Figurative Dream Analysis and U.S. Traveling Identities



Abstract Many psychologists and anthropologists argue that dreams depict people's sense of self. Here I offer a method of interpreting dream collections that regards major dream figures as alluding to cultural self-models—"figurative analysis." In figurative analysis, an ethnographer reviews a dream collection for figures that are salient, ambiguous, and of major significance in the culture. Ambiguity, I argue, indicates that a figure and concomitant self-model are in a moment of historical transformation and also that they are likely to be undergoing cultural work in the dreams of group members. In turn, group members' dreams reveal a range of orientations to these self-models and their vicissitudes in the psychology and lives of individuals. In spring and fall 2004, I collected over 300 dream accounts in an undergraduate university class in the United States. Cars emerged as a major figure, one characterized by ambiguity and configuring a "traveling" self-model. Through the investigation of the car self-model and related traveling identities in dreams, I illustrate figurative analysis.