by Hubert Hermans

As argued so far, the spatial character of the polyphonic novel leads to the supposition of a decentralized multiplicity of I-positions as authors of a variety of stories. The I moves in an imaginal space (which is intimately intertwined with physical space) from the one to the other position, creating dynamic fields in which self-negotiations, selfcontradictions and self-integrations result in a great variety of meanings (Josephs, 2000).

In Figure 1 {quotes}the self is represented as a space composed of a multiplicity of positions{/quotes}, represented by dots in two concentric circles. Internal positions, depicted by dots within the inner circle, are felt as part of myself (e.g. I as a mother, I as an ambitious worker, I as an enjoyer of life), whereas external positions, depicted by dots within the outer circle, are felt as part of the environment (e.g. my children, my colleagues, my friend John). External positions refer to people and objects in the environment that are, in the eyes of the individual, relevant from the perspective of one or more of the internal positions (e.g. my colleague Peter becomes important to me because I have an ambitious project in mind). In reverse, internal positions receive their relevance from their relation with one or more external positions (e.g. I feel a mother because I have children). In other words, internal and external positions receive their significance as emerging from their mutual transactions over time. It should be noted that all these positions (internal and external) are I-positions because they are part of a self that is intrinsically extended to the environment and responds to those domains in the environment that are perceived as ‘mine’ (e.g. my friend, my opponent, my place of birth). The large dots in Figure 1 indicate that specific internal and external positions are relevant to one another as part of a dialogical process at some particular point in time. The large dots represent the front of the system where the main activities take place. This field of activity is an arena for dialogue (Valsiner, 2000), where internal and external positions meet in processes of negotiation, cooperation, opposition, conflict, agreement and disagreement. 

The circles in Figure 1 are highly permeable, suggesting open boundaries not only between the internal and external domains of the self but also between the self and the outside world. The self is not an entity that can be described in terms of internal positions only, as if they are monological traits, but should be described in the context of other positions and groups of positions. The model doesn’t consider positions as isolated from one another.

Instead, {quotes}the individual is involved in an active process of positioning in which cooperations and competitions between positions develop in a particular situation. {/quotes}For example, my children invite me to do something together and as a father I want to join them; however, as an ambitious worker, I have some tasks to do with a colleague and this conflicts with the joint activity with my children. I solve the problem by suggesting that my friend John, who always enjoys being with my children very much, accompany them until I finish work, after which I will join them. In this example there are no internal or external positions abstracted from their mutual interactions. Rather, there is an active encountering of internal and external positions (I as a father— my children; I as an ambitious worker—my colleague; and I as an enjoyer of life—my friend) that together form a mixture of cooperative and competitive relationships. As this example suggests, a position always implies relations, that is, internal–external relations (e.g. as afather I’m invited by my children), internal relations (e.g. as a father I disagree with myself as an ambitious worker) and external relations (e.g. my children and my friend get on together quite well). Typically, a complex mixture of all of these relations is at work.

Some of the positions are represented by small dots in the circles, indicating that these positions are accessible as parts of the self (e.g. when my friend invites me for a game, the sports fanatic is aroused in me). These positions are accessible at some other point in time and they are pushed forward once there is an external position that activates them. Many positions, however, are simply outside the subjective horizon of the self and the person is simply not aware of their existence.

As possible positions, however, they may enter the self-space at some moment in time dependent on changes in the situation. For example, a child who goes to school for the first time encounters a new teacher (external position) and finds him- or herself in the new position of pupil (internal position). When, later in life, the person finds a partner and establishes a family, a variety of new external and internal positions are introduced as part of the developing self. It is assumed that some positions that are relevant in some earlier period of life may recede to the background of the system or may even disappear from the self entirely (e.g. some people lose their playfulness at a certain age). It is also possible that a particular position will return from the background of the system to the foreground later in life (e.g. an older person experiencing a growing affinity with children after an adult life of work and stress).

New people may create new positions in the self, on the supposition that they are admitted to the system. However, new positions often result from the combination of old ones. In general, the organization of positions is more relevant to processes in the self than are the workings of separate positions. Dynamic systems theorists (Kunnen & Bosma, 2000; Lewis & Ferrari, 2000) have argued that novel higherorder positions may emerge from recursive interactions among lower order positions. Particularly, when systems are unstable, these interactions give rise to positive feedback loops that strengthen novel coordinations so that previous organizational regimes are replaced.

These changes facilitate similar coordinations of positions on subsequent occasions, so that new habits become stronger and replace competing organizations. As the above examples suggest, the dots in Figure 1 should be seen as moving positions. The movement of positions and their mutual relation is dependent on cultural changes. Our present era, often labeled as postmodern, is characterized by an unprecedented intensification of the flow and flux of positions moving in and out of the selfspace within relatively short time periods. Some intriguing questions can be posed here, such as: does this flow and flux lead to an empty self (Cushman, 1990) or a saturated self (Gergen, 1991), or do they lead to a reorganization of the self in such a way that an intensified flow of positions is counteracted by an increasing need for more stable positions that guarantee a basic consistency of the self-system? Although we do not know much about such processes, it seems important that we develop theories and methods that allow us to study them.