Supervisor: prof Tiia Tulviste
Oponent: prof Birgit Leyendecker (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Saksamaa)
Everyone of us has a story to tell. Yet, the story is never exactly the same, but depends on whom we are telling it to and why. We can also gain new perspectives of our past due to new experience. Our story is always based on autobiographical memories. The appearance of autobiographical memories in early childhood depends on many aspects: language development, time perspective development, cognitive abilities, and reminiscing conversations with grown-ups all play a role. Conversations about past events help children place these events in time and space, conceive their importance and interpret the experience for one's self. Studies of reminiscing conversations have shown that these interactions vary in different cultural contexts. Differences in the content and structure of the conversations have been attributed to the prominence of either independence- or interdependence-orientation in one's self-construal. In the Western world where independence is valued highly, past-event conversations with children are elaborated, rich in detail, and concentrate on children's individual experience. Also, memories in adulthood are more abundant, detailed, and from an earlier age. In contrast, in Asian contexts where interdependence is valued past event reminiscing conversation are shorter, and have a more social focus. Also, people's memories in adulthood are more general and of a later age. The dissertation focuses on mother-child reminiscing conversations in three European capitals- Berlin, Tallinn, and Stockholm - and Cameroon, Africa. In general, it can be said that reminiscing conversations in Europe and Cameroon differ in the expected way: e.g. Cameroon mothers and children provide less information and concentrate on different aspects as compared to European mothers. These differences can be explained by the different orientation of the self-construal. At the same time, there is variance among the European contexts in the structure and content of reminiscing conversations. Therefore, also the historical background of the countries, traditions, attitudes towards interaction, and common interactional patterns should be considered in addition to the dimensions of the self-construal. All these aspects influence the story we construct about ourselves and how we tell it.