Two Styles of Biographical Research

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Daniel BERTAUX, Dynamiques Européennes, Université de Strasbourg, France
German-language scholars are numerous in biographical research. Many of them seem to believe hopeless to ascertain the degree of “truth-value” of life stories. They have developed complex hermeneutic procedures for making explicit the implicit levels of meaning that are entrenched in interviewee’s mind. They see this psychological step as leading to another, sociological one, as society is constructed by individuals acting according to their mind’s (diverse) semantic structures. The next step however is quite steep…

Another way to proceed is the reverse. The researcher will first choose to focus and study a small piece of the mosaic (it was done e.g. with the artisanal bakery in France – a social world in H.S. Becker’s sense – or with the category of situation of poor lone mother in various European countries). Then s/he will, among other observation methods, collect life stories of differently-located actors (e.g. as bakery apprentice, bakery worker, baker, or bakers’ wife) as testimonies about their lived experiences in the bakery’s social world; or as lone mother in various European countries with diverse social rights systems, e.g. Sweden vs. Portugal). While interviewing, and later on analysing and comparing narratives, researcher will keep in mind the kind of socio-structural relations, recurrent configurations, generating mechanisms, logics of situations and logics of action, dynamics from conflicting interests, unwritten rules of games, recurring moves from given situations to resulting courses of actions, and other sociological features of the underlying fabric of the societal piece under study (social world or life situation). As such focused life stories get collected and analysed, recurrences will emerge from one to the other, leading testimonies to cross-check each other (thus solving the issue of their truth-value) and opening the door to first generalisations, to be critically examined and confirmed only after a search for “negative cases”.