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Narrative, metaphor and the subjective understanding of historic identity transition

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Mairi Maclean, Professor Charles Harvey



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


This paper examines the relevance of employing an oral history method and narrative interview techniques for business historians. We explore the use of oral history interviews as a means of capturing the expression of subjective experience in narrative and metaphor. We do so by analysing interviews concerning the transition of East German identities following reunification with West Germany. Self-expression emerges as critical to the vital identity work required for social integration following transformation, metaphor providing a means of articulating deep-rooted patterns of thought. We demonstrate that employing an oral history methodology can benefit business historians by affording access to the human dimension of a research project, unlocking the subjective understanding of experience by low-power actors among the non-hegemonic classes. Hence, employing an oral history methodology provides a valuable means of countering narrative imperialism, exemplified here by the dominant West German success story grounded in Western-style individual freedom.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Maclean M, Harvey C, Stringfellow L

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Business History

Year: 2017

Volume: 59

Issue: 8

Pages: 1218-1241

Online publication date: 07/09/2016

Acceptance date: 08/08/2016

Date deposited: 11/08/2016

ISSN (print): 0007-6791

ISSN (electronic): 1743-7938

Publisher: Taylor & Francis


DOI: 10.1080/00076791.2016.1223048


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