Multiple Identities and the Integration of Personality


  • Gary S. Gregg

    Corresponding author
    1. Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, Department of Health and Social Behavior, Harvard School of Public Health
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  • The author thanks M. Brewster Smith, Eric Knowles, and Dan McAdams for their incisive comments and suggestions on earlier drafts.

Gary S. Gregg, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.


ABSTRACT Life-history interviews show narrators to shift among multiple, often contradictory self-representations. This article outlines a model that accounts for how a relatively small set of self-symbols and metaphors can form a grammar-like system that simultaneously defines and integrates multiple identities. Drawing on generative theories from linguistics, anthropology, and music, the model proposes that this system provides a unitary deep structure that can be configured in various arrangements to yield multiple surface structures. Each “surface” identity constructs an individual's emotions and social relations–and what he or she accepts as “Me” and rejects as “not-Me”—into a distinct pattern, with identity per se appearing as a dialogic or fugue-like structure of opposed voices. Study-of-lives interviews conducted by the author in urban America and rural Morocco are used to present the model and to demonstrate the pivotal role played by multistable or “structurally ambiguous” symbols in anchoring reversible self-representations which integrate personality as a system of organized contradiction. The musical analogy is emphasized in order to build a bridge toward current research in cognitive science and toward efforts to formulate a “state integration” theory of personality development.