The inherently social nature of personal stories yields another explanation for the transformative power of literacy narratives. Through these accounts, individuals, with each telling of a story, position themselves relationally in reference to characters in the narrative or to listening audiences, transforming their experiences by locating themselves precisely and in nuanced ways within complex and dynamic social systems (cf. Bamberg, 2005; Bucholtz and Hall, 2005; Gergen and Gergen, 1988).

To help analyze this kind of relational positioning in personal narratives, Michael Bamburg (1997) offers the following questions:

  • How are the characters positioned in relation to one another within the reported events?….how characters within the story world are constructed in terms of, for example, protagonists and antagonists or as perpetrators and victims. More concretely, this type of analysis aims at the linguistic means that do the job of marking one person as, for example: (a) the agent who is in control while the action is inflicted on the other; or (b) as the central character who is helplessly at the mercy of outside (quasi “natural”) forces or who is rewarded by luck, fate, or personal qualities (such as bravery, nobility, or simply “character”).
  • How does the speaker position him- or herself to the audience?....Does the narrator attempt to instruct the listener in terms of what to do in the face of adversary conditions or does the narrator engage in making excuses for his actions and attributing blame to others?

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Identity as it is shaped from moment to moment in interaction… emerges in discourse through the temporary roles and orientations assumed by participants, such as evaluator, joke teller, or engaged listener. Such interactional positions may seem quite different from identity as conventionally understood; however, these temporary roles, no less than larger sociological and ethnographic identity categories, contribute to the formation of subjectivity and intersubjectivity in discourse.

(Bucholtz and Hall, 2005, p. 591)