Bobby Fischer in Socio-Cultural Perspective: Application of Hiller's (2011) Multi-Layered Chronological Chart Methodology

By Ponterotto, Joseph G.; Reynolds, Jason D. | The Qualitative Report, October 21, 2013 | Go to article overview

Bobby Fischer in Socio-Cultural Perspective: Application of Hiller's (2011) Multi-Layered Chronological Chart Methodology


Ponterotto, Joseph G., Reynolds, Jason D., The Qualitative Report


The qualitative research tradition draws on a number of intellectual disciplines, including psychology, history, journalism, sociology, and political science to note a few (see Denzin & Lincoln, 2000). For researchers, the depth and variety of qualitative traditions to draw upon in informing research programs provides a sense of flexibility and excitement about the research endeavor (Ponterotto, 2005). On the other hand, the flexible and discovery-oriented nature of some (e.g., constructivist-interpretivist) qualitative approaches can prove confusing to novice researchers given the perceived lack of specific and structured methodological guidelines (Guba & Lincoln, 1994: Ponterotto, 2005). Recently, Hiller (2011) writing in The Qualitative Report, introduced the Multi-Layered Chronological Chart (MLCC) methodology as an organizing framework for single and multiple case study research across intellectual disciplines. Hiller's innovative work coalesces research traditions hailing from history, political science, psychology, and sociology.

The Multi-Layered Chronological Chart (MLCC) methodology was designed particularly for use in biographical studies, and Hiller (2011) provided a number of examples of its application for such purposes. In the present article, the MLCC methodology was adapted for use in psychobiography. Psychobiography can be defined simply as "biography that makes substantial use of psychological theory and knowledge" (Elms, 1994, p. 4). As both a topical focus and research approach, psychobiography holds a revered position in the history of psychology. Freud's (1910/1957) psychoanalytic profile of Leonardo da Vinci is often cited as the birth of the psychobiography emphasis in psychology, while Erikson's (1958, 1969) psycho-social profiles of Martin Luther and Mahatma Gandhi, respectively, are considered defining classics in the field (Elms, 1994; Runyan, 1982). More recent approaches to psychobiography have expanded both the theoretical anchors and methodological tools of the researcher (McAdams & Ochberg, 1988; Schultz, 2005). Examples of recent methodologically diverse psychobiographical studies include psychological profiles of George W. Bush (McAdams, 2011), Barack Obama (Sharma, 2011), Truman Capote (Schultz, 2011), and John Lennon (Kasser, 2013).

Psychobiography represents an important approach to the study of individual persons, particularly those who can be perceived as "outliers" on the spectrum of personality development (Howe, 1997; Kovary, 2011). Thus in both the study of "genius" and "mental illness" psychobiography can inform educators, administrators, policy makers, and mental health practitioners who work with both youth prodigy and youth at risk (Howe, 2007). The psychobiographical subject of interest to the present authors is Robert (Bobby) James Fischer (1943-2008), the eleventh (and the U.S.'s first) World Chess Champion. Fischer represents a good example of the intersection of the gifted prodigy at risk of developing mental illness (Chun, 2002; Kasparov, 2003; Ponterotto, 2012). September, 2012 marked the 40 year anniversary of Bobby Fischer's World Chess Champion victory, and interest in his life appears unabated as reflected in new biographies (Brady, 2011; Ponterotto & Reynolds, 2013a), oral histories (Olafsson, 2012; Stankovic, 2010), psychobiographies (Ponterotto, 2012; Ponterotto & Reynolds, 2013b), documentary films (Garbus, 2011; Land, Proud, & Tarshis, 2004), Hollywood films (Chapa, 2009; Knight, Katz, McGuire, & Topping, 2010), and theatre productions (Ward, 2012).

The present authors are both biographers and psychobiographers of Bobby Fischer, and in this article we demonstrate the value of Hiller's (2011) Multi-Layered Chronological Chart (MLCC) methodology in providing a fuller socio-cultural context to understand the conditions influencing Bobby Fischer's psychological development. This article begins with a brief snapshot of the life of Bobby Fischer for those readers unfamiliar with his historical significance in chess and Cold War history. …

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