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What's in a story? Getting the best out of interviews, personal accounts and life histories Gaby Weiner January 2013.

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Presentation on theme: "What's in a story? Getting the best out of interviews, personal accounts and life histories Gaby Weiner January 2013."— Presentation transcript:

1 What's in a story? Getting the best out of interviews, personal accounts and life histories Gaby Weiner January 2013

2 Questions What to do? How useful as research method? What are strengths? What are weaknesses? 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner2

3 What to do Documentary evidence (access, photocopying/scanning) Interviews (access, video/audio recording, transcription, ethics) Diaries, memoirs, memorabilia (access, photocopying/scanning) Similar studies Wider literature review (access to journals, libraries, Internet) 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner3

4 Autobiography: definition & sources History of a particular life, written by the self; Complex interplay between the present and past life, reviewed at specific stages; Subject has ownership of voice and text Act of autobiography is in the present. Interviews Life-story telling Life histories Oral histories Letters, diaries Journals sources 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner4

5 History of a particular life, written by another Narrative structure Act of biography is in the present. Influence of BIOGRAPHER Biography: definition & sources Interviews Case-studies Life-story telling Life histories Oral histories Letters, diaries Journals sources 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner5

6 Collective biography (prosopography) Study of individuals belonging to the same field e.g. teacher educators (Erixon Arreman, 2005); Based on a comprehensive collection of data e.g. social origin, education, characteristics crucial to the field Same set of data collected for each individual; Main focus on the history and structure of the field (not the individual) (Bourdieu, Pierre, 1988: Homo academicus. Polity, Cambridge). 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner6

7 Narrative into scholarship What makes narrative into life history (the overall picture of the informant's or interviewee's life, usually gathered by means of an interview) is a second layer and further interpretation, usually by a scholarly other. Thus, the first layer is more autobiographical and the second, biographical. Goodson. Ivor & Sikes, Pat. Life History Research in Educational Settings (Buckingham: Open University Press, 2001), 16. 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner7

8 type, e.g. popular pathography – digging up dirt scholarly political/critical genre, e.g. historical literary political military educational Auto/biographical forms focus, e.g. famous people – celebrities, villains, freaks key historical actors i.e. great (white) men/women ordinary people (hitherto) invisible people (hitherto) 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner8

9 Why now as research? Growth of interest in the individual as subject Wish to humanise research Concern to acknowledge agency Attempt to know the other – e.g. social justice, feminism, multiculturalism/antiracism, dis/ability Post-structural turn – rejection of the universal Making visible the invisible Interest in why and how as much as what, when and how many Interest in relationship between individuals and social structure eeeGaby Weiner9

10 Importance of interpretation Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married. He was eighteen, she was sixteen, and I was three. (Opening to Billie Holidays autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, 1956) 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner10

11 Truth? In fact: Billie Holidays mother, Sadie Fagan, was nineteen when she was born, and her father, Clarence Holiday, was seventeen, They never did marry, never even lived together. Billie Holiday (real name Eleanor Fagan) was not born in Baltimore, as she always said, but in Philadelphia (Rose, P., 1993, The Norton Book of Womens Lives. New York: WW Norton & Co: 402) 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner11

12 Reflections - How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but – mainly - to ourselves (Julian Barnes, 2012) An autobiography is an obituary in serial form, with the last instalment missing (Crisp, 1997) A well-written life is almost as rare as a well-spent one (Carlyle, 1827) 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner12

13 Reflections + There is properly no history; only biography (Ralph Waldo Emerson) The history of the world is but the biography of great men. (Thomas Carlyle) Read no history--nothing but biography, for that is life without theory. (Benjamin Disraeli) (All quotes from nineteenth-century great men) 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner13

14 The Autobiographer I do not belong to the class whose public lives entitle them to call their autobiographies Memoirs, generally men and women who have actions on a wider public stage to record or defend, or who have lived close to great events and those who took decisions affecting them. I have not been among them. Probably my name will figure in the histories of one or two specialized fields, such as twentieth-century Marxism and historiography, and perhaps it will crop up in some books on twentieth-century British intellectual culture. Beyond that, if my name were somehow to disappear completely from sight, like my parents gravestone in the Vienna Central Cemetery, for which I vainly searched five years ago, there would be no discernible gap in the narrative of what happened in twentieth-century history, in Britain and elsewhere. Hobsbawm, Eric. Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life (London: Allen Lane, Penguin, 2002), x-xi 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner14

15 Act of auto/biography He [Bennetts father] stopped at the bed of a sad, shrunken woman with wild hair, who cringed back against the pillows. Heres your Mam, he said. And of course it was only that, by one of the casual cruelties that routine inflicts, she had on admission been bathed, her hair washed and left uncombed and uncurled, so that now it stood out around her head in a mad halo, this straight away drafting her into the ranks of the demented. Yet the change was so dramatic, the obliteration of her usual self so utter and complete, that to restore her even to an appearance of normality now seemed beyond hope. She was mad because she looked mad. Bennett, Alan. Untold Stories (London: Faber & Faber, 2005) 12. 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner15

16 Pictures as Autobiography 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner16

17 01/06/201417 Pictures as Biography 1923 1924 1928 1925 1940s 1950 1954 1963

18 Professional auto/biography 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner18

19 Pictures as biography, Harriet Martineau at 31 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner19

20 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner20 New autobiographical forms

21 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner21

22 What does auto/biography offer as research? the truth about an event or a life? a truth about an event or a life? retrospective and therefore perhaps unreliable narrative? conscious selection from experience? attempt to create unified subject? complex production of truth/fiction? Shows impact of social structure on individual? OR ??? 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner 22

23 Issues in auto/biography as research (summary) time identity memory researcher methodology multiple, fluid, constructed past, present, future fallibility, accuracy, false memory interpretation, representation, reflexivity, ethics quality of evidence, validity, reliability, rigour 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner23

24 Doing educational narrative or auto/biography Write about ones own education/life or experiences Write about someone elses education/life or experiences What do you emphasise? What do you leave out? How do you shape the story? What voice do you use? What form of evidence do you draw on? What ethics are involved? What is your key message? 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner

25 Contact details and information Email: Website: Book: Deconstructing and Reconstructing Lives: Auto/biography in Educational Settings, with Lucy Townsend, Althouse Press, 2011 01/06/2014Gaby Weiner25

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