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A View Of Central SA Through 20 Little Windows

Book Review

Title:               Narrating the Everyday
Edited by:       Jan K. Coetzee, Asta Rau, and Magdalena Wojciechowska
Publisher:        Sun Media
Published:       2019
Pages:              455

“All the chapters in this book reflect on the practice of using narratives to understand individual and social reality. They all reveal dimensions of the same concrete reality: contemporary society of central South Africa. We invite readers to engage with individual chapters, each of which provide a brief episode – a vignette – in a larger reality. We also invite to engage with the entire collection, through which a more detailed and clearer picture of the larger reality will emerge.

“Except for two, all the chapters originated from research in the programme, The Narrative Study of Lives”, situated in the Department of Sociology at the University of the Free State. Each chapter opens a window on an aspect of everyday life in central South Africa. Each window displays the capacity of the narrative as a methodological tool in qualitative research to open up better understandings of everyday experiences. The chapters also reflect on the epistemological journey towards unwrapping and breaking open of meaning. Narratives are one of many tools available to sociologists in their quest to understand and interpret meaning. But, when it comes to deep understanding, narratives are particularly effective in opening up more intricate levels of meaning associated with emotions, feelings and subjective experiences.

“Humans live in storytelling societies. If you want to know somebody, then you must know that person’s story. Likewise, if you want a particular group, you need to know at least the most important stories told within and about that group. When we share our stories with other groups and cultures, we get to know more about each other. The more we know about one another, the less likely we will be told unjustified stereotypes and to spread untruths. So, through our stories we discover what is true and what is meaningful in our life and also what is likely to be true and meaningful in the lives of others.

“Life histories allow us to learn about people and the way they live. We pass on our stories – our histories – from one generation to another. And in this process, we add to our ever growing narrative repertoire: our reflections of, and on, the overall reality in which we live. The contributions in this book provide broad brushstrokes of life in central South Africa. The voices and the stories in the chapters reach into and open out deep levels in the experience of “ordinary people.” In doing so, the chapters uncover new understandings of our histories and our evolving social world.’’

Reviewed by: Martin Makoni