ASA10: The Interview - theory, practice, society

Queen's University, Belfast, 13/04/2010 – 16/04/2010

(P02)

Exploring the biographical method

Location Stranmillis Conference Hall
Date and Start Time 14 Apr, 2010 at 14:30

Convenors

Maruska Svasek (Queen's University Belfast) email
Markieta Domecka (Queen's University, Belfast) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The session aims to critically explore the biographical method and the opportunities and limitations it poses to interviewers and interviewees.

Long Abstract

The session aims to critically explore the biographical method and the opportunities and limitations it poses to interviewers and interviewees. At the beginning of autobiographical narrative interviews there is a single eliciting question that is designed to encourage the interviewee to tell the story of his/her life. The researcher does not intervene, but only provides non-committal, mostly non-verbal, responses. As the interview moves to a second stage, questions concerning one's biography will be asked, but only in relation to topics already introduced by the respondent. In the third, more probing, stage that the researcher asks about motives ('why' questions) and explicitly asks about the issues relating to his or her research. The interviews are carefully transcribed and analysed, identifying ordering principles of personal experiences, such as particular communicative schemes of presentation, cognitive figures and process structures.

We are interested in papers that discuss the following issues:

- The possibilities and constraints of the method

- Detailed analysis of particular autobiographical interviews

- Autobiographical interviews as basis for comparison

- Difficulties with cross-cultural comparisons of biographical data

- Assessing how culturally- and/or historically specific underlying assumptions of the method influence the production of data

- Combining the biographical method with other methods

- Emotional dimensions of autobiographical narration/interviewing

- Ethical issues

- Comparisons of various versions of the method

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

"When I'm speaking about my Lord, I cry": (auto)biography as a 'folk' method for the unmaking and making of persons.

Author: Joseph Webster (Queen's University Belfast)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This paper examines the performance of 'giving testimony' (the story becoming a 'born again' Christian) as not only a story of the moment of 'conversion', but also as an embodied narrative on the entire 'spiritual history' (autobiography) of the self by drawing on fieldwork among Scottish fishermen.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the performance of 'giving testimony' (the story of becoming a 'born again' Christian) as not only a story about the moment of 'conversion', but also as an embodied narrative on the entire 'spiritual history' (or autobiography) of the self by drawing on fieldwork among Scottish fishermen. By exploring the (auto)biographical interview as a site of bodily/emotional experience, I consider how the standardised act of retelling the story about how one was 'born again' speaks in interesting ways about what it means to be a certain kind of 'sincere' (Keane,2002) and 'committed' (Howell,2007) person. Equally, this kind of autobiography speaks about how the self makes sense of change through the social act of 'giving testimony' - a culturally particular account of the history of the self - by 'sharing' one's Christian experience of transformation from spiritual 'death' to spiritual 'new life'. Key to communicating the 'realness' (or sincerity) of this performative autobiography is the public expression of emotion. Where such displays of emotion are normally strictly taboo, especially within the vernacular masculinity of Scottish trawlermen, I suggest that the religious trope of 'giving testimony' allows a type of narration that acts as an inversion of this hegemonic expectation. Such interview data is interesting not (primarily) because it speaks about the (re)formation of certain types of masculinity, but because it shows how the biographical method is deployed as not only a tool of 'social research', but also as a 'folk' method for the unmaking and making of persons through embodied storytelling.

Biographical Narratives and the Europeanization of Professional Identity within the EU Institutions

Author: Tatiana Bajuk Sencar (Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU))  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This paper explores the extent to which biographical narratives and the use of the biographical method can be used to shed light on experiences of integration and shifting constructions of identity within the EU institutions.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the extent to which biographical narratives and the use of the biographical method can be used to shed light on experiences of integration and shifting constructions of identity within the EU institutions after the last two rounds of enlargement. This discussion is based on an anthropological study of the first generation of Slovenes that became employed in the EU institutions, a study that includes approximately 50, minimally-directed interviews in which interlocutors narrate their professional and life experiences. The collection of narratives using the biographical method can provide an important complement to traditional forms of anthropological fieldwork given the challenges inherent in conducting field research among social actors that are dispersed across a number of varied yet interconnected institutions. To develop this argument I will focus on the relationship between interviewer and interviewee that is created in the implementation of the biographical method and assess the extent to which such a relationship can provide the means for understanding the ground-level processes of identification and differentiation that shape the daily life of my interlocutors. More specifically, I will portray how biographical or professional narratives enable me to shed light on the ways in which my interlocutors employ overlapping and sometimes competing understandings of knowledge, expertise and professionalism acquired as important sites for identity construction in a transnational environment.

The dynamics of the autobiographical narrative interview situation

Author: Markieta Domecka (Queen's University, Belfast)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

The presentation will focus on the special dynamics between the interviewer and the interviewee in the situation of autobiographical narrative interviewing.

Long Abstract

The presentation will focus on the special dynamics between the interviewer and the interviewee in the situation of autobiographical narrative interviewing.

When a person agrees to take part in a biographical research project, after being informed about the research topic and the research method, an appointment is made. It is a situation marked by curiosity (sometimes even a bit of stress) both on the side of an interviewee, who most likely is being asked to tell the story of his/her life for the first time and on the side an interviewer, who despite the experience s/he has with the method, never knows how the interview situation will develop. In most cases, if the purpose of the research is described, the technique of autobiographical narrative interview is well explained and the role of interviewee clarified, we receive a detailed autobiographical account, made of narrative, argumentative and descriptive segments. In some cases, however, despite interviewer's best intentions and effort, the interview situation becomes very problematic. An interviewee may criticise the method as "non-scientific" or "psychoanalytical" and the request to tell one's life story may be rejected ("my childhood has nothing to do with who I am now") or misunderstood. In the presentation, the examples of both problematic and unproblematic situations will be included.

Moreover, a special attention will be given to the crucial elements of the autobiographical narrative interview, such as preamble, where the narrator tries to answer the question when life started to be his/her own unique life history and what would be its basic features, coda and pre-coda argumentation, finishing the main life story line and evaluating the overall autobiographical story and the present life situation of the interviewee (Schütze, 2008).

Multiple locations, multiple time: how to spot and analyse it in a biographical interview?

Author: Nathalie Ortar (ENTPE)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This paper explores the possibilities and constraints of the biographical interview of mobile workers experiencing a multiple time experience.

Long Abstract

During a biographical interview the interviewee recalls his/her life. All the process of the interview is there to reshape a linear story according to the linear Newtonian acceptance of time. A story has to have a beginning, childhood and an end, the actual time of the interview. By doing so extraordinary events are stressed, those which have marked a turn in the life of the interviewee during his life cycle.

The difficulty to obtain informations about a repeated time and to spot them as being meaningful during the interview becomes all the more complex when the interviewee experiences different times or has experienced different times. In the case of multilocation the interviewee is there but continues also to live a time and a life where he is not physically present. For example a mobile worker who still “lives with” his family, experience a multiple time experience. The contiguity of those times cannot be retranscript by the linearity of the biographical account based on events and facts. Time distortions, circularity and parallelism do not appear or only on the margins of the interview.

Based on biographical accounts made with French and British mobile workers as well as second home owners we will analyse the possibilities and constraints of the method due first, to the need to apprehend the life of the interviewee in different places, places the researcher does not know, secondly the various support used to help recall the different time-space the interviewee has experienced.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.