Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Over the last century America’s rampant individualism has contributed to an eroding sense of communal togetherness. As numerous sociologists have shown, a sense of community in America declines, and experiences of loneliness and absence fill its vacancy. This dissertation argues that Paul Ricoeur’s notion of narrative identity illuminates an underutilized resource that can allay the problem of community by counteracting its decay and providing a foundation for coming together. Ricoeur’s narrative theory is well-suited to deal with the problem because narratives offer diagnoses of the current situation and help direct ameliorative efforts. His theory diagnoses community in America as comprised of lonely people; it is a collection comprised of those who do not have a community. But, from the standpoint of narrativity, this is not a simple reiteration of the fact that Americans experience loneliness. The notion of narrative highlights our present loneliness and draws our attention to our current predicament. As we will see, authentic narratives are formed from raw, gross experiential resources, which are then woven together to create a new whole, a plot. Being drawn to our current predicament affords new vistas from which to direct ameliorative efforts By turning to Ricoeur’s concept of narrative, one can grow community in America by forming a community of absence, a community formed by lonely individuals through the sharing of memories of loss and absence. Like members of Alcoholics Anonymous who share memories of loss, Americans can share stories of absence to grow community in America. Turning toward Ricoeur’s concept of narrative yields a non-nostalgic understanding of cultivating community that develops from a sense of loneliness, alienation, and disconnection.
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