Becoming Who We Are: Theorizing Personal Morphogensis
This research draws heavily on the recent work of the social theorist Margaret Archer which has investigated the role of reflexivity in mediating between structure and agency. Archer argues that this crucial human capacity (to reflect on ourselves in relation to our circumstances and vice versa) represents the missing link between macro and micro level social theorising. She argues that, as a result of the different uses to which the ”concept” has been put, the ”process” of reflexivity has been underexplored and undertheorised. Archer offers an account of reflexivity as ”the regular exercise of the mental ability, shared by all normal people, to consider themselves in relation to their social contexts and vice versa”. This ability manifests itself in what she terms the internal conversation, encompassing activities such as day dreaming, fantasising, reliving past events, rehearsing for future encounters, planning for future eventualities, clarifying where we stand, confirming our understandings of a situation, taking stock of our lives i.e. the conversations we have with ourselves, silently and internally, rather than with external others.
Archer speculates that at times people individuals may have more internal conversations than external ones e.g. those living alone, the isolated elderly, those performing solitary occupations or only children without close friends. Such conversations are a mundane part of our daily lives and, Archer suggests, this very ‘everyday’ quality may account for the process involved attracting such little theoretical or empirical scrutiny. Yet the process urgently requires such attention because, although much of an individual’s internal conversation may deal with trivialities, it is also the process through which individuals determine their future courses of action.
My PhD fieldwork involves a longitudinal study of 18 undergraduate students studying a variety of subjects. I distributed a survey instrument amongst 250+ first year students to collect data on different tendencies in the practice of internal conversation and select participants for my ongoing research. Since the start of their first year at university I have conducted an in depth interview with them once per term about ongoing events in their life. The notion of the internal conversation offers a powerful conceptual framework through which to understand the unfolding biographies of my participants, as well as how different sorts of factors (structural, cultural, personal) contribute to the form and content of their trajectory through both university and late adolescence. As well as offering a substantive contribution to research on youth transitions, I intend the research to contribute to other theoretical and methodological debates. Particularly those relating to the individualization thesis, the ontology of the person and the practice of qualitative longitudinal research.
Reflexivity and Therapy
I am exploring how empirical and theoretical work on the internal conversation can contribute to the practice and theory of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I argue that the enormous literature on CBT (particularly clinical data) represents a unparalleled resource to theorists of the internal conversation. Conversely I argue that the internal conversation can act powerfully as a meta-theory for CBT, providing the missing ontology of the person which would enable practitioners to better identify underlying differences in the practice of cognition, as well the differential potentials for behavioral change and stasis which characterize the mental life of different human beings.