In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Narrative

  • Introduction
  • Series
  • Journals
  • Biological and Evolutionary Roots
  • Positioning Theory and Small Stories
  • Narrative in Developmental Psychology
  • Narrative and Political Activism
  • Narrative Approaches to Media Psychology, Advertising, and Persuasion

Psychology Narrative
Vincent W. Hevern, Ruthellen Josselson, Dan P. McAdams
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0138


The broad movement that has been variously called the discursive, cultural, or linguistic turn in the social sciences came to psychology by the mid- to late-1980s and continues with vigor to this day. A fundamental perspective emerging from this turn has been the embrace of narrative as a crucial focus in understanding human behavior and psychological functioning. Vincent W. Hevern has proposed that “[the] concern for narrative can be broadly understood as an interest in the way human beings employ story and story-like discourse or constructions as a primary strategy for achieving four essential goals: (1) construing the meaning of their ongoing experience, (2) predicting how intentional agents will act in the future, (3) negotiating social worlds, and (4) establishing personal identity for themselves and others. The heart of the narrative perspective lies generally in those operations by which temporal events are emplotted, that is, bound into vectored causal sequences by tying such events to the actions of intentional agents” (Hevern, Vincent W. Why narrative psychology can’t afford to ignore the body. Special Issue: Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Meeting of the Northeastern Evolutionary Psychology Society. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2,4: p. 218). The study of narrative has infiltrated many of the traditional sub-disciplines that have defined psychology including personality theory, developmental, social and cultural psychology, psycholinguistics, clinical and health psychology, and the psychology of women and ethnic, sexual, and minority groups. More recently, narrative concerns have been tied to both evolutionary theory and basic biological and neuro-scientific research efforts. Because of the diversity of their concerns, narratively attuned psychologists have championed new and alternative forms of research methodology to complement traditional experimental approaches. These include a variety of qualitative approaches including discourse and conversation analysis as well as psycho-biographical methods that may be unfamiliar to traditionally trained quantitative psychologists. Nonetheless, innovations in qualitative methodologies have increasingly found broad acceptance and application by social scientists including those in psychology. Consider for example, the recent emergence of the Society for Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology (SQIP) as a section of Division 5 of the American Psychological Association. Many of the founding leadership of SQIP have roots in narrative psychological research and are cited in the bibliography below.


Narrative psychology builds upon broad interdisciplinary and scholarly foundations that extend into the humanities as well as the social and natural sciences. Psychologists who come from more traditional arenas of psychological study are confronted with significant hurdles when moving toward narrative approaches: there are multiple domains of knowledge that pertain to narrative but may be utterly unfamiliar to them. At least three basic areas which narrative psychologists can explore to better understand this perspective involve (1) the work done in the humanities by narrative theorists in literature and criticism; (2) philosophical voices, such as Paul Ricoeur’s, which posit narrative as constitutive of human personhood; and (3) social scientists in psychology and related fields who offer frameworks in which narrative is fundamental to the understanding of human behavior and functioning.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.