||Over the last two decades, researchers in the social sciences have increasingly been turning to biographical methods as a way of gaining insights into the unattended realm of individual subjectivity (Chamberlayne, Bornat and Wengraf 2000, Ferrarotti, 2005, Delory-Momberger, 2009). This trend has run parallel to the generalised acceptance of the discursive constitution of the social, the so-called “discursive turn”, and a shift from positivist to interpretivist epistemologies. Biographical discourse has thus moved to the fore of social analysis, spurred by a heightened (post-modern, post-structural) interest in memory, reflexivity, and fragmentation, and more recently, in transnational flows, deterritorialisation and the power of the imagination (Appadurai, 1996). Identity and the self have become preferred loci of investigation, and narrative has flourished as the ideal tool for understanding the ways in which we construct ourselves as moral individuals in relational ways. The appeal of biographical story telling lies in the assumption that it is in narrative that people give coherence to their fragmented and situated life experiences and convey a sense of who they are, aspire or imagine to be (Eppler and Codó, in press).
Yet often analysts overlook the fact that biographies are forms of self-representation which are situated socially, culturally, historically and politically. Atkinson and Delamont claim that biographical narratives have to be analysed in their dual nature as both “accounts” and “performances” (2006: 166). As accounts, they are rhetorical devices by which narrators construct their version of past events, legitimise actions and motives, and evaluate others morally; in sum, they are forms of persuasion. Narratives are also situated performances, that is, pieces of discourse produced with and for a given audience, both present and absent. They are oriented to achieving certain interpersonal effects like saving one’s face or moving one’s interlocutor. Dramatic features thus play a fundamental role in achieving narrative purpose, and as such they must be central to any analytical endeavour.
The goal of this workshop is to bring together scholars working on and with different types of biographical material to share their theoretical concepts, analytical procedures and interpretations with colleagues from other disciplines in order to gain a broader and sharper understanding of the relationship between language/discourse, individual trajectories, ideologies and social processes. The workshop is set in a transdisciplinary frame. We aim for the participation of researchers from different social scientific fields (that is, not only (socio)linguists or discourse analysts but also sociologists, anthropologists, historians, philosophers, literary criticists, etc.) with a common interest in the analysis of biographical material but with distinctive research goals and methodological/analytical approaches. We hope to engage participants in discussing one another’s data, as we believe that the dialogue of epistemologies will illuminate discursive processes of (re)construction, collusion or contestation of the social, economic, cultural and moral orders inhabited by the narrating subjects.
Questions to debate:
- In what ways can the fine-grained analytical tools of discursive/narrative/conversational approaches help decentre propositional/representational perspectives on biographical data?
- In what ways can material and multimodal approaches beyond spoken data further refine this decentring exercise?
- What concepts from non-linguistic disciplines can contribute to improve our understanding of the relationship between individual subjectivities and socio-historical and cultural processes?
- What can biographical workshops tell us about the ways in which individual narratives are collectively negotiated, contested and reconstructed?
This workshop invites the discussion of different types of biographical data (e.g. life histories, narratives of landmark events, narratives of conflict, memoirs, linguistic biographies, collective memories, etc.) generated through different methodologies in different types of contexts (i.e biographical workshops, unstructured to semi-structured sociolinguistic interviews, informal conversations, etc.) and involving the interaction with or production of different kinds of semiotic artefacts, such as photographies, objects, drawings, cartoons or texts.
The organisation of the workshop will be as follows. First, there will be a brief workshop introduction by the organisers. Workshop contributors will then present their data, with an outline of research questions, theoretical concepts and data analysis (only one or two pieces). Each contributor will be allowed 10 min. After all data has been presented, there will be 20 min of general discussion where contributors will be encouraged to discuss and comment discuss and comment on mutual data. All contributors will be asked to share their data with the rest of participants on a set date before the conference.