Memory and personality: On reconstruction of the life story
Socio-statistical research tends to displace the individual as a subject of history. This essay intends to show how individuals actually perceive social changes and how social historians try to reconstruct the social reality from individual personal experiences. With an emphasis on narrative sources, this essay analyses the letters and memoirs of a woman who was afforded the opportunity to study in a program designed for worker and peasant students and acquire a profession in the post-World War II period in Hungary. Interviews with her provide us with valuable information and with a unique perspective through which to view this period.
To interpret her memoirs properly it is crucial to understand that what she writes is not only a reconstruction of her own life story but also a reconstruction of her past and present. Life stories are in themselves forms of transitions (how we have become what we are); they are objects of reconstruction that act as interlocutors between remembering and creating. From an analysis of the narrated life story of the subject it is possible to draw conclusions concerning the questions of identity. As the author asks at the very beginning of the story: Who am I and why am I so?
The author of the memoirs remembers seeking motivations for a purposeful future. Descriptions of apartments where she lived in the past represent the different chapters of her life story with which she was able to weave the events of her life into a coherent biography and give meanings to them. The “social facts” realized by the individuals can also be interpreted in a social historical context. Introducing an apartment dimension of life story could throw light on the advantages of the occupational mobility and also on how individuals perceived social change. Analysing the text of (so-called) subjective sources, personal motivations and emotions become accessible and help to document the individual reading of social mobility. But as the author states, the life strategies which social historians write on the basis of their “own knowledge” are not so much collective strategies as selections from individual life stories. Only self-reflexivity allows us to understand persons as active narrators of their own lives and helps us to know their own viewpoints.