Psychology, 2010, 1: 185-193
doi:10.4236/psych.2010.13025 Published Online August 2010 (
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
Mapping the Self with Units of Culture
Lloyd H. Robertson
Northlands College, La Ronge, Canada.
Received May 10th, 2010; revised June 9th, 2010; accepted June 11th, 2010.
This study explored a method of representing the self graphically using elemental units of culture called memes. A di-
verse sample of eleven volunteers participated in the co-construction of individual “self-maps” during a series of inter-
views over a nine month period. Two of the resultant maps are presented as exemplars. Commonalities found in all
eleven maps lend support to the notion that there are certain structures to the self that are cross-cultural. The use of
memes in mapping those structures was consid ered useful but insufficient b ecause emotive elements to the self emerg ed
from the research that could not be represented in memetic form. Suggestions are made for future research.
Keywords: Culture, Identity, Memes, Self, Self-Structure
1. Introduction
Psychologists have discussed many aspects of the self
including self-concept [1,2], self-esteem [3,4], self-actu-
alization [5,6], self-efficacy [7,8], and self-validation [9].
Eric Erikson said, “The ability to form intimate relation-
ships depends largely on having a clear sense of self”
[10]. William Bridges [11,12] tied his theory of adult
transition to changes in this “self”. Alfred Adler placed
the self at the core of “world view” [1], and Adlerians
continue to emphasize social interest, intimacy and pro-
duction in planning for self-change [13,14] Despite its
central importance to psychology, little has been done to
empirically detail and map the core concept of self. Rom
Harre [15] despaired at the difficulties inherent in such a
“The self that manages and monitors its own actions
and thoughts is never disclosed as such to the person
whose Self (sic) it is. It is protected from even the possi-
bility of being studied empirically by its very nature.
Whenever it tries to catch a glimpse of itself it must be-
come invisible to itself, since it is that very self which
would have to catch that very glimpse. It is known only
through reason. It is never presented in experience.”
William James [16] postulated the existence of an ob-
jective “me” that included physical, active, social and
psychological components coupled with a subjective “I”
that included qualities of volition, constancy and dis-
tinctness. The Jamesian “I” and “me” were seen to be
different sides of a unitary self that could at once observe
and be observed, and it has become the basis of much
research into the self [17-19]. Since the Jamesian self
includes that which may be seen to be me, and that which
Harre had difficulty seeing, it remains an encompassing
If the self is defined as a cognitive structure [20-22],
then it is necessarily a cultural construct [23-25] which
could be understood as consisting of units of culture
[26-28]. Culture, in this sense, co nsists of all the ways of
knowing, interpreting and doing that proliferate within a
given society. Dawkins’ [29] coined the term “meme”
representing elemental cultural units that exhibit attrac-
tive and repellent properties with respect to other such
units. Similar terms for such units have been proposed
from a variety of disciplines including “mnemotype”,
“idene”, “sociogene”, “concept” and “culturgen” [30],
but the term “meme” has increasingly come to predomi-
nate and is used in this paper.
Blackmore [26] suggested that the self is an interlock-
ing complex of memes, but she did not attempt to illus-
trate how this self may be structured. There has been
agreement, however, that memes include cognitive and
behavioral dimensions [31-33]. It would be reasonable to
infer that affective and connotative meanings associated
with each meme as held within the mind of the individual
would be the source of Dawkins’ [29] attractive and re-
pellent “properties,” which could then result in self-
structures that may be displayed graphically.
Thus, in this exploratory study the term “meme” re-
ferred to an elemental unit of culture that exhibits refer-
ent, connotative, affective and behavioral properties.
“Referent” refers to the dictionary-like idea, concept or
Mapping the Self with Units of Culture
definition behind a culturally relevant label or term as
understood by the individual. Such units of culture also
had to evidence connotation and affect with the effect of
prompting certain behaviors to count as memes. Rela-
tionships between memes were displayed graphically,
and the resultant self-referential structures were then
examined to confirm and extent our current understand-
ings of self.
2. Method
Participants were recruited using print advertising and
posters supplemented by presentations made to classes
and community groups in a process of purposeful ran-
dom sampling. Participants were volunteers who agreed
to talk about themselves in depth. The age range of the
eleven participants selected for this study was 24 to 59
with a median of 37.3. Eight of the participants in the
sample were resident in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and
three were resident in northern Saskatchewan, Canada.
Four participants were university students, six were em-
ployed, and one was unemployed. The sample was
equally divided by gender: five females, five males and
one transsexual. With respect to nationality, eight were
Canadian, one was Chinese, one was Russian, and one
had joint Canadian – US American citizenship. The ra-
cial composition included seven Caucasians, two people
of North American aboriginal ancestry, one Chinese, and
one person whose mother was aboriginal and father was
“white” who identified herself as simply “Canadian”.
The eleven participants were taken to represent sufficient
diversity to test the generable app licability o f th is method
of mapping the self.
Participants were given an open-ended question invit-
ing them to explain who they were in detail. Prompts
were allowed inviting elaboration . Following the qualita-
tive method advocated by Miles and Huberman [34],
self-descriptive data obtained during these initial 1.5 to
two hour interviews were transcribed, and segmented
portions were given code words by the researcher repre-
senting specific units of thought. All of the segments
with the same code were then grouped, and each resul-
tant grouping or “bin” was examined for referent, con-
notative, affective and behavioral dimensions. Bins that
exhibited all four dimensions satisfied the definition of
the term “meme” as used in this study, and the qualities
of each meme were examined for possible positive link-
ages or “attractions” with other memes. Memes that con-
tained reference to another meme in their definition or
shared one of the four dimensions were deemed to be
linked. Code words representing each meme were then
displayed graphically and lines were drawn represented
As an example of this segmenting process, a young
aboriginal (Metis) mother of three explained how be-
coming pregnant changed her: “Having kids, you have no
choice but to grow up…. The first on e fell in my lap, so I
didn’t plan the first one, he just kinda dropped in my lap;
I guess you could say.” This segment was coded with the
word “mother”. The resultant grouping of all segments
coded for “mother” exhibited the following characteris-
REFERENT: A biological fact associated with bearing
CONNOTATION: There is a maternal responsibility
to those children to shape their behavior, and to ensure
their safety and success
AFFECT: Love, caring, valuing of children
BEHAVIOR: Ensures that her children are safe, cared
for, read to, go to school, and are given toys
This woman’s belief that she was responsible for her
children’s safety led to anxiety that they might not be
safe. Her behaviours included sleeping with her baby,
waking up in regular intervals to check the baby’s
breathing, and forbidding her older children from playing
in a grove of trees next to their yard. A meme labelled
“anxious” (for anxious person) was thus linked to
By identifying and linking memes, maps for each par-
ticipant were constructed. Themes involving clusters of
memes were noted on each map. Self-maps were then
returned to individual participants for elaboration, cor-
rection and confirmation. In each case a more elaborate
second map was prepared based upon what each partici-
pant said in their second interview. These maps were
then returned to the participants in a third interview.
Only two participants suggested additions to their maps
at the third interview. Self-maps were tested for reso-
nance during the second and third interviews with reso-
nance defined as a felt experience of self-identification
with the maps as presented. Each participant had the final
say on the composition of their self-map.
3. Individual Results: The Maps of Two
Due to space limitations it was not possible to present all
participant self-maps. Two were selected for presen tation
on the basis of diversity with one representing a male
from an individualist culture and the other representing a
female from a collectivist culture. The subsequent sec-
tion includes a summary comparison of all eleven self-
3.1 The Self of an Urban Caucasian Canadian
“Brent” explained who he was in a series of remembered
narratives; moreover, he defined himself as one who re-
members. More segments (13) were coded for “remem-
berer” than any of the other 30 memes applied 119 times
to 74 segments of text transcribed from the initial inter-
view. By linking related units of culture, and by adding
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
Mapping the Self with Units of Culture 187
thematic interpretive understandings, the complex struc-
ture of interlocking memes illustrated in Figure 1emer-
ged with “rememberer” pictured as a diamond so as to
highlight its importan ce as a theme in his life. Links were
drawn connecting it with “reflective”, “animator”, “stu-
dent”, “storyteller” and “self-changer” memes, and a
thematic arrowed line was drawn to other aspects of
himself on which he reflected including: “self-aware”,
“friend”, “caring”, “family member” and “packrat”.
The numbers beside the name of each meme in Figure
1 refer to the number of segments coded for that meme
during the initial interview. Memes without numbers
were added during subsequent interviews. Memes linked
to adjoining memes shared some connotative, affective
or behavioral quality. For example, “self aware” is linked
to “storyteller” because it is through the process of telling
stories Brent became more self-aware. In addition to
linked memes, themes were generated that linked larger
portions of the self-map. Such themes included “humor-
ous/takes self lightly”, “empowered animator” and “good
person”. Themes emerged from the data and are repre-
sented in rectangle form. Broad arrows were drawn from
these themes to related memes. For example, Brent dis-
played his empowerment through his work as a broad-
caster and his capacity for self-change; therefore, an ar-
row was drawn connecting these to memes with “em-
powerment”. Similarly, the theme of taking himself
lightly was woven, behaviourally with self-depreciating
humour, into his roles as a student, teacher, friend, leader
and broadcaster.
Brent defined himself as both “rigid” and “flexible”.
Tension between these two memes is displayed with a
double headed arrow connecting the two. Similarly,
memes for “Catholic” and “environmentalist” were also
defined by Brent as in conflict. After reviewing his initial
map, Brent suggested that he consisted of three “selves:”
“self characteristics” consisting of relatively stable phy-
sical and psychological features, a feeling or emotional
self, and a self defined through activity. He said that at
any given moment, all of these “selves” would likely be
operative and that his feelings and emotions would trig-
ger other aspects of himself.
A map is necessarily a static representation, but the
self as experienced by Brent was a changing entity. For
example, Brent recounted his attempt to understand the
action of a former girlfriend who had ended their rela-
tionship af ter she saw his house. He reso lved to deal with
some aspects of his “packrat” behaviours that she found
off-putting. He saw this as evidence of a new “flexible”
self, and this flexibility was subsequently applied to how
he judged others.
The meme labelled “self-esteem” represents a belief in
the value of working on this aspect of the self through
positive self-affirmations, recorded and reviewed posi-
tive memories and positive think ing. Brent exp lained th at
he had not developed the level of self-esteem he needed
to pursue his career until he was well into adu lthood, and
he attributed his new emphasis on self-esteem to the sus-
tained intervention of a significant other who provided
him with evidence of previously unrecognized capabili-
Brent identified the theme “good person” during our
second interview while reflecting on an initial version of
his self-map. He said his motivation to understand others
flowed from a desire to continue to see himself as a good
person, and this was reflected in his “activist”, “envi-
ronmentalist”, “positive spirit”, “empathetic”, “friend”,
“caring” and “kind” memes.
Brent also added “Catholic”, “rigid”, “radio listener”
and “music” to his self-map at this interview. Although
he was born Catholic, he did not consider himself devout,
but he needed a letter from a priest so that he could ob-
tain a position as a teacher. He traced his tendency to
being rigid and uncompromising to his family of origin
which he described as “very oppressive”. Hence, a link
was drawn between “rigid” and “family member”.
Brent’s third interview resulted in the addition of just
one additional meme to his self-map, “frugal”. He said
his frugality came from his parents who were “too con-
cerned with saving.” Brent saw himself as frugal with
both time and money. He said that for 7 years he did not
have a television, and he felt good about this decision,
but the internet had now replaced the potential television
had for unprofitably occupying his time. Signs of Brent’s
frugality had (after the initial interview) been interpreted
as a function of his environmental concern for the planet,
but this new information suggested that his frugality with
respect to the purchase of possessions and the expendi-
ture of his time constituted an ethic related to his up-
bringing. Although compatible with environmental ac-
tivism, such frugality could exist independently. Thus, a
meme for frugal was added to a third version of Brent’s
self-map linked to both “family” and “environmental-
3.2 A Woman from the Interior of China
“Maomao” was a single woman in her twenties who, at
the beginning of this study, was a student at a Canadian
university. She responded to the invitation to tell the re-
searcher about herself by talking about the city in which
she was born and raised. She said she was from the mid-
dle city of the middle province of China. She mentioned
with apparent pride that this city had been the capital of
ancient China on thirteen separate occasions, and she
described several local historic and cultural attractions.
She also talked about her parents, her extended family
and each of their occupations. She went into some detail
about her elementary, middle years and university educa-
tion. She talked about her university thesis involving the
application of computer graphics to Chinese calligraphy.
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
Mapping the Self with Units of Culture
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
This led to a discussion of her grandfather who was a
famous Chinese calligrapher. She talked about the teach-
ings her grandfather gave her, and she described several
techniques of doing Chinese calligraphy. She talked
about developing an algorithm sufficient for two-layered
brush strokes on Chinese grass paper. She voiced the
hope her parents would be able to come from China to
attend her con vocat ion.
Maomao’s initial statement is summarized in some
detail because it presents what she felt a person, not of
her culture, should know to better understand her. She
felt it was important for the interviewer to know some-
thing about her city of origin. She both identified with
and had pride in that city, and this is represented in her
self-map as “territorial” representing, not possessiveness,
but identification. “Territorial” was interwoven repeat-
edly with family. Seventeen out of 82 segments were
coded for “Family person,” and this coding was linked to
“territorial” in Figure 2 as a theme as well as a meme.
More segments (19) were coded for “deference” than
“family member,” although the two were linked. The
label, “deference,” stands for a self-definition as a defer-
(7) affable
friend (1)
animator (6)
athlete (6)
(2) kind (1)
single (6)
leader (3)
bald (1)
caring (1)
Takes self
aware (2)self
good person
Active Self
Feeling Self
spirit (1)
Figure 1. Memetic map of Brent resulting from the segmentation and coding of his initial interview with changes that re-
sulted from subsequent interviews
Mapping the Self with Units of Culture 189
Love of, pride in parents and dog, background (including home city) is
a constant that will never change
angry (5)
caring (1)pet lover
family person
only child
(3) territorial
friend (3)
maker (2)
aware (1)
driven (2)
teller (1)
Active Self
Passive Self
Figure 2. Memetic map of Maomao resulting from the segmentation and coding of her initial interview with revisions from
subsequent interviews
ent person, someone who submits to the decisions of
significant others. Maomao said even small decisions,
such as what to wear, were made by her parents prior to
her leaving home. She did not like th e subject they chose
for her to study at un iversity, but she complied. Maomao
panicked during her first two days in Canada because she
had no ready access to her parents, but with the help of
her landlord she obtained a cell phone and a computer,
and the parental contact was re-established. She reported,
“I still cannot make decision, so found like before, I want
to listen to the command.” When the decision of a sig-
nificant other differs from her wishes, she feels sadness,
but when peers enforce a decision she does not like, she
feels anger.
Paradoxically, Maomao reported an ability to make
independent decisions. As an undergraduate student in
Beijing she bought a dog. Added significance accrued to
Maomao’s first recalled independent act because her fa-
ther was not fond of dogs. None-the-less, she was able to
convince her parents to accept the dog when she returned
from Beijing, and when she left for Canada she entrusted
them with the dog’s care. Maomao displayed a tendency
to be self-critical by blaming herself for the death of her
dog even though she was not in the country at the time.
She also derided herself for her difficulty in making de-
cisions, for displaying anger, and for being impatient.
Maomao displayed volition by devising a plan to go
back to her old university in China before letting her
parents know that she was returning. With this ruse, her
parents would not have an opportunity to insist that she
spend all her time in her home city. She explained, “The
thing is, I cannot ask my parents exactly what I want
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
Mapping the Self with Units of Culture
because they would not allow me to do something, and I
am old enough, I think.”
Maomao’s account suggested potential conflict be-
tween her “animator” and “deferent” memes. This ten-
sion was pictured in Figure 2 by a double-headed arrow
representing repulsion. A similar tension line is pictured
between “friend” and “self-centered,” and between “self
change” and “environmentally driven.” These lines of
tension display a conflict between her passive and active
On reviewing the self-map created from her first inter-
view, Maomao said her passive self was far more promi-
nent than her active self, and she referred to herself as a
“robot”. She suggested that the meme “environmentally
driven” should be represented centrally in her map. The
animator meme remained imbedded in Maomao’s self-
definition as she reported a capacity to act independ-
ently under certain circumstances, and she resented her
desire for direction. The possibility that such resent-
ment was a cross-cultural effect was explored, but she
said she also had this robot-like feeling before coming
to Canada.
By the second interview, Maomao was working and
had her own apartment. She had complained, during the
first interview, that the Canadian family with which she
had stayed drank alcohol too much, but she had made
some “church friends” who did not drink. Maomao said
she now considered herself to be a Christian. The
“church people” taught her to pray, and she said she
found prayer to be helpful when stressed. As a result of
this information, a new meme for “Christian” was added
to her map linked to “self-changer” and “caring”.
Maomao reviewed her revised memetic self-map ap-
proximately two months after her second interview. She
said she felt comfortable in a passive role, but she can,
with effort, be self-activated. Although she realized that
she can make decisions on her own, she said she prefers
not to do so. Being deferent allows her to do other things
because she does not have to take the time to gather all
the information she needs to make good decisions.
4. Collective Results
Self-maps for each of the eleven participants were pre-
pared and refined using the method described. Seven
participants said the maps reflected who they were at a
feeling level on the second interview. Th is point of reso-
nance was reported by ten participants by the third inter-
All eleven self-maps included elements of volition,
constancy, distinctness, and feeling. In addition, two as-
pects of the Jamesian objective self, “active” and “psy-
chological” were found in the maps of all of the partici-
pants. All participants agreed that their self changed over
time, and all related self-change to transitional events.
Three of the participants said they undertook planned
self-transitions during the course of this study.
All of the participants voiced narratives as to how they
overcame adversity in becoming who they were. They
also recalled initiating developmental changes to them-
selves. For example, eight reported changing their reli-
gious beliefs motivated by a desire to become better peo-
ple in some ways. Six of these rejected Christianity with
three becoming atheists, two embracing Aboriginal
Spirituality and one becoming a theist without attach-
ment to a recognized religion. One participant (Maomao)
was raised as an atheist but subsequently became Chris-
tian. The remaining individual (Brent) rejected Catholi-
cism, but then made a personal accommodation with it
related to obtaining employment. The remaining three
participants who did not change religious belief told sto-
ries of how they had initiated change to become better
parents and/or spouses.
Despite a propensity toward self-change, all partici-
pants reported a feeling that they were the same person
over time, although two noted that this feeling of con-
stancy could be illusory. Every participant was able to
narrate childhood experiences helping to determine who
they became, and those memories contributed to the
feeling of constancy. For example, one aboriginal par-
ticipant explained that regardless of future changes, his
memories would remind him that he is the same person
who grew up in an underprivileged neighbourhood of a
small Saskatchewan city. Nine other participants also
presented with the act of remembering developed into
either a meme or theme, and all participants engaged in
the act of remembering when explaining who they were.
The Alderian [35] self-components of work, love and
social interest were found in all self-maps. Every par-
ticipant named aspects of themselves related to work or
production, and love or intimacy. All eleven participants
engaged in activities satisfying Adler’s notion of social
interest, and six of these related their activities to a tran-
scendental purpose – the need to serve a purpose or cause
greater than themselves. Four of these six identified
themselves as theists and two identified themselves as
The self-maps of ten participants contained memes
associated with family, and six of these contained memes
indicating a connection with community. Those that in-
corporated identification with a community in their self
maps identified a formal community, as Maomo did in
identifying with a Chinese Christian community. Others,
such as a bi-sexual female whose friendship group in-
cluded males, lesbians and other bi-sexuals, created their
own informal supportive community of friends not iden-
tified as communities on their self-maps. One person
failed to incorporate eith er family or community into her
self-map, but she said that the support she had received
from her local Unitarian Church was important in her
acceptance of her transsexuality. Although a meme for
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
Mapping the Self with Units of Culture 191
“Unitarian” could have been developed, this was not how
she identified herself; however, as with o ther participants,
she had found a community of people who accep ted her.
All of the participants said there was some quality or
qualities essential to be being human, with emotions be-
ing the most often mentioned such quality. Seven par-
ticipants had human feelings or emotions represented at
the base of their self-maps, and one of these labelled this
base “the feeling of me”. The remaining four had feel-
ings represented in their self-maps as themes. One of
these (Brent) identified a group of memes he described as
his “feeling self”, but he explained that emotions perme-
ated his entire being.
5. Discussion
Memes were used to illustrate relationships between cul-
ture and interconnected units of self that comprised the
self-definitions of participants. Participant insistence on
including recognition of emotion in their self-maps, be-
yond the emotive component of individual memes, was
unanticipated. Thus, memes may be a necessary but in-
sufficient component in mapping the self. It may be that
a feeling of self, with its origins in the organism mapping
its body states, drives the creation of an autobiographical
self [36]. On the other hand, many organisms are capable
of reactive feelings based on their body states without
ever achieving self-consciousness. Therefore, the possi-
bility that the self is a culturally learned construct that
generates concomitant feelings additional to thos e gener-
ated by body states should be considered, as in the ex-
ample of Brent’s “feeling self”.
If we view the self to be a theory we construct based
on our personal experience, then such constructions are
necessarily limited to the scope of that experience and
the interpretive possibilities available to the individual.
When we attempt to examine that which is doing the
constructing, we are presented with a self-referencing
feedback loop leading to Harre’s [15] conclusion that
such a self must necessarily become invisible when it
attempts self-examination. Yet, possession of a self al-
lows one to situate one’s being in relation to others and
in relation to past events and future possibilities – prac-
tices that imply a certain level of awareness. Therefore,
the felt illusion of an unseen homunculus, existing mo-
mentarily outside of oneself to conduct this self-exami-
nation, is generated.
Feelings of volition, uniqueness and constancy may
also be generated from the logic of having a self. It is
difficult to imagine volition without an element of dis-
tinctness or individuation implying that a person, sepa-
rate from others, is carrying out a particular act. None of
the participants in this study were able to point an aspect
of their selves that exercised this volitio n and attempts to
name that which was unique or constant were met with
responses like, “the combination (of self-characteristics)
is unique”, or “I will always be good-hearted and driven
to learn”. The sense from the participants is th at they had
a feeling that they were volitional, unique and constant,
and they sought examples from the objective record that
affirmed those feelings.
Harre [37,38] said we teach children to have selves as
part of the process of languaging, especially with respect
to the teaching of indexical pronouns. This understanding
would support a relativistic view that self-attributes like
volition and uniqueness are culturally dependent. This
study gave voice to the example of Maomao who was
raised, culturally, to deny a volitional self. She reported
that she preferred to not act volitionally, but she dis-
played volition in certain contexts. Her example supports
the notion that feelings of volition, uniqueness and con-
stancy are consequences of having a self, and that while
cultures may attempt to repress these attributes they
cannot be eliminated en tirely.
The fact that each participant recalled childhood and
adult transitions involving relationships with other peo-
ple is not surprising if we view the self to be cultural
creation [23,24,39]. Such a cultural construct would be
linked to family, community and societal networks, and a
self so constructed would be dependent on those encom-
passing networks for self-validation. We know we exist
because the community surrounding us supports that ex-
istence, and our memories, encoded in cultural units pro-
vided by community and society, translate our choices
and lived experience into an objectifiable record. This
reinforces a sense of self-constancy that may resist bene-
ficial change. In the example of Brent, a “poor learner”
self-definition was maintained well into adulthood and
changed only with extra-ordinary intervention. On the
other hand, the fact that a majority of participants (8)
changed their religious beliefs seems to contradict this
assumption of self-constancy. This, in turn, may be a
function of the Canadian multicultural context that, in
effect, allows people to change their communities to re-
flect and support desired belief systems.
All participants reported feedback from others led to
changes in themselves with six reporting that their
memories served to preserve their sense of constancy
amidst change. If we view the self to be a theory of who
we are, then sufficient accumulative evidence will result
in revisions to our self-theory. Volition allows us to ex-
amine and thus improve our selves, and is evidenced by
memes showing us as animators in action. Thus, Brent
defined himself as an “empowered animator”, an active
doer in specific roles as a teacher, athlete, broadcaster
and self-changer. On the other hand, while all partici-
pants were able to point to examples of their own voli-
tion, self-efficacy may be, in Shelly Taylor’s [40] words,
“a positive self-enhancing illusio n”. Maomao’s self-depi-
ction as a programmed robo t fits with this latter interpre-
tation. Her decision to become a Christian could have
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
Mapping the Self with Units of Culture
flowed from her earlier programming where both good-
ness and action were other-defined. Without the direct
support of her family and community, she was open to
finding a substitute family and community to give moral
direction within the new (Canadian) context. Although
she preferred to not make her own decisions, she did not
consult with her parents prior to her religious conv ersion.
It is as though her self’s maintenance needs initiated an
act of volition that would not be countermanded by con-
sultation with the usual authority figures. Thus, we are
presented with the paradox of an other-determined self
acting independently to maintain this quality.
All of the participants to this study were able to re-
count childhood transitions contributing to the develop-
ment of their selves. This supports the notion the self
develops experientially from units of culture associated
with those experiences. Evolutionary change is likely
with such an entity as memes are modified, new memes
compatible with existing self-defining memes are added,
and old peripheral memes are discarded; however, fun-
damental change involving the construction of a new self
would be extremely difficult. There would be no one
internally to oversee such a construction as the existent
self that would occupy this role is itself the object of de-
In summary, all of the participants in this study exhib-
ited a similar structure of self. Self-change occurred in
the histories of all of the participants, and they were able
to detail environmental even ts that helped determine wh o
they became. The initial self was established in child-
hood and further change to that self was evolution ary.
6. Limitations
People who volunteer to talk about themselves may have
different characteristics than those who do not volunteer
to talk about themselves. They might be expected to ex-
hibit higher levels of assertiveness and self-confidence.
Such characteristics could speak to feelings of empow-
erment and the volunteer’s level of social activism. All
the participants to this study expressed an interest in, or
were engaged in, action to make the world a better place
for others. It may be that there are people who do not
have this orientation, and they may not be predisposed to
volunteer for this kind of research. Therefore, these re-
sults cannot be interpreted as universal.
The qualities of the researcher can and do affect out-
comes [41,42]. While the method used in this study at-
tempted to minimize this risk through the use of
non-directive open-ended questioning, researcher effects
on the participant sample could not be negated totally.
For example, one participant took two sessions before
she was willing to share that she was bi-sexual. Had the
researcher been more or less engaging, more or less en-
thusiastic, or more or less accepting of diversity, this
result could have varied.
Frank [43] warned, “The risk of reducing the story to a
narrative is that of losing the purpose for which people
engage in storytelling, wh ich is relationship building”. In
ordinary discourse, the storyteller is building a relation-
ship with the listener; therefore, the interaction between
teller and listener needs to be assessed with the under-
standing the story will necessarily change in some ways
depending on the social objectives of the participants in
the discourse. Although the relationship between client
and therapist or researcher involves non-ordinary dis-
course which permits the reduction of a story to a narra-
tive, people are social beings and they want to be liked,
respected and acknowledged. Thus the researcher could
not be a strictly neutral observer, but had an effect on
participant presentatio n.
7. Recommendations for Future Research
This exploratory study demons trated that the self may be
mapped in ways that resonate with persons so mapped.
Further studies are needed to determine whether the
structure of the self that emerged from this study may be
replicated and wi t h whi ch populations.
Although the self was represented from individuals
from collectivist as well as individualist cultures, this
research did not study specific cultures in a way that
would allow us to make generalizations about cultural
differences. While there may be a basic structure to the
self, the importance placed on certain aspects of that
structure and their relationship to other aspects of the self
would be expected to vary between cultures. The method
used in this research may be used in such cross-cultural
comparisons. In addition, research into ethnic, class
and gender difference within and between cultures could
benefit from this approach.
The method outlined in this paper may also be used to
inform clinical practice. None of the participants to this
study were engaged in therapy at the commencement of
this research. An examination of the selves of specific
client populations and their comparison to the structure
of the typical non-client self could potentially yield in-
sights in epistemology and treatment.
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