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"What do I want for my life (我想要的到底是什么)" : a narrative study examining self-authorship in Chinese university students Wan, Xinke


Self-authorship refers to individuals’ capacity to make complex meaning of beliefs, identities, and social relationships. Self-authorship theory thus provides a holistic framework to consider young adults’ development across epistemological, intrapersonal, and interpersonal dimensions. Recent research on self-authorship not only increased representation of demographically diverse students, but also challenged the original individual-centered theory through incorporating lenses that afforded greater sociocultural relevance. My research aligned with this collective effort toward a more inclusive, socially situated, culturally responsive view of self-authorship. My research adopted narrative inquiry to explore how self-authoring was experienced and expressed in a group of Chinese undergraduate students. My study’s framework was informed by sociocultural theory, narrative constructionism, and dialogical perspectives on narrative analysis. Specifically, 12 Chinese undergraduate students were interviewed in China and Canada about their stories of personal growth in university. Participants were invited to share stories about their pivotal university experiences and how these experiences shaped their beliefs, identities, and social relationships and actions. Dialogical narrative analysis was performed to develop a narrative typology of self-authoring for the Chinese students. Three signature narrative types were elaborated in the typology. They are passion narrative (i.e., participants developed their inner voices by pursuing their passion), resistance narrative (i.e., participants developed deep forms of self-consciousness through resisting uncomfortable situations), and competence narrative (i.e., participants sought a lifepath to fulfill their need to be successful). Under each narrative type, individual narrative trajectories were further specified to capture variations among the participants’ self-authoring processes. These variations reflected how participants’ personal characteristics and their situated context shaped their distinct processes toward self-authorship. The novel insights produced by the narrative typology contributed to a more situated, holistic, and diversified understanding of self-authorship. As the first study to introduce a Chinese student sample, a sociocultural framework, and dialogical methods to self-authorship literature, my study not only generated complex understandings of self-authoring processes in culturally diverse students, but also offered methodological implications for future research in different sociocultural contexts. Finally, my study offered important questions for rethinking practices to foster students’ self-authorship in higher education.

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