The Political Psychology of Personal Narrative: The Case of Barack Obama


  • I am grateful for the critical comments of Ed de St. Aubin, Regina Langhout, Kevin Lanning, Geoff Maruyama, Dan P. McAdams, Sumie Okazai, and the anonymous reviewers on earlier versions of this article. I also acknowledge the valuable insights on Obama's life story provided by students in the 2009 Culture and Identity seminar at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Phillip L. Hammack, Department of Psychology, University of California, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064 USA [e-mail:].


Guided by theories of narrative identity, racial identity development, andFreire's (1970)notion of conscientização, this paper presents an interpretive analysis of Barack Obama's personal narrative. Obama's narrative represents a progressive story of self-discovery in which he seeks to develop a configuration of identity (Erikson, 1959; Schachter, 2004) that reconciles his disparate contexts of development and the inherited legacy of racism and colonialism. A major theme of his story centers on his quest to discover an anchor for his identity in some community of shared practice. Ultimately, he settles on a distinctly cosmopolitan identity in which he can foster conversation across axes of difference both within himself and among diverse communities. I discuss the extent to which election of a candidate with this personal narrative of cosmopolitan identity reflects a shifting master narrative of identity politics within the United States, as well as implications for Obama's policy platform and governance style.