Telling a Family Culture: Storytelling, Family Identity, and Cultural Membership


  • Dena Huisman


This study examines the role of public performance of private family identity through family storytelling. Using Narrative Performance Theory (Langellier & Peterson, 2006a), stories told as part of The Library of Congress’s StoryCorps project were analyzed for how families publicly told private family stories to identify themselves as a particular family as well as a culturally appropriate family in the modern United States. Five themes of cultural identity in family stories were identified. The study found that families largely focused on positive stories that portrayed the family as pro-social and happy. Negative stories focused on how the family overcame their adversities as a group. Laughter was used to minimize face-threatening stories. The construction of the group identity was framed in such a way as to connect the family group to a larger culture that values independence, self-reliance, and cohesion as a family group. The study concludes by arguing that more work should be done to understand how public and private communication in families shape our understanding of what it means to be a family.