Talking about Care: Two Sides to the Story

By Liz Forbat | Go to book overview

TWO
Biographies, family histories and
discursive psychology

In this chapter, I outline a mix of biographical and discursive methods, showing how they can be used to look at people’s accounts of their care relationships. I suggest a number of particularly useful tools to expand insight into exploring what works well within the relationship, and what the difficulties might be. Mixing biographical approaches with discourse analysis offers a way of understanding histories that does not prioritise beliefs or other internal cognitive states – since from a social constructionist/relativist stance these can never be known. What we can know is what words and phrases are used to construct biographies, and that identities are discoursed into being. The aim is therefore not to explore ideas of intentionality or other features that might be considered to be ‘inside people’s heads’. Rather it is to explore the discourse used by participants and examine what the talk does.

Discourse analysis and biographical methods have been applied in various forms to research into informal care, but rarely in the combination, or with the same intent, as presented here.

Underpinning the approach is a focus on the construction of meanings in talk about care relationships; meanings are co-constructed at interview and discourse analysis provides a framework and tools to unfold people’s talk. Each approach could form an entire book in itself, and in this chapter I aim only to introduce the key concepts that are drawn upon later, rather than to provide an exhaustive summary and critique.

I review (i) the biographical methods and (ii) discourse analysis. The aim is to indicate ways in which it is possible to begin to focus on how talk is constructed in practice settings. Through the later section of this chapter I use extracts of participants’ talk to illustrate the analytic venture; brief biographies of participants can be found in Appendix A. The chapter ends with a summary of the methods, the analytic tools, and their interrelationship.


Biographical methods

We live in an interview society (Atkinson and Silverman, 1997), and interviews with social services, medical practitioners and other voluntary and statutory services have become part and parcel of many care experiences. Indeed, recent government moves have further enshrined the importance of assessment interviews, for example the carer’s assessment (as part of the 1995 Carers [Recognition and Services] Act, DH, 1995a/b) and the Single Assessment Process

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