Reflections on the differences in biographical methods in the social sciences and the humanities

8th November 2018 : 12:45 - 14:00

Category: Seminar

Research Group: Qualitative Methods Hub

Speaker: Dr Katie Collins, TORCH

Location: Department of Education, Seminar Room B

Convener: Velda Elliott

According to Hermione Lee, biography, simply defined, is the story of a person written by somebody else. Beneath this straightforward definition though, lurks a vast number of different ways to interpret the genre – as another literary biographer, Richard Holmes, has said: biography is a big, messy, impure and eclectic art form. In social research, we might not think of writing a life or collection of lives as an art form as such, tending to prioritise other considerations when working with biographical methods such as ethnography, case study, life history, oral history, or narrative inquiry.

In this talk I will reflect on the similarities and differences of biographical research and biographical writing in the humanities and social sciences. Considerations will include: the nature and scope of the information available to the biographer about her subject(s); the influences a biographer or life-writer might entertain; the consequences of her writing – to shape the posthumous reputation of an artist or scholar, to influence social and educational policy that might impact many more lives – and questions of aesthetics and experimental forms of writing, including forms of life-writing that seem closer to fiction.