Life History Research in Educational Settings: Learning from Lives

Life History Research in Educational Settings: Learning from Lives

Life History Research in Educational Settings: Learning from Lives

Life History Research in Educational Settings: Learning from Lives

Synopsis

It has long been recognised that life history method has a great deal to offer to those engaged in social research. Indeed, right from the start of the twentieth century, eminent sociologists such as W. I. Thomas, C. Wright Mills and Herbert Blumer have suggested that it is the best, the perfect, approach for studying any aspect of social life. In recent years, life history has become increasingly popular with researchers investigating educational topics of all kinds, including: teachers' perceptions and experiences of different areas of their lives and careers; curriculum and subject development; pedagogical practice; and managerial concerns. Life History Research in Educational Settings sets out to explore and consider the various reasons for this popularity and makes the case that the approach has a major and unique contribution to make to understandings of schools, schooling and educational experience however characterised. The book draws extensively on examples of life history research in order to illustrate theoretical, methodological, ethical and practical issues.

Excerpt

Over the years since 1983, when we first met at a conference on the theme of teachers’ lives and careers, we have had numerous conversations about why we are so attracted to life history research. Although we are perfectly able to construct academic justifications for using the approach, we know full well that the major motivating force is that we are both incurably and insatiably curious about other people’s lives. Nothing interests either of us more than listening to life stories, considering them in the various settings in which they occurred, then teasing out and exploring possible influences and explanations, interpretations and alternatives, silences and significances. This, in our view, is the essence of the approach: life historians examine how individuals talk about and story their experiences and perceptions of the social contexts they inhabit.

Basically, life historians are concerned with inviting their informants to consider and articulate answers to questions like: Who are you? What are you? Why are you? Why do you think, believe, do, make sense of the world and the things that happen to you, as you do? Why have these particular things happened to you? Why has your life taken the course that it has? Where is it likely to go? What is your total experience like in relation to the experiences of other people? What are the differences and similarities? Why are there differences and similarities? How does your life articulate with those of others within the various social worlds you inhabit? What are the influences on your life and what influence and impact do you have? What is the meaning of life? How do you story your life? Why do you story it in this way? What resources do you employ in assembling your life story?

It is easy to get carried away and to slip into comic parody when asking what might be described as the ‘big’ questions about people’s experiences and understandings of the world, their place, or rather places, within it and the things which happen to them. Sometimes, perhaps, the joking serves a defensive function: it is almost a survival strategy to enable us to cope with . . .

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