Narrative niche construction: Memory ecologies and distributed narrative identities

Biology and Philosophy 35 (5):1-23 (2020)
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Memories of our personal past are the building blocks of our narrative identity. So, when we depend on objects and other people to remember and construct our personal past, our narrative identity is distributed across our embodied brains and an ecology of environmental resources. This paper uses a cognitive niche construction approach to conceptualise how we engineer our memory ecology and construct our distributed narrative identities. It does so by identifying three types of niche construction processes that govern how we interact with our memory ecology, namely creating, editing, and using resources in our memory ecology. It also conceptualises how identity-relevant information in objects and (family) stories is transmitted vertically, i.e., across different generations of people. Identifying these processes allows us to better understand the cultural information trajectories that constitute our memory ecologies. Thus, what I’ll argue is that our memory ecology distributes our narrative identity and that engineering our memory ecology is a form of narrative niche construction.

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Richard Heersmink
Tilburg University


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