Michael Bamberg is editor of the journal Narrative Inquiry through which he supports and encourages theorizing and research into narrative from differing perspectives. In addition, he is the series editor of Studies in Narrative consisting of a series of books at the cutting edge of narrative research. Michael Bamberg has been an important figure in the promotion of a series of different genres of applied linguistic and narrative research. From his dissertation work on the acquisition of narratives by young children (Bamberg, 1987), through positioning theory (Bamberg, 1997a, 2003) and analysis of narratives (Bamberg, 2011b, 2012), to identity construction in talk-in-interaction (Bamberg & Georgakopoulou, 2008; Bamberg, 2011b, 2011c; Bamberg, De Fina, & Schiffrin, 2011), he has contributed varied strands to psychology and applied linguistics (De Fina, Schiffrin, & Bamberg, 2006; Bamberg, De Fina, & Schiffrin, 2007, 2011; Bamberg, 2011a).

Dr. Bamberg is currently interested in the narrative construction of identities in real-time social interaction, particularly with regard to three challenges that are intrinsic to the achievement of these situated identities. These are (a) the navigation between constancy and change across time, ( b) the differentiation between self and other within the interaction, and (c) the management of whether an individual’s agency takes precedence over influences from the external world (Bamberg 2011d, Bamberg, et al., 2011). In this thread of his research, he argues for the deprivileging of biographical (“big story”) approaches (Bamberg, 2006a, 2006b) in favor of a narrative practice approach that scrutinizes conversational stories (“small stories”) that are told in everyday interactions (Bamberg & bio2Georgakopoulou, 2008; Bamberg, 2011b, 2011d). The claim is that it is through the repeated telling and refashioning of these everyday stories that identities are performed, practiced, and appear preset.

A significant proportion of his work on identity construction and development has been on heterosexual boys between the ages of 10 and 15 years. He has been particularly interested in displaying how these boys talk about themselves and their concerns, for example, friends, school, and girls in their own linguistic terms (Korobov & Bamberg, 2004, 2008; Moissinac & Bamberg, 2005). His research has pointed to a shift in the boys’ perspective on girls that occurs between the ages of 10 and 12. At 10 years of age, these boys constructed rigid boundaries between themselves and girls, who were depicted as unfathomable and could not be direct objects of desire. At around 12, these boundaries begin to be dismantled and girls are talked about as friends, direct objects of desire, and even potential mates (Bamberg, 2008). It is at this time that it becomes “cool” to have a girlfriend. Dr. Bamberg’s work has also revealed that this orientation towards girls becomes more sophisticated at 15 years of age in that one must begin to tread the fine line between desire and desperation (Bamberg, 2004; Korobov & Bamberg, 2004).

Dr. Bamberg is also a proponent of a system of positioning analysis of storytelling that attempts to link the content and evaluation of story events with how people attend to each other in interactional events (Bamberg, 1997a, 2003; Bamberg & Georgakopoulou, 2008). Bamberg’s positioning system consists of three levels. The first level is concerned with how a storyteller positions the characters within the story being told. The second level of analysis examines how tellers position themselves with respect to their audience or interlocutors. The third level investigates how tellers position themselves vis-à-vis the master narratives or dominant discourses in the culture of the telling. This third level transcends the local context of the telling such that the teller is able to provide an answer to the question “Who am I?” (Bamberg, 2003, 2011c, 2011d). More recently Michael Bamberg has suggested that his system of positioning analysis should be a potent methodological tool to uncover the workings of identity construction in linguistic interaction.

Prior to the theorization of his system of positioning, Dr. Bamberg’s research focused on children’s abilities to take perspectives in narratives and to display these through the production of evaluative statements. With the support of a Spencer Fellowship, he extended this work to include children’s choice of linguistic forms and functions in emotionally charged situations (Bamberg & Damrad-Frye, 1991; Bamberg, 1997b). In doing so, his focus shifted from a primary interest in the linguistic organization of plots to a concern with how these children wanted to be understood in situations in which they were strongly personally invested. It is this work that paved the way to his current interests in identity development and identity transformation.

Michael Bamberg completed the Staatsexamen (master’s equivalent) in German linguistics and literature, education and theology at the University of Marburg, Germany, in 1975. He subsequently took a position as a German assistant in the language department of the University of York, UK, and worked part-time toward a second master’s degree. While at York, he was influenced towards a pragmatic or social practice orientation of language learning and language use by the sociolinguist Robert Le Page and the language acquisition theorist, Patrick Griffiths. He completed an MPhil with a thesis on language development in 1978 and was accepted as a student of language development into the psychology graduate program at the University of California at Berkeley.

Major influences on his work at Berkeley were Dan Slobin, Susan Ervin-Tripp, and John Gumperz, who were his dissertation advisers. In addition, he took classes with George Lakoff, Charles Fillmore, John Searle, and Jürgen Habermas. Having an early interest in metaphor and membership categorization, his mentor in the first two years was Eleanor Rosch. His interest in metaphor fed into narrative, specifically, how metaphors are used as structuring devices for larger speech units. Early work was based on a number of wordless storybooks about a frog, particularly “Frog, where are you?” (Mayer, 1969). His dissertation project (Bamberg, 1987) was further developed by his dissertation mentor Dan Slobin (together with Ruth Berman) into a large crosslinguistic project on children’s acquisition of, first, tense and aspect, and then narrative in general (Berman & Slobin, 1994).

In 1981, Michael Bamberg took a lectureship in sociology at the Free University of Berlin where he worked on Martin Kohli’s project on retirement using biographic methods. In 1985, while still working on his dissertation, he went to Shanghai, China, to teach German and learn Chinese. With his wife, Dr. Nancy Budwig, he had considered starting a large-scale language acquisition project comparing German, English, and Chinese but returned to the USA in 1986 to work at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Dr. Bamberg is at present a professor of psychology at Clark University, and just (February 2016) completed a three-year visitorship at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies as the Yunshan Chair Professor.

(From: Luke Moissinac, Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics; Published Online 5 December, 2012; DOI: 10.1002/9781405198431.wbeal0075)



Dr. Michael Bamberg
Professor of Psychology, Clark University
Frances L. Hiatt School of Psychology
950 Main St.
Worcester, MA 01610-1477


Telephone:   (508) 793-7135

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