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Discourses of the soul: The negotiation of personal agency in Tzotzil Maya dream narrative

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ABSTRACT

In this article, I examine the framing of personal agency in Tzotzil Maya dream narrative. Drawing on contemporary linguistic, psychodynamic, and phenomenological approaches, I focus on the lexical and semantic resources typical of highland Maya dream talk, illustrating the way these resources can be used to pragmatically negotiate questions of volition and authorial responsibility in relation to dream experience. By locating experience at a distance from the speaker, this framing provides an expressive resource for managing—mitigating, diffusing, or even disclaiming—agentic responsibility for described events or experiences, particularly those with significant implications for social status or self-definition. I close with reflections on the interpretive potential of an integrative “cultural psychodynamic” approach, one that draws on discourse-analytic, ethnographic, and psychoanalytic methods and theories in the service of understanding complex cultural subjectivities.

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