201.1 Silent narratives: Exclusion in the biographical research process

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 9:00 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Joanna SADGROVE , Geography, Leeds University, Leeds, United Kingdom
Gill VALENTINE , Geography, Leeds University, Leeds, United Kingdom
Biographical narrative methods are increasingly popular ways of understanding both personal and public identities in sociological research. Yet, fundamental questions about the informant that the biographical process favours and the informant who is excluded by the biographical process are not always adequately addressed. Drawing on narrative interviews in two contrasting contexts with a wide range of informants, this paper examines the relationship between biographical understandings of selfhood/identity and attitudes towards a range of differences including those of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation. Exploring the context of the informants’ childhood and their earliest memories of recognising someone as ‘different’ from them allows for deeper understanding of who has been recognised as the ‘self’ and how this shifting and intersectional self is reflexively articulated at different points in the life course. The study reveals important differences in the ways that various prejudices and discriminatory attitudes towards a range of ‘others’ are justified through personal narratives of exclusion and discrimination. However, a comparison of the narratives of informants living in Poland with those living in the UK revealed an important caveat which exposes how the biographical process itself privileges certain subjects (and experiences of exclusion) over others. Whereas those interviewed in the UK found a certain comfort in articulating their biographical histories, the same methods generated anxiety from many of the Polish informants. The process of biographical storytelling is frequently held up as a universal and egalitarian way of understanding how people make sense of their identities. Yet the employment of alternative methods to explore the discomfort generated by the telling of life stories in Poland raises questions around the ethics of biographical evocation and discursive and methodological privileging in ways which are not always recognised in scholarship around biographical processes.