Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Realist Biography and European Policy

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Realist Biography and European Policy

Article excerpt

Jeffrey David I\irk and Adam Mrozowicki (eds.), Realist Biography and European Policy An Innovative Approach to European Policy Studies Lueven: Lueven University Press 2013, pp. 228 ISBN: 9789058679710

The Editors and Authors of the collected volume (that is an outcome of the international workshop "Realist biography and European policy") assume that integration of the tradition of biographical research and critical realism (as proposed by Margaret Archer) "is not only possible, but it can be also beneficial for the exploration of newly emerging research filled at the European level." (p. 13). This declaration, however, should be reconsidered in many points (some of them will be discussed below). The idea of the book is very interesting and thought-provoking. It is worth the attention of scholars in social sciences and policy makers.

The volume consist of 8 chapters organized into 3 main sections. It begins with 2 theoretical chapters on the key ideas of critical realism. The next part (chapters 3-5) offers an overview of three European projects (Sostris, Euroidentities and ENRIEAST) that aimed to understand "ordinary citizens" of Europe and their problems, attitudes, meaning systems, orientation horizons and frames of references and knowledge horizons from their own perspective. This "bottom-up" perspective sometimes disregarded by European policy makers seems to be of crucial importance for the creation of Europe (a sense of being European). Finally, the last sections (chapters 6-8) of the book concentrate on various aspects of sphere of work that are intertwined with the process of "becoming Europe/an."

Before discussing selected chapters covering different topics, I would like to address briefly three issues: 1) running the risk of oversimplification while trying to integrate (allegedly) similar theoretical concepts and methods of empirical data analysis; 2) recent "perception" of biographical methods that have become very popular and are perceived as homogenous and 3) 'night' (chaotic and inevitably coupled with processes of severe suffering) side of social reality.

1) Any attempt to combine different theoretical and methodological approaches may imply danger of (over)simplification of the research problem as well as unconscious overlooking or / and wilful overpassing of crucial differences. In this volume the Authors endeavour not only to put together critical realism with biographical methods, but also try to "bring to a common denominator" various concepts (i.e. "reflexivity" and "biographical work") as well as refer and apply various approaches to biographical analysis (mainly: Biographic-Narrative Interpretative Method (BNIM) as developed by Prue Chamberlayne and Tom Wengraf, Daniel Bertaux's life history method and autobiographical narrative interview method by Fritz Schütze). Although, many of these ideas are intriguing and promising, some others, raise many doubts and questions. Therefore, this task seems to be risky in itself.

2) 'Biographical methods' are sometimes seen as being very similar (with national variants) as well as effortless and facile. Consequently, many researchers treat them as an easy way of collecting and analysing data. Some others claim that the results of such attempts to understand social reality are unreliable or of no significance. To the contrary: biographical methods draw on different theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches. As a matter of fact, they present diverse standpoints on the epistemic power of autobiographical story telling that may reveal biographical and social processes, on the extent to which informants are able to present their preferable face (see: p. 26-27 in the volume) and on what might be reflected in their extempore rendering. In short, what can be really reconstructed from the told story of one's life. Moreover, analysis of any biography is usually very time-consuming and demanding. They require solid sociological, linguistic and socio-psychological knowledge. …

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