Biographical Echoes: triangulation in the study of life histories

Biographical research in sociology is usually carried out by means of in-depth interviews where people are asked to tell their life histories or experiences in a given stage of life and/or dimension of existence. Occasionally, secondary materials such as photographs, letters, timelines or life calendars are also used to complement the narrative. In both cases the focus is on first person testimonies, assuming that the information collected through these procedures provides a more direct and reliable access to the events and subjectivity of the life course. Much less explored is the possibility of reconstituting a biography not only in this way, but also on the basis of testimonies of third parties, specifically close people who can talk about the trajectories of the individual being analysed and about the relation they have with that person. What we intend to do in this project is precisely to understand how biographies can be reconstituted and analysed through multiple testimonies, using triangulation and comparison of sources of information. Mobilising a qualitative methodology, by means of biographical interviews, the aim is to comprehend how a person describes and ascribes meanings to her/his life, but also how close people perceive, present and interpret that biographical pathway. Twenty biographies will be analysed, each case being composed of the interview with the nuclear person and about four interviews with her/his family members, friends, colleagues or neighbours (of different kinship, generations, life contexts). In this way it is possible to combine each person's view of herself/himself and her/his biography with the perception that significant others have of those same experiences. Thus, it is intended to articulate an internal perspective with an external one on the same person and respective biography. This analytical strategy enables the study of the temporal, social and relational constitution of a biography, in line with the typical analytical frameworks of biographical research in sociology. But in addition to this - and this is mainly where its innovative character lies - it makes possible to access further dimensions of experience, relations and subjectivity, coming from multiple voices, which endow the autobiographical narratives produced in an interview context of a greater complexity and objectivity. Additionally, it also allows checking how the channels of communication and transmission of memory work at a micro-scale. The project is also put into practice as a platform for the development and testing of an innovative device for biographical analysis. This device has the potential to be mobilised as an instrument for intervention and promotion of social integration and well-being, in the sense that the reconstitution of a biography stimulates reflexivity, contributes to the valorisation of past experiences and acts as a basis to design life projects in a more sustained way, especially among more fragile populations.

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External Partners
CIES-IUL - Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology
Data from Ciência-IUL
ISCTE FCT Portugal