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Identities and involutes: some reflections on narrative ethics

Studies in Symbolic Interaction

ISBN: 978-1-84663-930-2, eISBN: 978-1-84663-931-9

Publication date: 25 July 2008


This paper proposes that narrative inquiry adopt the concept of the “involute” – a passage stored in memory from reading that is later enlisted as a problem-solving device – to further the goal of understanding the identity work performed through reading and writing. Three related examples are given – one from Thomas De Quincey, the nineteenth-century essayist who coined the term and used an involute in fashioning himself as a scholar; one from Jane Addams, who used an involute from De Quincey to separate the role of the social worker from that of the literary critic; and one from the contemporary New Historicist Stephen Greenblatt, who used an involute to create a socially engaged identity for literary researchers. Considering these examples, I argue that involutes offer insights into the connections between selves and others, words and acts, past and present that should advance interdisciplinary study and advocacy of morally responsible discourse.


Hewitt, R. (2008), "Identities and involutes: some reflections on narrative ethics", Denzin, N.K. (Ed.) Studies in Symbolic Interaction (Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 30), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 105-130.



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