometimes streamlined, sometimes untamed story elements. Considering both story notions, for the time being we can conclude that the postmodern notion creates space for alternative story structures that connect better with the daily narrative practices we come in contact with as researchers. Despite the above-mentioned characteristics, the postmodern notion of a self-story remains vague and offers little dread to narrative researchers in their labyrinth of research practices. In the rest of this article, we therefore elaborate a metaphor of the self-as-a-story, that of the narrative self as a rhizome (Deleuze & Guattari, 1976). A metaphor is “a literary device that figuratively specifies that X (a target) is Y (a source), thus providing a map of one concept to another” (Schuh & Cunningham, 2004, p. 325). But metaphors are “more than simple literary devices, they are a foundation for human thought processes” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, quoted in Schuh & Cunningham, 2004, p. 326) and “guide our views of the world and our inquiry into its characteristics” (Schuh & Cunningham, 2004, p. 325). By comparing the narrative self with a rhizomatic story, we create a vision that can help researchers to reflect on the abstract concept of narrative selfhood, on the way selfhood is narratively constructed, and on their own positions in this construction work. When we use the word reflect here, we refer to the fact that “the researcher understand that she/he is also caught up in processes of subjectification and sees simultaneously the object/subject of her/his

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gaze and the means by which the object/subject is being constituted” (the co-constructed character of the self-story and the position of the researcher herein; Davies et al., 2004, p. 361). Furthermore, we argue that the metaphor of the self as a rhizomatic story contributes to dealing with the tensions in the ambivalent practices of reflexivity that risk to slip inadvertently into constituting the very real self that transcends the constitutive power of discourse (Davies et al., 2004). Before describing the metaphor of the rhizome, its characteristics, and its usefulness to reflect on narrative selfhood, we would like to emphasize that applying this metaphor does not necessarily mean that we will remain entirely consistent with the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari. Adopting the words of Deleuze and Guattari (1976), “Thinking is experimenting!” and our application of rhizomatic thinking to narrative selfhood must be viewed as a thought experiment and not as a closed methodological or theoretical vision. This is in line with Deleuze and Guattari’s resistance to every form of totalitarian thinking and to primarily try to stimulate new forms of thinking. We are therefore looking not for the answer, the methodology, or the theory to explore narrative selfhood but rather for a new and possible perspective that can be a supporting framework in the labyrinth of narrative research practices.

The Rhizome as a Metaphor for the Narrative Construction of Selfhood A rhizome is an underground root system, a dynamic, open, decentralized network that branches out to all sides unpredictably and horizontally. A view of the whole is therefore impossible. A rhizome can take the most diverse forms: from splitting and spreading in all directions on the surface to the form of bulbs and tubers. The most important characteristic of a rhizome is that it has multiple entryways. From whichever side one enters, as soon as one is in, one is connected. There is no main entryway or starting point that leads to “the truth.” “The truth” or “the reality” does not exist within rhizomatic thinking. There are always many possible truths and realities that can all be viewed as social constructs. The existence of multiple entryways automatically implies multiplicity. With the principle of multiplicity, Deleuze and Guattari refer to the existence of a multiplicity that does not get reduced to a whole on subject or object level but rather only consists of definitions or dimensions. The notion of unity only appears when a particular dimension (e.g., a particular discourse) takes over. But such a takeover can only be

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viewed as an artificial unity in the multiplicity. Within the multiplicity, there is no clear hierarchy, structure, or order. This implies that each point of a rhizome can be connected with any other point in the rhizome (the principle of connection), and at whatever point a rhizome is ruptured or destroyed, it will always grow further according to different lines or connections (the principle of asignifying rupture). Deleuze and Guattari compare the rhizome with a map (the principle of cartography) and not with a blueprint or a tracing. Just like a map, a rhizome is open, receptive to include changes constantly. Here, we encounter the characteristic of multiple entryways: A map always has multiple entryways, all of which are equally good or equally important. With a map, one can start where one wants; no single entryway is privileged. The only thing that changes as one chooses a different entryway is the map of the rhizome itself (Deleuze & Guattari, 1976). How can this metaphor of the rhizome help researchers to reflect on the narrative construction of selfhood and their own positions in this process of construction? To explore this question, we take each of the characteristics or principles of the rhizome and apply them to narrative selfhood. We illustrate these principles using story fragments of Charlotte.

Multiple Entryways When we view selfhood as a rhizomatic story, we assume that there is no single correct point of entry that can lead the researcher to “the truth” about the selfhood of the participant. We completely let go of the illusion of “the so-called objective all-seeing eye/I” (Davies et al., 2004, p. 363) that can capture the reality, the real narrative self of someone. In contrast to the traditional story, which has only one entry and exit point (the beginning and the end), selfhood as a rhizomatic story has many possible entryways, and each entryway will lead to a temporary rendering of selfhood. This implies that there is no such thing as a fixed authentic, prediscursive self that exists independent of the speaking. To use Barthes’s words, “We give birth to ourselves in our writing” and speaking (in Davies et al., 2004, p. 365). This means that the birth of selves is coincidental with the speaking and that we speak ourselves as multiple in the multiple stories we create of ourselves. The self as a noun (stable and relatively fixed) is moved to the self as a verb, always in process, taking its shape in and through the speaking (Davies et al., 2004). Each time we speak, at the same time a new self is born, embodied in the story constructions—able to be spoken and read in multiple ways (Davies et al., 2004). So each time the researcher asks a participant to tell about herself or himself, only one or a few possible and temporal entryways

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into the rhizomatic network are taken. Which entries are taken can depend on many factors, but will, among other things, be codetermined by the audience to whom the participant is speaking (in the first place, to the researcher), the context within which the speaking takes place (the social and cultural discourse context, the research context), the research question (the way the researcher presents the research and asks questions), the positions of participant and researcher (e.g., age, gender, objectives, ideas and ideologies, etc.), and the “gaze”—both the reflecting or critical gaze of the other (in the first place, the researcher) and the controlling self-disciplining gaze (Davies et al., 2004) of the speaking participant herself or himself. Along with this, the researcher becomes part of the rhizome: “As soon as you’re in, you’re connected.” As researchers, we cannot possibly remain outside the rhizomatic story as “objective observers”: We are within the rhizomatic story as a part of the dynamic construction process. Suppose we view the narrative selfhood of Charlotte as a rhizomatic story with multiple entries. What exactly does this mean? To begin with, the principle of multiple entries implies that we assume that something like the right entry, the right question to discover Charlotte’s selfhood doesn’t exist. What would the right entryway be anyway? When something like a “true core self” doesn’t exist and when the selves of Charlotte are born and reborn each time she speaks, there cannot be only one correct entryway to selfhood. Just as the other research participants, Charlotte indicates that she doesn’t know where to start her story, Where can I start? . . . It’s so hard to start from nothing.

After a while she simply says that she’ll tell what she’s thinking at that moment, after which she enters her story with the period when she first started to eat less: So last year, or was it two years ago in the summer, I wasn’t happy with myself. I didn’t feel fat, but I didn’t feel good about myself and I started to eat less and less, I didn’t think I was pretty, but I still ate.

Why does she—or is it we?—take(s) this entry? Would she take the same entry if, in another context, she would tell someone else about herself? A bit later in the conversation, I asked her this question: Researcher: When I told you in the beginning of our conversation that you could tell about yourself, that you could tell about what’s important to

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you, you said that you found it difficult to know where you should start. Then you started to tell about the period when you started to eat less. Would you start your story there if you would tell it to someone else, for instance someone new who you meet and who asks you to tell about yourself? Charlotte: No, I would never tell that part, never that part of myself which I now told to you. No . . . I even think that I wouldn’t ever tell it to someone new who I met . . . for me it’s part of the past. I told you because I know you’re interested in it, for your research and stuff.

Charlotte’s reply clearly shows that the entry someone uses must be placed in the context within which the telling takes place. Charlotte starts her story with telling about that part of herself that she thinks is important for me, for my research. The discourse context implicitly determines the possibilities of the speaking subject. Because Charlotte knows that I’m interested in the way people who have received a diagnosis tell about themselves, she tries to constitute herself as a “good” participant, that is, a person who tells about her or his experiences of getting a psychiatric diagnosis. In other contexts, to other persons, she would probably take very different entries, construct very different stories about herself. However, this does not mean that the story Charlotte tells about herself cannot be considered as “real” or “true.” To use the words of Saukko (2000), the individual stories of persons are real and rich accounts of how they have used and been used by diverse discourses in a particular local situation. Even if the individual stories are true per se, they are only a part of a larger discursive panorama. (p. 303)

Or to use the words of Davies et al. (2004), The self both is and is not a fiction, is unified and transcendent and fragmented and always in the process of being constituted, can be spoken of in realist ways and it cannot, and its voice can be claimed as authentic and there is no guarantee of authenticity. (p. 384)

Every speaking, every voice, and thus every manifestation of the self is embedded in a specific discourse context, a context that on one hand makes the speaking possible but on the other hand shapes and limits what can be said in a particular situation. Consequently, it is important that one as a researcher is aware and reflexive of the fact that the discourse context and “the gaze” (also the one of the researcher herself or himself) have an influence on the narrative construction process of selfhood.

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Multiplicity Working with the principle of multiplicity, we can view narrative selfhood as a multitude of stories that cannot get reduced to one whole by either the participant or the researcher of the story. In contrast to those working within the traditional story notion, who emphasize the need for the creation of unity within the heterogeneity or multiplicity, here the assumption is that there is not one all-inclusive, traditional story within which a subject can place all her or his self-experiences and recognize herself or himself. To the contrary, there are a multitude of possible stories, each of which, depending on the entry that is taken, leads to different and new constructions of selfhood. The “self-as-a-story” can always be told by different “I’s” with the result that the concepts of a long-term plot or necessary continuity in time and space are no longer relevant. The stories that participant and researcher co-construct thus offer no more than a fleeting glimpse of the multitude of possible stories that could be constructed. At the moment when the participant speaks about herself or himself, she or he creates a momentary, contextbounded self. Although the speaking “I” is multivoiced and always shifting, usually it will—from a human urge for structure—try to create a continuity and unity in the telling. As a consequence there exists a continual ambiguity between the multiple/always shifting I that is an effect of speaking and the I that (proceeding from the dominant traditional discourse of selfhood as an essential fixed entity that has substance independent of speaking) seeks for unity and fixity. Rhizome thinking views this unity and fixity as an illusion, as each telling is always local and temporary. Within the rhizome, “unities” can be viewed as temporary takeovers by one story construction with the result that other possible constructions at that moment (for whatever reason) are excluded. This implies that at a specific moment and in a specific context a certain construction can dominate and create the illusion for the participant and/or the researcher that this construction forms a whole and that it is the only possible, true story. But rhizome thinking always keeps at the back of the mind that this is merely an illusion because many other stories can exist alongside this one that don’t get illuminated at that moment. Viewing selfhood as a multitude does not mean that we lapse into complete chaos or fragmentation. People sometimes need structure and the idea that they are individuals who are capable of giving a coherent meaning to their own and others’ lives. This need gets satisfied by the (co-)construction of temporal, context-bound self-stories that can create the illusion of “wholeness,” “coherency,” and “clarity.” At the same time, thinking in terms of a multiplicity of story constructions makes it possible for selfhood to not be

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bound within one coherent meta-story and to see itself in all its shifting, contradictory multiplicity and fragility (Davies et al., 2004). Each entry of the rhizomatic story leads to other, sometimes contradictory, story fragments. The “self-as-story” need no longer be viewed as an embroidered quilt (a complete, organized whole) but rather as a patchwork of infinite, never-ending narrative constructions about oneself. Through time, the stitching of the patchwork quilt takes on a course that connects certain elements, providing a time-limited embroidered piece that, however, could never account for the entire self (see also Saukko, 2000). In this stitching, there is always a continual ambiguity between the multiple or always shifting I and the traditional I, that seeks for unity and continuity in its telling. The result of that is a never ending quilt of which certain parts have an embroidered motif, while other parts are patched without following an organized pattern. When we link the principle of multiplicity back to the example of Charlotte, this means first of all that we assume that Charlotte’s narrative selfhood is composed of a multitude of stories which cannot be reduced to one whole and of which we—as researchers only get a glimpse of. Even when we only look at the story fragments we used as an example, we notice that these do not form one unity but consist of a multitude of story elements, a multitude of different voices, some of which are coherent and linearly structured, while others are contradictory. Now I’m completely better I don’t know if I’m really completely better I feel completely better It’s the past for me, that period There’s still things some of those things in my head . . .

How could we reduce such shifting and contradictory elements to a whole? And imagine that one as a researcher would one way or another forcefully create a coherent whole (by imposing an hypothetical linear causality, for instance), wouldn’t this be a disservice to what Charlotte tells about herself? The fact that rhizome thinking views ‘unity’ as an illusion, doesn’t mean that Charlotte experiences the ‘unity’ and ‘coherence’ which she tries to create between certain story elements as artificial. When she tells, for instance, that she thinks that the reason or cause for ‘her anorexia’ stems from the fact that she read many books about anorexia when she was young, I remember that I used to read books, novels about girls who thought they were fat, and once I gave a presentation about it. Maybe that’s the reason, what made me actually get it. . . . I think that it comes from those books.

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She views this story construction at the moment she tells it as the truth. At that moment, there is a temporary take-over by this story construction with the result that other possible constructions are excluded. But the fact that she says a little bit later that her psychologist thinks that it could be other things, other possible connections already shows that other entryways and stories can exist which are not taken at that moment: The psychologist says it’s other stuff, that it has to do with my relationship with my parents . . . but I don’t believe that

Connection and Asignifying Rupture The principle of connection refers to the fact that the stories which people co-construct about themselves are not always structured according to logical, linear connections. The traditional ‘embroidered quilt’ (linear, ‘cause— effect’) thinking lapses and is replaced by a ‘patchwork thinking’: a thinking in terms of infinite possible connections (every line has the potential to be connected with every other line), some of which (depending on the entryways which one takes) are linked during the speaking, while many others remain unlinked. Here too we can see the ambiguity between the multiple/always shifting I and the I that seeks for coherence. However, the speaking I is always in motion; it tries to make those necessarily situated connections (temporary stitches in the quilt) that can help her or him to survive (Braidotti, 1994). When Charlotte makes the causal connection between “her anorexia” and the reading of books about girls who thought they were fat or the way her parents treat her, she makes a situated connection that can help her—however temporary—to grasp the origin of “her anorexia.” However, this creation of “coherent” connections is not always possible. When, for instance, we look back at the contradictory voices that emerge in Charlotte’s story (“now I’m completely better,” “I don’t know if I’m really completely better,” “I feel completely better,” etc.), we notice that at the moment when she speaks these voices, she is not able to connect them with logical–linear principles. The voices she struggles with at that moment cannot be integrated into a coherent statement. The principle of the asignifying rupture implies that the connections between the story elements can be “shattered” at any moment and replaced by new connections. In a rhizome, a rupture is never fatal, as new connections that create new paths always arise. We can see an example of such a rupture when we look at the following fragment, which Charlotte told 2 weeks later:

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. . . In the meantime I’ve also spoken with my psychologist about the possible reasons, the causes for my anorexia. Do you still remember . . . last time I said that I thought I got it because I started reading books about it when I was young. But in the meantime I have another idea about it. . . . I was thinking and I now I know that it didn’t come from that. Those books, that was already the beginning, already a first symptom. Now I know that it has to do with my parents, with the way they treat me. You know, I always have to do all sorts of things for them, they know everything about me, they want to control everything about me. And the anorexia, they couldn’t control that. . . . It was my way to resist them . . . something that was only mine.

This fragment from Charlotte’s story nicely shows how a certain connection can be broken and a new connection can appear to take its place. Charlotte and her psychologist co-created a new possible entryway in the rhizomatic story network to look at “her” anorexia. This example shows also the importance of discourse and the presence of the gaze of the “Other” in the construction process of selfhood. Charlotte constructs and reconstructs her selfhood in the language that is available to her and in her interactions with others: psychologists, researchers, friends, parents. The voice that she speaks is therefore never a “pure” voice; it is always a voice that is shaped by the available discourses (Saukko, 2000).

Cartography The principle of cartography implies that we can compare narrative selfhood with a dynamic map of narrations (and not with a tracing of reality), a map that is always open and always changing. The narrations someone tells about herself or himself are never complete; they form an ongoing process of co-construction and co-reconstruction. As a researcher, one can thus never have a view on the complete map of one’s participant, seeing that this map is co-constructed, multiple, and constantly changing. We can only explore several temporal regions and paths knowing that we are taking part in the exploration. Looking back on my conversations with Charlotte and everything she told me about herself, I could conclude by saying that Charlotte and I made a trip together like two adventurous nomads: We passed through and settled temporarily in certain parts of the map, other parts we only caught a glimpse of, and still others remain unknown to us. After our joint trip, our nomadic trails don’t die; they grow further according to other lines and connections.

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Rhizomatic Stories: Consequences for Presentation The way we “look” at self-stories automatically has consequences for the way we present these stories. The search for a possible presentation form is something that every narrative researcher is confronted with. One way or another, ultimately every narrative researcher must present the stories that she or he has co-created with the participant to the reading public. The form this takes varies depending on the researcher’s story vision. A traditional researcher will be inclined to put all the participant’s narratives in a traditional story that is coherent around one plot with a beginning, middle, and end. She or he will present the story from a distance (the all seeing eye/I that sees and speaks about the “truth” of the other) as if she or he herself or himself is “outside the situation being described, hidden—an unobtrusive camera—reporting, even on self activities” (Denzin, 1997, p. 224). This presentation form creates for the reader the illusion that the presented story forms a mirror of the “true” self/personality or life of the other, a mirror in which the researcher remains absent. But what about the rhizome thinker? How can she or he present the self stories and the way in which these stories are co-constructed without lapsing into realist/traditional story writing? A presentation of a rhizome on paper is impossible as such. How could one grasp a rhizome (and consequently selfhood as a rhizomatic story) on paper when one takes into account the principles of infinite entrances, multiplicity, infinite connections, resistance against ruptures, and cartography? A rhizome is never tangible as it is infinite and always changing. The moment one tries to put rhizomatic selfhood into text or book form, one automatically goes against the most important principle, that is, the principle of multiple entryways. In contrast with everything someone co-constructs about herself or himself during her or his life, a paper text or book necessarily only has one or a limited number of entryways and exits. Besides, every paper text fixes—less or more—that which is written in it; its mobility and openness are always limited. What does this mean for narrative researchers? First of all, this means that narrative researchers have to let go the idea that they can present the “complete” rhizomatic selfhood of their participants (this is impossible because a rhizome is always dynamic and never finished). Just as they can only follow one or a few possible paths in the rhizomatic story, they can only present these paths, knowing that this is merely a needle in a haystack. When one views selfhood as a rhizomatic story, as a researcher one knows that one is not presenting the participant’s true self but merely one of the many possible context-bound, co-constructed presentations of the self. The

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temporary constellation between researcher and participant creates a timelimited possibility for the self to be understood and communicated, but what results is never a pure or a true self; it is a self that uses and is used by the broader discourse context wherein it is embedded (Saukko, 2000). When we speak about “presentation” or “presenting,” one has to consider that presenting itself is a performance (Denzin, 1997), a new construction, a way of “framing reality” (Denzin, 1997, pp. 224-225) and not a pure representation of an outside reality. In any act of writing, the discursive constitutive work is at play, the “gaze” is always present (Davies et al., 2004). This implies also that we—as writerly researchers—are always present in our texts. Just like in the speaking, in the writing we give birth to our selves and the selves of others (also those of our participants!). The idea that one as a researcher cannot present the “complete” rhizomatic selfhood of one’s participant stimulates the researcher to experiment with new forms of writing. She or he has to search for writing forms that do not create the illusion of direct representability (and the absence of the researcher therein) nor of the existence of a traditional self but rather evoke the rhizomatic thinking to the reader. To evoke the rhizomatic thinking to the reader entails that one as a writerly researcher tries to bring the rhizomatic thinking with all its principles as much as possible in the written text and that she or he herself or himself becomes “a part of the writing project” (Denzin, 1997, p. 224). For example, by explicitly pointing out to the reader that the text one presents (possibly together with the participant) is but one of the many possible presentations (or entrances), one can avoid the illusory idea of the existence of a true core self that can be “objectively” captured into written words. In addition, one can also (although always to a limited extent) address the other rhizomatic principles by allowing the multitude, the nonlinear connections, the contradictions, the ruptures and new linkages (in sum, the monster!) that occur in the stories to exist as much as possible and also to explicitly present these on paper. One can do this by using poststructuralist writing techniques such as writing from different “I” voices, writing in columns, writing multiple storylines, introducing multiple entrances and exits, and so on. Also, the idea that the researcher forms a part of the construction and presentation work can be manifested in the text. The researcher is not an “objective” narrator who stands outside or above the written text, she or he is present in the writing. By visibly reflecting on her or his own positions in the writing, as a researcher she or he dismantles the illusion of direct representation and of the “detached” researcher with her or his “all seeing eye/I.”

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An example of such reflexive, rhizomatic writing we can recognize is what Denzin (1997, following Marcus, 1994) calls “messy texts.” Messy texts are reflexive texts that try to break with the representational technologies that are typical for the traditional, realist writing forms. They are reflexive because they “are aware of their own narrative apparatuses, they are sensitive to how reality is socially constructed, and they understand that writing is a way of ‘framing’ reality” (Denzin, 1997, p. 224). A messy text “announces its politics and ceaselessly interrogates the realities it invokes while folding the teller’s story into the multivoiced history that is written” (p. 225). Just like a rhizome, messy texts are “many sited, intertextual, always open ended, and resistant to theoretical holism” (p. 224). They refuse “to impose meaning on the reader” (p. 224), they “make readers work while resisting the temptation to think in terms of simplistic dichotomies; difference, not conflict is fore grounded” (p. 225). In contrast to traditional texts in which the writer remains hidden as “an unobtrusive camera,” a messy text makes “the writer a part of the writing project” (p. 224). But as Denzin points out, messy texts are more than “subjective accounts of experiences” because they “attempt to reflexively map the multiple discourses that occur in a given social space and hence they are always multivoiced” (p. 225).

A Temporary Conclusion . . . The fact that a rhizome as such cannot be presented does not mean, however, that we cannot extend rhizomatic thinking to thinking about presentation. As we have already emphasized in this article, as researchers we are automatically confronted with limitations of which we must be aware and which we must necessarily accept. We can never know the “complete” narrative selfhood of people, the “complete” map of the rhizome. And the same is true concerning presentation: We can never map the “complete” rhizomatic story from which a person derives her or his selfhood. We can only present one of the many possible context-bound, co-constructed presentations of the self. All of this does not mean however that narrative research is less interesting. To use the words of Deleuze and Guattari once again: “You can enter a rhizome wherever you like, no single entryway has the privilege. The only thing that changes depending on your choice of entryway is the map of the rhizome.” Although researcher and participant will only travel a few parts, a few landscapes of the map, these landscapes can contain much valuable information.

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At last, rhizomatic thinking and writing seem to contribute to the problem of subjectivity in reflexive research and writing. As Davies et al. (2004) stated, by turning our gaze on the researching gaze from which we investigate a phenomenon, we risk incorporating ourselves into our research as the very real selves that transcendent the constitutive power of discourse. On the other hand, it is not acceptable to write as if the author were not present at each stage of the discursive constitutive work of research, when we reject the objective I/eye of positivist research. By considering selfhood as a rhizomatic story, researchers and participants are conceived as discursive processes, taking continuously their shapes in and through speaking and writing narratives about the narratives they have just told or written, always from the continuously changing perspective of narrating after the just told. In rhizomatic thinking and writing, a fixed or meta-linguistic subject is absent. The subject—whether participant or researcher—is continuously (re)born in the perspective of the narrating after the just narrated, always turning language back on itself in a horizontally moving way, that is characterized by multiple entryways, multiple connections and asignifying ruptures.

Notes 1. The I speaking here refers to the voice of Jasmina Sermijn, the first author. Charlotte is an 18-year-old girl who was diagnosed 2 years ago as anorexic. Since the age of 16, when she was admitted to a hospital, she has been regularly supervised by doctors and a psychologist. At the time of the interview, she was in her last year of secondary school and intended to go to the university the following year. 2. This research addresses the way people who have received a medical or psychiatric diagnosis in the course of their life construct their selfhood narratively. During an initial phase in this research, five people were questioned. With questioning, we refer to multiple, regular conversations in which the participants told about themselves, their lives in general, and their experiences with psychiatry. Most of these conversations were tape-recorded and then transcribed. Charlotte was one of the participants with whom we had multiple conversations. At her request, her name has been changed in this article. 3. We refer here to the “quilt metaphor” used by Deleuze and Guattari (1987, pp. 474-500; also see Saukko, 2000). An embroidery quilt is a quilt that has a central motif (even if extremely complex) and that exists out of a continuous pattern that forms a whole. 4. We also find this idea of the narrative self as a traditional story in traditional biographic research (for an overview, see Angrosino, 1989; Bertaux, 1981; Langness & Frank, 1981; Plummer, 1983), in which the life or the self of the research participant is presented as a complete, coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end. 5. Term derived from Gibson, following Foucault and Derrida (see Herman & Vervaeck, 2005, p. 114). 6. With the metaphor of the patchwork quilt, Deleuze and Guattari (1987, pp. 474-500; also see Saukko, 2000) refer to a quilt as a never-ending work of juxtaposition of disjunctive elements. A patchwork quilt has no center, and the basic motif (the patch) is multifaced.

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Jasmina Sermijn is a systemic therapist and a doctoral student in the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Her research concerns explorative study of the interaction between psychiatric diagnoses and the construction of selfhood. Patrick Devlieger, PhD, is senior lecturer in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and visiting lecturer in the Department of Disability and Human Development of the University of Illinois at Chicago. His fields of interests are anthropology, disability studies, and ethnographic research. Gerrit Loots, PhD, is lecturer in the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and visiting lecturer at the Department of Special Needs Education of the Universiteit Gent. His fields of interests are psychotherapy and special needs education.

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The Narrative Construction of the Self - Selfhood as a Rhizomatic Story  

The Narrative Construction of the Self - Selfhood as a Rhizomatic Story

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