A short critical life history of life history, auto/biographical and narrative research methodology

and you’ve just mentioned the word which leads me on to the the question that I wanted to ask about your own work so the book the old fragments was something I read I read when I was doing my doctoral work and one of the things that I remember from it was a phrase that you used about this shift in your own approach to research and you said that when you were counting and using grounded theory it made you feel like you were in the end trying to be a good positive this yes so I so I it for me it was an important text but it’s also been I think the major contribution in the field I see it and reference quite a bit so would you like to say something now about the development of your writing and if we perhaps start with beyond fragments and maybe the doctors on the edge book yes I i I’d also like to introduce the Ezra dimensional some special show me because I think that helped Norma’s committed with my writing I felt as though I was living in madness with with grounded theory everyone told me this was a good idea I’m there a different grounded theory yeah but I read glacier and Strauss I engaged when did I tried to follow their procedures but remember that what I’d been doing partly because I was I was puzzled and interested in the stories though initially told to me so the story about Heidi so I began to think it was important to establish her more of a longitudinal relationship with people if they were willing to do it and part of the the longitude analogy of research of this kind is that you know you you you have a say a first interview and you produce a transcript according to lobbyists I used all history convention that’s what I was I was used to and you share the transcript and the transcript belongs to the person you’re working with and then you have a say second interview six months later some people haven’t read the transcript others say they put it under their learning so important they feel it’s in fact I’ve had an example that recently which I’ll talk about it later what happens in those situations because you will have sent something like so or you will say into so were there any particular thoughts that came up from that first transcript hello there often lon and you’ll talk about them and it’s a sort of iterative process and deepening and a story might be told again but I think stories told again are often slightly different and that in itself is is interesting but there’s a deepening quality of relationship but there’s also a reflexivity that’s been built into the process now I think here the role of the researchers absolutely critical then explain why and people on the whole aren’t used in my view to being taken seriously people will often say things like well are you really interested in me what why are you interested in me why aren’t you going to talk to some king queen or some big politician or whatever and now if your relationship to the other in the storytelling is respectful and also I think if you’re able we were talking about this in the context of the technology we use if you’re able to manage your own anxiety and really to listen I think people see through the other if the researcher isn’t really listening isn’t being attentive isn’t taking care and I think once people feel a sense of how this person is actually taking you seriously not just talking the talk but but walking the walk then I think you know you’ll begin to create a good enough space for research but the it’s a co-constructed space it’s one in which the researcher is playing a dynamic role and it’s partly a role about I mean I don’t like the word empowerment it’s so early used I’m struggling to find another one but it’s a kind of facilitating environment I think where the other is being brought into the space and hopefully to claim the space is more their own and that can take time sometimes you can take two or three or four interviews which brings me to be on fragments in a way because I do remember one particular person whose name I gave her the name of of Brenda and she made this extraordinary mark and I think it’s the fourth interview where she was talking about her own motivation to she gone through an access program and went on to do a degree and she must have been back two or three years i think into the process by them and she

said something like you know that i just realized one of the reasons why i do things and it’s happening now is that it’s about pleasing people and about pleasing powerful others and I realize when I’m telling stories sometimes it’s as if I’m trying to please you I’ve just realized it so actually what I do in rest of my life is happening here and now and then she just let go and started to talk much more freely and so you’ve got all kinds of different dimensions at work that the that you often are talking about relationships and patterns in relationships which shape why people do things but of course the outside is in signs there in the interview being played out in the relationship so writing about that and bringing it into play was it was a huge relief i did find writing about my own bar would be quite difficult and this part of me that still feels a bit guilty so that I thought well if I’m going to talk about if i’m going to ask others to share what might be quite intimate aspects of their lives then i have an obligation to engage my own life what why did it why was i motivated to do certain things and I come from a particular background within the narrative that would have to be the fragments of class maybe a race I don’t know thinking whiteness but but also family dynamics were very important in my own case I think one of the seminal educational texts of course is educational working class by Jackson and Marvel and one of their categories were a couple of categories which would have interest the first one was the sunken middle class this is a book by the way was published in the 1960s and everybody should read it I think it’s a wonderful piece of work one of their categories was a sunken middle class and these were people who’d possibly belong to a middle class in previous times but come on hard times now that was a strong narrative in my own family my although different stories are told within the family which is interesting because when I produce beyond fragments that started rallying my family about what actually did happen but the story I picked up was that my grandfather among that’s my maternal grandfather um he’d been a pottery on her he the pot back I think would recall their closed in Great Depression so so he he drank himself to death from then when I read Jackson Marsden’s education of working-class it’s something jumped out of the text and grab hold of me because the because the idea that parents will often use their children you know to compensate for things in their own lives I think had my mother been born two generations later she’d have gone to university she’s a very bright woman but that the idea of rescuing the family the lost family fortune was incredibly important I’m another aspect of the on fragments had to do with my friend at the time I was grammar school boring his name was Frankie stubs and that the imprint of class is so strong because in Jackson Marsden’s categorization you also had the rough working class and rough in the sense that put there were gradations and a poor family but it was very bright he passed his 11-plus but the family couldn’t bear the shame of not being able to afford the uniform so he dropped out all kinds of very personal very intimate material like that and when I came to write about my own family in the dynamics as I understood and here i was working with other people in a sense there was an expectation that they might talk about those things although that needs to be managed and we need to talk about the ethics of it but I found it very difficult i felt as though I was doing a disservice to my mum and dad in some kind of word I was exposing them and was this ethical so I really did worry about you tuned in one sense I was quite pleased when the rest of my family read the text because it was more about an argument about what happened rather than you know an ethical issue to do with whether I should have written in the way that I did I mean there’s one wonderful moment in it that people often quotes back to me but it gets to something although I’m still troubled about the text so that when I was about 11 12 10 11 12 I sung in the church choir and mum could be very I think concerned about her own feelings and not necessarily attuned to other people’s feelings and I sang in the christmas carol concert and I sang once in royal David’s city if you started by acts and two notes too high when you get to marry was that mother mild you’re in deep trouble you’re not

going naked Mary what and that happened for some reason I slanted two notes too I can hear now in my mind’s eye my memory of the organ is trying desperately to get me back to the right pitch or level couldn’t do it couldn’t get to it afterwards I remember my mom bless her saying rather than thinking old in the last mortal she said to me I i wish that i wish the ground and swallowed me up i felt so embarrassed I thought out here do I actually say this but i thought well i know love her dearly understand and much more as a purse of her time and place I think you have to work through something in the doing of this work and you have to I think work respectfully but also to understand another human being struggles and why we all do things which we might regret and I think that’s where I breach but I think to write that was incredibly difficult but I didn’t know what I was doing when it used to give me nightmares sometimes and i think the the the writing of other people’s lives I mean there’s a difficult boundary problem sometimes I mean there’s a boundary problem between research and therapy which we could talk about as a bounded problem in terms of what we represented what people tell us the I worried about that I mean I remember the launch should be on fragments which is quite wild go there I mean want to students turn up and they were very happy I kept on asking one student what 11 interviewee time and again are you happy with me using this and at one stage he says it’s actually recorded a book shut up lending you’ve asked me so many times I’m not a child on an adult and if I didn’t want you to include this material I would have said so but it’s a sensitivity I think then we have to have that it’s important so I was agonizing sometimes while I was doing the writing writing for me does not come easily my my aspiration still is to write a novel I think I might be in my element there and I know what the subject matter is but whether I will ever do this there’s a lovely play by Robert bolt called a flowering cherry and it’s about this fantasy of growing a flowering cherry and of course the guy never actually grows grows the flowering cherry but talks about the growing of the lovely flowering cherry in this garden and I think writing my novel is a bit like that but I’m still determined to have a go at it because I think what I would like to be able to do in writing and I’ve struggled with it is to be able to write in a way which is respectful of complex but is also accessible that people can easily understand complexity that’s the job that’s our job to represent the complexity respectfully but also with a clarity in our own minds that helps the other to grasp what it is that a particular life including our own might might represent that’s a big big job I actually think doing auto / biographical narrative work is a huge challenge I think it can be very rigorous it’s asking a lot of us in terms of an analysis in the inclusive way I’ve talked about it and it’s also asking us to do the interdisciplinary Star Force and I think it’s much easier to issue an instrument like the locus of control and get people to pick you know tick boxes and feed it through a computer then it is this kind of work so I do really turn round on those who say well where’s the rigor or whatever and I would say try it yes you’ll be surprised just how challenging it is one of the things that you mentioned earlier which I would also like to talk a little bit about is um Ezria yeah so if you could say little bit about our what is your area is in the life history strand within esra esra european society research on the education of adults one of the first networks to be established was a life history and biographical network 93-94 I’m always told off for not getting the date exactly right no doubt will be taught off here I mean the two founding members of that network although there were others that was national prom from Stockholm background of being polish oh she does a lot of work on migration using biography foot to understand people’s migrations there was big al hi into German sociologist and there was Pierre Dominic see who they distinguished each Grover piace chair you know those Geneva actually a professor down to a lot of work on educational biography using educational biography and professional development I I think for for for me I mean there are a number of different aspects the experienced one was dealing with the feeling of madness that I realized the lots of people on mainland Europe who actually was struggling with similar sorts of things

although I’m the life-history boundary network does not consist of people with a like mind it’s it has a diversity of perspectives within it and Peter and and Pierre represent in a sense one of the polarities that is between the struggle I think with in sociology on Peters part to establish these methods as having a validity in German in the German Academy I think there’s a lot of suspicion of personal testimony if you think historically it’s because of the problems of the war and the stories people tell both as X Nazi soldiers or even as Holocaust survivors how much is illusion what’s reality I think Peters struggle with that and he has produced elaborate ways of handling of dealing the text including group analysis which i think you know is important work Pierre was more of an educator less less concerned I think with establishing biography within the sciences as it were we use science loosely and more concerned with with using educational biography as a kind of liberating thing for professions that it was legitimate to engage with your own biography in a particular way and that would be helpful in your professional work and i found the the dialectic if you like between those two and there are other perspectives very very helpful I think it was important to try to be respectful all the different traditions within the life history blog for network and here I confess one of the big problems I’ve faced is is being of the amber phone world and i know the american or the biography and one says despite the Chicago School has never been very strong I don’t thinking of being American educational research anyway despite the Chicago schools by that great tradition I’m aware now of course very well I live and breathe it the strong literature we have in this country but but there are very substantial literature’s in the francophone world and the german-speaking world etc and in the south I mean Italy has its own tradition Spain has its tradition Allah reform empty like my colleague in the life history bomb of a network never ceases to tire out at the ignorance of the Anglophone world towards most of the European traditions and I think there’s a very very serious criticism and the way in which I’ve tried to address that is by learning French although you know you know the tradition in French academic writing is to make it as obscure as you possibly can that nobody understands it because that must therefore mean it’s very very good a joke but I think there’s an unlit truth in it if you read bored yeah I have actually tried to relate that in english and in french and you know suicide is close by but but it’s still worth making the effort because there’s an enormous contribution from the francophone the german-speaking world and the german-speaking where was that a lot of stuff on the problematics of this kind of work for the reasons that I I touched on I wanted to make one other point about Israel which i think is of ubiquitous importance and it’s particularly a problem I think for and I’m just going to say UK researchers but I think with devolution I’m probably concentrating mainly on English as in the nationality English researchers and you know the old story that since nineteen seven since 90 about the beginning of the 90s we’ve had more educational initiatives from central government than the whole period way back into the 19th century so this frenetic activity by government and this shaping to some extent of the research agenda and the way in which english researchers educational researchers but other people will often speak in acronyms or speakers there the whole world is telling stories in exactly the same way we tell them here it’s made me think about communication about taking time if I do a cancer quite simple things like doing a powerpoint I will always use two languages in an ESRI akan text as a gesture and i think one conference we had we established i don’t know 40 languages hello k you can’t use 40 languages but symbolically it’s important to show that you are willing to try with another language and i think it it’s helpful in terms of building up dialogue across that huge barrier of language did the significance of the

life history and biography group it’s been going this the longest period longest most well-established at the Azrael groups I think stories are always told him the present and I’m very sensitive to the history of why the group comes to be established to go back to my example of petter a light coming from the German speaking world appear dominancy coming from the french speaking world and you have to to some extent understand the reasons that people do things are historical and of course they were of that generation I’m wrong I’m just behind them turns an age but I’m still of that generation that was scored by what happened in the second war my parents were scarred by what happened in the Second World War and I think there was a determination within us really it was a very dominant discourse to ensure that at an academic level as well as a personal level we built communication across the the boundaries that have been so destructive in European history as much as we were able as I said it’s no excellent that you’ve got two leaders in that stage Peter an EMP air coming from German and a friend for the french speaking world it wasn’t always easy and I remember many many arguments in fact Peter and NP a broker fell out badly one stage and they invited me to be kept in a convener and still here pianist rich French or Jeanette yellow wax acts on saying it Linda we need do you not great britain to come to the rescue so great britain again came to the rescue and go back to point back stories being told the present i’m very aware that i’m telling you these stories in the context of a europe that’s deeply troubled again i mean it is worth saying because i think it helps us to think about the way the way moments in history affect the stories we tell at that moment we are having this discussion on the morning after the Greek referendum and we don’t know what’s going to happen in a part of Europe that historically has been problematic are we seeing fracturing of that dream of some kind of economic and political unity as an antidote to centuries-long warfare and destruction of the other is that what’s beginning to happen I don’t know but I’m very anxious about it and I can feel Pierre and put his presence about around that notion you know jacques de law and all those people who was so exercised by 54 million people being killed in the second war 14 15 million doesn’t matter in one sense killed in the First World War and and what is our role our role as academics is to be is to be building communication is to be building understanding across difference and fighting methods both to do that with the other research but between ourselves so that communication and understanding is built rather than shouting each other or throwing bombs at each other that seems very relevant in the world we’ve got just the moment I’d like to ask you now about another text which was and is very important and that was the book with Barbara Merrill on biographical approaches and research and and it’s often cited across disciplines which is an important aspect that you’ve already talked about the need for transdisciplinary approaches within research about the human condition and lives as lived what was it like developing that text and could you say something about your views about the need to have a book like that if it was extraordinary experience in many ways and not what I quite expected I mean look to take a while to to get shape and sometimes I felt despite all our efforts and we were rooted in that wright Mills aspiration to transcend the historical if you like the sociological and the psychological but we sometimes found that difficult I’m always slightly dissatisfied maybe it came through something I said earlier about my capacity to express things in a way that I think is good enough and sometimes I’m not entirely p and there’s a way of writing about the more psychological aspects of human experience which can sound it’s easier to speak it and write it it can sound a bit with li hua feliz 0 with some of those aspects i did struggle a little bit we had I think a profound experience that helped the processes of the book because we decided to do what I dude elsewhere which was to bring ourselves firmly into the text more or less addy the outset and there was an aspect of

Barbara’s life that I just had not appreciated and I’m not sure about the chronology of this and since the chronology isn’t important what’s important is the meaning that’s what we’re looking for and we’ve been involved in a European research project and we went to two ratzlaff in northern Poland and we decided on a trip to Auschwitz for a range of reasons it was a multi national research team and it came out of conversation so we arranged to go there and when we got to auschwitz i mean that’s in a sense enough to cope with Barbara I remember told story and I hadn’t realized this and she includes it in the book and the opening chapter I think a lot of people aren’t aware of this and I’m not sure I was aware of it though they were British prison was war at Auschwitz and outfits back and of course consists of a number of camps I forgot the number but it’s into the twenties and not more and the third one of the other cats was begins with a man forgive me that the names got out of my head doesn’t matter it’s where the the big chemical factory was I be fun and her father had been a British prisoner of war in the camp and and they were made to work in factoring and the story he told was that they did what they could to sabotage things and he often talked about around the question of did people know and I I suspect he got quite emotional because he simply saw things we knew what was happening we could see lines of people every day and it it was deeply moving both in its own right but also Barbara’s story was about a man who never recovered from that experience deeply moving so I’m describing some aspect of my own personal history my my family history the the autobiographical roots if you like and why we knew things and to have that story told and shared and thought about together was was hugely moving and very important in the development of the book couple years later I think we went back and took a friend and we again engaged in store return again around we actually went to that camp itself besides it was raised by the Russians 45 i think but we worked out we go sitemap from the office at auschwitz one which is that how it’s one of course is that the famous what in both fails where the arbeit macht frei sinus work makes you free the other one is closed buying how it’s one and we worked out from that roughly where it is and i remember a colleague research at the time working with me on the rounding project which i know we hopefully will come on maybe holiday didn’t realize that what she was actually doing she wander off every few moments as we walked around she collected some wildflowers and she made a lovely bouquet of wildflowers and she put them there in memory of Barbara’s fun so and what what what had gone on there was a big experience so that sort of got the book developing methodologically we had things in common we both made use of feminist notions of research as a relationship not as not the other was an object to be you know I’ve stuff extracted from that something a process of understanding to be built in a human relationship and respectful relationship I mean Barbra was never entirely comfortable I don’t think and she would speak for itself with certain psychoanalytic ideas although she was open to them and she was much better read than I was in the history of feminist research and aspects of sociology so I found the process I think she did an opportunity really to enrich that that kind of you use the word transdisciplinary challenge that wright Mills set for us I think I think the book is helpful in that it’s open its open about how we got things wrong about the fact there’s no one way engage with us engage with our experience and you might find this helpful i mean i remember the section on doing analysis you know walls are fortunate how you do interpretation and analysis and i might described a bit about trying grounded theory i had developed her what i called a pro forma this was my attempt to make sense of the business of engaging with transcripts or stories and the idea is

that you look at a number of different dimensions you you you you you kind of well first of all in doing in listening to a narrative and engaging with the transcription you spend a lot of time and must in that material and you allow them to to work in you and the proforma was an effort to enable everything that’s going on to be brought into a space and then worked with so you’d have stuff on things you’d have stuff on the ultra biographical recip resonances that may be coming up for you you may think of a poem you may think the piece of literature the other thing the other dimension spent time on the process of what did you think was going on in the relationship we call research and and I remember more recently written is written about hidden in my new book that there was an aspect of an interview that I I found troubling and there’s a slightly authoritarian streaking something I felt that somebody was saying and I’m really troubled I was really troubled by that and I wrote about it in the pro forma to try to work through respectfully what might have been happening and also the gestalt there are 30 this this is a bit of an oversimplification but it would do for the sake of it opening up the issue on the one hand you build up understanding from the fragments so that you you find a theme here you find a theme there you and gradually you you you produce a composite or an explanation of what might be going on often in grounded theory not necessarily always you work with a number of cases across the number of cases because you’re looking for commonalities of course that sometimes obscures the differences that you need to be respectful towards as well what will I what I think I was trying to do because this is the way it worked for me in the absorption and individual story I was aware of the fragments but I was always asking myself or what what’s the overall tail here because in the in the German tradition of philosophical formalism but also I think in psychoanalysis to extend to you you’re looking for what what’s the gestalt what’s what what’s the overall form of this that can help us to understand the bacon sausages and fruit and the story and that’s what i use the proforma for so for instance in some research i did with trainee teachers working in difficulties to the teach flats program working in difficult London schools there was a lot of biographical storytelling I think of a particular person who told me stories about her family I’ve dad had been a teacher had suffered a breakdown her mom had been a teacher I think as well but the family was deeply problematic and she was often playing and I was sensitive to this because I think I did a bit of the same she was often you know the role of the parent of the child being reversed that she was having to be the parent and within the school within the story telling them so it was a kind of slightly odd narrative going on around the fact that she was very critical of an over my team management style by some of the managers and the way in which in this form of practice managers so remote from some of the teachers I might interject into that they had the idea that sometimes managers leaving a virtual reality they think that the real human experiences have to do with the spreadsheets or bean-counting or whatever and so she was quite critical of this and not really engaging with the complexity in the classroom and but at the same time whenever they were asked to volunteer to do something she volunteered to do something and actually what she seemed to be saying at times and the nicest was loving a way that she’s sorting out the quotes manager parents you can see where I’m going with this but what actually was happening was a kind of repetition of what had gone on her own family that the parents have called the managers might be very inadequate but she went to their aid persisted and helped them to make things okay now you couldn’t have understood the the detail of the particular interaction in school without having the sense of the East out the form in which a life had been lived the patterns in relationship over time so I think that’s a good example and anyway that that’s written about they’re using using the proform I’ve worked with a lot of students using that pro forma now and I think they find incredibly helpful as a way of managing the tool because otherwise you go mad

and then you can have so much until you don’t know where to start and you’ve got to find some way of working with it I think it’s also helpful and I think I say this based on our work if you got others to look at material term to work with and you know you might generate a text and we did this in our studies of the use of narrative methods in Career Guidance career counseling which I know to don’t mean the same but and we took individuals and we read the transcript or listen to the recording separately and then we come together and share our material what sense we’d made of it thinking in terms of themes process the ethnography of the interview way where you interview matters the symbol symbols the room you’re in whether the spaces is not good enough or strong enough you know maybe people can hear through the and the very thin walls and but then you bring or as well as the pitch Tamplin you bring all that material together and you see what the other is making sense is making and out of that can come a real iterative dialectical process that can really enrich the understanding I think working with Barbara in that way it was very helpful in button encouraging me to set down on paper a quite complex process of sense making in doing Bhangra you