Narratives & Authorial Positionality

I have had this question in my head for years, but I’ve never had a space to ask it. When writing a narrative, how important is it to recognize one’s own positionality? When I say this term, I mean one’s social makeup and characteristics — As a white, cishet, middle-class man, does it really makes sense for you to try and write about the struggles of a Latinx transwoman from impoverished rural Oaxaca? Research aside, can you really embody someone whose experience is established by their otherness?

This is a heady question, and the above paragraph may not be clear. Essentially, how can you know the experience of someone who has known the world differently because of their positionality as a marginalized or oppressed person? Is it really possible to understand someone’s lived experience based on research or testimonials? And if it is possible, should we do it?

  • I find this topic fascinating. I think whoever would write this article may find useful information for this by focusing on how epistemology plays a role within the positionally of the author. (It seems implicit within the questions you are asking here.) – Matt Sautman 7 years ago
  • This sounds heavily like the theory of auteurship. In other words, does author matter? This has been discussed time and time again, however, it's still debated today. This leads me to believe this article would still have value being written. Try to take a new, interesting angle at this topic. How you will do that, I don't know. Good Luck. -Brad – Brad Hagen 7 years ago
  • This is a really interesting question. I think historically, we've seen a lot of stories of the struggles of minorities framed through the eyes of a majority person. A great example of this is "A Secret Life of Bees." Lily, the main character is patently white, and expounding on her experience as a white person infiltrating the society of black people. It's a great way to frame and tell a story but it's problematic, as well. You run the risk of using the majority person, such as Lily, to justify the experience as note-worthy. Which is all to say, this is a great topic to delve into and there are a lot of angles you can come from. – PennyL 7 years ago
  • Something else that can be addressed within this topic is the universality of human experience--that is, while we all don't have the same particular experiences, we all experience love, friendship, betrayal, uncertainty, joy, birth and death, in our own unique. Thus, though you don't share someone's specific race, gender, social position, etc., you still can enter into their experience through the emotions and experiences we share based on our shared human nature. – Allie Dawson 7 years ago
  • This is also a question that I've been mulling over for quite some time. Even though most writers can try to empathize and place themselves into people's lives which are much different from theirs, I still don't think they can fully capture their experiences. Can you really describe how it feels like to fear for your life in occasions due to being queer? Can you really write about how it's like to low-income, starving on the streets? Truthfully I think sometimes we give writers too much credit. There are examples of writers who completely miss the mark on creating authentic characters that are from marginalized groups. – seouljustice 7 years ago

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