The affective resonance of personal narratives : creating a deeper experience of identity, empathy and historical understanding : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Arts in Museum Studies, Massey University, Palmerston North, Aotearoa, New Zealand
As the world plunges into the depths of a modern state of ‘anti-tradition’ (Trueman, 1998), there is a pervasive fear of a future void of empathy (Manney, 2008). The latter, believed to be partially propagated by a decline in exposure to diverse narratives, can be ameliorated through the identification and dissemination of genres which generate affect and humility (Berlant, 2008).
The key question this thesis aims to address is; how do personal narratives create affective resonance which encourages the propagation of advantageous outcomes. I argue that personal narratives have the capacity to generate strong affective resonance within their recipients and tellers. Affective resonance, born from universality which create ‘intimate publics spheres’ (Berlant, 2008), has a potent ability for self-reflection and identity growth (Abrams, 2010, Sklar, 2009), empathic responses and action (Gallese & Wojciehowski, 2011; Fiske, 2008), and for developing rich multi-dimensional landscapes of historical understanding (Kosyaeva, Rowe and Wertsch, 2002).
The research is based, firstly, on a broad transdisciplinary theoretical framework which comprises literature from diverse disciplines: oral history (Thompson, 2009), literary theory (Weinstein, 2007), philosophy (Benjamin, 1936; de Certeau, 1984) and neuroscience (Gallese & Wojciehowski, 2011). Secondly, Heritage New Zealand’s storytelling website High Street Stories provides the case study through which to investigate participant responses of affect, self-reflection and historical understanding. Through synthesis and analysis of the framework, in conjunction with the case study, a rich expository illustration of personal narratives and their cache of positive outcomes is presented.
This dissertation is located in Museum Studies opening a space for the consideration of this multi-disciplinary literature and its connection to affect theory. Furthermore, as a crucial tool for museological practice, personal narratives, through their ‘germinative powers’ (Benjamin, 1936), have the propensity to impart a holistic, multi-dimensional understanding of history, rendering ordinary people as agents and subjects.