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She regards personal identity as consisting not only of how people view themselves but also of how others view them. These perceptions combine to shape the person's field of action. If a dominant group constructs the identities of certain people through socially shared narratives that mark them as morally subnormal, those who bear the damaged identity cannot exercise their moral agency freely.
Nelson identifies two kinds of damage inflicted on identities by abusive group relations: one kind deprives individuals of important social goods, and the other deprives them of self-respect. To intervene in the production of either kind of damage, Nelson develops the counterstory, a strategy of resistance that allows the identity to be narratively repaired and so restores the person to full membership in the social and moral community. By attending to the power dynamics that constrict agency, Damaged Identities, Narrative Repair augments the narrative approaches of ethicists such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Martha Nussbaum, Richard Rorty, and Charles Taylor.
"The nature of identity, especially of groups such as Gypsies, mothers, nurses, and transsexuals is explored by comparing the stories these groups express of themselves against the narratives written about them."-Feminist Academic Press, July 2001 "Complete, well argued, and potentially controversial, Damaged Identities, Narrative Repair is a much-needed addition to the standard literature on the moral and metaphysical nature of personal identity."-Choice, March 2002, Vol. 39, No. 7 "Nelson reveals how the master narratives of a culture can dominate, silence, and marginalize particular social groups and how counterstories can repair the damage wrought by those oppressive narratives... This work opens up an exciting new avenue of exchange between philosophy and literary criticism."-Tod Chambers, Medical Humanities Review, Vol. 15, No. 2 "Damaged Identities, Narrative Repair is a fascinating study of the ways that narratives can oppress some groups of people, and how they can resist that oppression through creating counterstories... It has the potential to be an important part of a future research program on the way that narratives shape our lives."-Christian Perring, Dowling College, Metapsychology Online Book Reviews, October 27 2003 "This book is an important achievement; it offers a compelling argument for the social construction of the self without adopting a fatalistic tone. It offers practical strategies for liberation thereby insisting on the necessarily political nature of narrative practices of self-constitution... Nelson writes elegantly about the dialectical nature of self-constitution-how identity persists as well as finds room for transformation through engagement with, an resistance to, others. Her analysis is a strong contribution to feminist ethics and social critique. This book would be an excellent choice for use in courses on feminist philosophy, ethics, narrative, and moral psychology, as well as a companion to studies of race, class, and gender privilege."-Marjorie Jolles, University of Iowa, APA Newsletter, Spring 2004, Volume 03, Number 2 "The concept of damaged identities based on collective distinctions provides validity, not only to creating counterstories, but also to the ways they might be used and why subjugated groups organize around group characteristics (identity politics) for social change. Nelson's book is a work of moral philosophy. As such it evokes a thought provoking examination of a generalized process of identity assignment and identity repair."-Barbara Ryan, Widener University, NWSA Journal "The idea that narrative plays a crucial role in personal and social change is not news to psychotherapists or legal theorists. But few philosophers have appreciated the moral import of narrative. Thus, Damaged Identities, Narrative Repair is a welcome contribution to a sadly thin literature. In my view, anyone who wants to understand processes of social critique and transformation will need to read Hilde Nelson's insightful book."-Diana Tietjens Meyers, University of Connecticut "Thoughtful, persuasively argued and witty, this important book analyzes powerful assaults on group identities, then proposes strategies of resistance and repair. A sustained, original, political development of narrative approaches to ethics and moral psychology."-Sara Ruddick, author of Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace