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Making sense of life stories: life course and narrative perspectives Julia Brannen and Heather Elliott Oxford July 2014.

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Presentation on theme: "Making sense of life stories: life course and narrative perspectives Julia Brannen and Heather Elliott Oxford July 2014."— Presentation transcript:

1 Making sense of life stories: life course and narrative perspectives Julia Brannen and Heather Elliott Oxford July 2014

2 Combining two analytic approaches Analysis of data in two senses (a) Historical /biographical/ contextual analysis of lives of grandfathers who had migrated early in life (original analysis) (b) Narrative analysis of migrants’ stories of experiences of migration (secondary NOVELLA analysis) 2

3 The importance of history in the social sciences To be a member of any human community is to situate oneself with regard to one’s (its) the past, if only by rejecting it. The past is therefore a permanent dimension of human consciousness, an inevitable component of its institutions, values and other patterns of human society’ (Hobsbaum 1998 p13)

4 Mitigates current obsession with immediate ‘Impact’ Assists the process of comparison Offers opportunity to understand social change Avoids parochialism History requires us to ask why has something has persisted or changed and what the conditions made this happen Making the case for an historical lens

5 ESRC study of fatherhood across three generations including Irish born grandfathers 30 chains of grandfathers, fathers and sons Life story interview approach plus unstructured and semi structured questions Current reuse of these data in NCRM Node NOVELLA (Narratives of Varied Everyday Lives and Linked Approaches) using a narrative approach An intergenerational study of fathers


7 1926 Born and grew up in Ireland – 4 th of 8 children, father manager of feed store 1939 (J 13) Father made redundant and mother died Primary school til 14 – poor teachers and regime of fear; children took on the household work Aged 14, J left school to add to family income (father in v low paid work in local shops) J promoted to a carter – supplements family income by playing in band Older brother (in RC Church in England) pays for J’s fare to migrate 1948 J migrates to England aged 22 - finds job in steelworks 1953 aged 27 marries, couple rents a room, then a council house, become first Irish in town to buy a house Pays off mortgage in 8 years A life course and historical analysis Jeremy, Irish migrant grandfather

8 Re-use of data via NOVELLA’s Parenting Identities and Practices Project (PIP) How people tell their stories as well as what they tell Novella Secondary analysis: Narrative Analysis

9 Some narrative approaches to understanding the past... ‘.. our capacity to turn around on the past and alter the present in its light or to alter the past in light of the present.’ (Jerome Bruner, 1990, Acts of Meaning) When the over-and-done-with comes alive, when what’s been in your blind spot comes into view. (Avery Gordon, 2008, Ghostly Matters : Haunting and the Sociological Imagination ) Narrative identity construction is perpetually caught between the mimetic rendering of its unique detail and the requirement of negotiating a genre in which to render those details into a life.’ (Jens Brockenmeier, Autobiographical Time; Narrative Inquiry 10(1) ) ‘ 9

10 Starting a life story..1 10 ‘Unlike life, a story must begin somewhere, and since my memory is cluttered with beginnings I resign myself to a haphazard and arbitrary choice of one’. The Flight of Ikaros, Keith Andrews

11 Starting a life story 2… - Jeremy My name is Jeremy I was born on 4 th July 1926. I’m one of eight of a family (pause) ten of a family including my mother and father. I was born in a town in Rivertown (4 second pause) in the south of Ireland, in Munster, if that’s important. (Coughs) I went to school at a convent – convent school until I was 7. And then moved to national school (5 second pause) until I was 14. Growing up was difficult at that time because (pause) everyone (pause) there was a lot of poverty in the town where I came from.... 11

12 People were very poor at the time… But we were much better off than the people who weren’t working – there was no dole system then – it was called ‘relief’. (8 second pause ) and to get this relief you had to go before a panel of people and they questioned you about what you had – had you a spare chair? – sell it. And that was the kind of system it was, that you know if we had anything that we didn’t use in the house – sell it. And then the difficulty was to get a buyer – but people were very poor at the time. But my time in the secondary school was short, because my father became redundant – his employer died…. and my father became another member of the unemployed. (9 second pause) 12

13 A great memory of mine…. Left school, applied for the job and got it as a messenger boy, earning 10 shillings a week. (8 second pause) and a great memory of mine is foot and mouth disease broke out, and my father got a job as a patrol – making sure that farmers weren’t moving cattle from one place to another. But the problem was my father couldn’t ride a bicycle, so we had to teach him to ride. (Laughs) and it was comical, but eventually he mastered it. And every night when he came back from his patrol, I had to check his tyres that they were pumped, and I had to check the toolkit - if he had a puncture he wouldn’t have known where to start. 13

14 The monkey on my back.. I said ‘I’d like to pay off the mortgage’ – because any time I had a pint I felt guilty – it was a kind of a monkey on my back. So we paid off the mortgage and that was it, the mortgage was paid off in 8 years. 14

15 Benefits of historical and life course historical analysis (original study) Not in practice separate from narrative analysis (focus on individual and generational chain as cases) Way data written up - some attention to unfolding of narrative (see original field note) Life course histories compared across cases and with their historical cohort Question of scale – possibilities of scaling up

16 Benefits of narrative analysis (Novella) Importance given to interviewee’s opening narrative raising questions about when it begins Porous boundaries of contextual knowledge because of team including primary and secondary researchers (Irwin et al 2012) Opened up new interpretations and possibilities for drawing parallels through reference to a further study of migrants (African-Caribbean migrants from Transforming Experiences study) 16

17 Advantages of bringing two analytic approaches together Where a partial fit between original research question (migration) and focus of secondary analysis Life story approach creates multiple analysis possibilities Cross over between two types of analysis in practice Few ethical concerns about interpretation because team included original and new team members Surprising degree of consistency in interpretation

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