Peter Abbs has been exploring the nature of autobiography for some decades. At the moment he is engaged on a project examining the development of the self in western culture. Some early sections of this study have been published in The London Magazine and in Encyclopedia of Life Writing edited by Margaretta Jolly. 

The aim of the project is to understand the self in terms of three inter-related elements: 

changing philosophical conceptions,

evolving metaphors and narratives,

existential habits and regimes. 


Much of the material for analysis is autobiographical but the approach trawls widely. It draws on myth, philosophy, religion, art and ritual. It is hoped that the work, when complete, will constitute an archaeology of the western self. 

In an interview with Dr Robert Graham, Peter Abbs put the positive aspect of this ongoing study as follows:

My hope is that we may be able to house ourselves more fully in our imagination so that we can relate creatively to the historical continuum and that we feel a sense of solidarity with that, not alienation. Then we can find our own story within that larger collection of stories. In a similar way, I would hope that we can place ourselves imaginatively inside Nature and see it as part of us and us as part of it, reflecting it back at a higher level. I'm talking about the deep reclamation of historical and ecological dimensions in the arts, in education and in society at large. (The Polemics of Imagination).

Chapter from the Story of the Self (click to view):

Confessing to a Murder; The Crisis of Faith and Identity in the Nineteenth Century from the London Magazine Dec 2011/ Jan 2012


Essays relating to the story of the self

• Preface to Father and Son by Edmund Gosse, Penguin Classics, 1986.

• Essay on Autobiography in New Pelican Guide to English Literature edited by Boris Ford, Penguin, 1983

The Uses of Autobiography. Interview with Robert Graham in The Polemics of Imagination: Selected Essays on Art, Culture and Society, Skoob Books,1996


Education as Individuation: the Place of Autobiography in A is for Aesthetic, Falmer Press, 1989


The Creative Word and the Creative Life: a cultural map of autobiography from classical Greece to the postmodern crisis in Against the Flow: Education, the Arts and Postmodern Culture, Routledgefalmer, 2003

Herbert Read as Autobiographer in Herbert Read Re-assessed edited by David Goodway, Liverpool University Press, 1998

• Essays on Autobiography and Poetry, Christianity and Life Writing, Edwin Muir and Petrarch in Encyclopedia of Life Writing edited by Margaretta Jolly, Fitzroy Dearborn,2001

Prospects for the Floundering Self in the journal Organizations and People, August 2006, Vol 13 No3.