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Identity development in cultural context: The role of deviating from master narratives

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Journal of Personality

Published online on


Objective The great majority of research on identity and personality development has focused on individual processes of development, to the relative neglect of the cultural context of development. We employ a recently articulated framework for the examination of identity development in context, centered on the construct of master narratives, or culturally shared stories. Method Across four studies, we asked emerging and midlife adults (N = 512) to narrate personal experiences of deviations from these master narratives. Results Across three quantitative studies, we show that (a) those who elaborated their deviation experiences were more likely to be in structurally marginalized positions in society (e.g., ethnic or sexual minorities); (b) those who elaborated an empowering alternative to the master narrative were more likely to be engaged in identity processes; and (c) master narratives maintain their rigidity by the frequency of their use. In study 4, using qualitative analyses, we illustrate the rigidity of master narratives, as well as the degree to which they take shape in social and group experiences. Conclusions These studies emphasize the importance of cultural context in considering personality and identity development.