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Biography

Janet Hoskins and Gelya Frank

Subject Literature
Sociology » Methods in Sociology

Key-Topics biography

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Extract

The use of biography in the social sciences has come to new prominence in recent decades because of disciplinary shifts towards narrative analysis, reflexivity, phenomenology and hermeneutics, psychoanalysis, and postmodernism, as well as the persistence of Marxist and feminist thought. The longer history of biography goes back to humanistic portraits of “great men” enshrined in literary biographies and historical studies. Still earlier models in the Christian west embrace the lives of saints and religious exemplars. Around 1900, social scientists began to modify that heritage by focusing on the lives of persons in places and social classes unrepresented, or represented inaccurately, in the mainstream. Like journalists, novelists, and missionaries of the same era, they began to describe the lives of individuals in non-literate societies, ethnic and racial minorities, rural poor and urban working classes, in gendered roles under patriarchy, and situations of cultural dissidence. The social scientist's unique contribution was twofold: (1) employing analytic schema to dig beneath the surface of easy assumptions or stereotypes; and (2) including narratives or at least a paraphrase of the subject's self-expressed perspectives. Most biographies in the social sciences since then have “studied down” by focusing on disadvantaged people at the margins of society. Massive adoption of qualitative ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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