A Garden for Many Identities

Suzanne C. Ouellette

in Navigating Multiple Identities

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780199732074
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199933457 | DOI:
A Garden for Many Identities

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How does an urban community garden serve as a site for the embodiment and extension of stories that people can tell about their identities? How does work in the garden foster new forms of identity negotiation and dialogue both within and between gardeners, and thereby enable desired individual and collection transformation? In the spotlight is Helen, a single, middle-aged white woman gardener, but the garden is a crowded space. Her identity narratives are understood through other gardeners’ narratives, and in light of proximal and distal contexts. Evidence was collected through unstructured phenomenological interviews and life histories coupled with engaged, participant observation and archival research. It was analyzed through the lenses of an existentially, morally, and hermeneutically attuned dialogical self theory. Through her experiences of who she is in and through the garden, Helen enjoys what she narrates as more satisfying and productive dialogues between her identities, with healthier forms of self at the center of her attention, while she holds distressing identities in the background. The community garden provides the material, interpersonal, and aesthetic resources for the creation of new kinds of identity dialogues within Helen and between her and other gardeners. How the writing of this research might enhance that promise is considered. Implications for a general theory of multiple identity negotiation include the call for more attention to personality and social structure approaches and the importance of place in studies of identity, and a warning about the dangers of categories in identity research.

Keywords: identity narratives; dialogical self; art; gardens; liberation psychology; life histories

Chapter.  7381 words. 

Subjects: Social Psychology

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