Full Text


Janet Hoskins and Gelya Frank

Subject Literature
Sociology » Methods in Sociology

Key-Topics biography

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


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

Log In

You are not currently logged-in to Blackwell Reference Online

If your institution has a subscription, you can log in here:


     Forgotten your password?

Find out how to subscribe.

Your library does not have access to this title. Please contact your librarian to arrange access.

[ access key 0 : accessibility information including access key list ] [ access key 1 : home page ] [ access key 2 : skip navigation ] [ access key 6 : help ] [ access key 9 : contact us ] [ access key 0 : accessibility statement ]

Blackwell Publishing Home Page

Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology Online ® is a Blackwell Publishing Inc. registered trademark
Technology partner: Semantico Ltd.

Blackwell Publishing and its licensors hold the copyright in all material held in Blackwell Reference Online. No material may be resold or published elsewhere without Blackwell Publishing's written consent, save as authorised by a licence with Blackwell Publishing or to the extent required by the applicable law.

Back to Top