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Using Biographical Methods in Social Research

Using Biographical Methods in Social Research

June 2009 | 224 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
Using Biographical Methods in Social Research provides an informative, comprehensive, accessible and practical guide to the nature and use of biographical methods, combining a consideration of theoretical issues with practical guidance.

Barbara Merrill and Linden West consider important questions about what research is for, what makes it valid, to the practical business of interviewing, analyzing and writing up of biographical data. The authors draw on their sociological and psychological orientations to provide a truly interdisciplinary approach to the subject, and provide numerous examples of biographical research across the social sciences.

This book will equip students with all the skills necessary to undertake biographical research as well as to fully understand what they are doing, and the implications of the assumptions they make about the nature of truth, knowledge, story telling, and being human. It will be useful for students and researchers using biographical methods in a range of disciplines, including sociology, social policy, social psychology, and education.

Introduction: Setting the Scene
Biographical Methods: an Introductory History
Mapping the Contemporary Uses of Biographical Research
Identifying Some Theoretical Issues
Illustrating Good Practice: Case Studies
Getting Started in Research
Interviewing and Recording Experience
Making Sense of Biography: Analysis
Representing the Stories: Writing Up
Is Biographical Research Valid and Ethical?
On Being a Biographical Researcher

'Merrill and West deliver what they promise - a comprehensive, accessible, and practical guide to conducting biographical research. They artfully develop the story of the method by blending theoretical and disciplinary material with their own auto/biographical experiences...[They] provide a compelling portrait of the strength, power, and humanity involved in biographical research'

This book provides a good discussion of the background of the method, the context in which it has developed, and the theoretical orientations the author use. Based on their own fields of expertise in sociology and psychology, Merrill and West share their personal and professional experiences as a way of engaging the reader in meaningful learning about biographical research, which they describe as a way of "connecting disparate social phenomena and personal experience and weaving understanding between them in new and sometimes surprising ways" (2).

Natalee Popadiuk

This may be for you if, like me, you have ever found yourself profoundly alienated from positivist notions of research, while at the same time being fascinated by the complex and vibrant stories you hear, and also the stories these encounters bring forth in you. Barbara Merrill and Linden West are concerned with the question of how biographical interviewing can be best used as a source of knowledge generation in social research. This text positions the biographical genre as offering particular insight into the production of selfhood seen as a dynamic interplay between social structure and individual lives.

David McCormack
British Journal of Guidance and Counselling

The textbook Merril and West, as we have seen, focuses on a very specific area of qualitative research, the use of biography as a method of inquiry and understanding the world... Researchers inserted in the use of biographies will benefit from a book that offers insights, anecdotes, recommendations, and suggestive questionning of the role of researcher and cultural background in a study.

Vanessa Garcia Diaz
Forum: Qualitative Social Research

Whether an academic veteran with years of research experience, or a graduate student just beginning the scientific journey, anyone can benefit from reading Merrill and West's study of biographical methods focused on people's lives and their unique stories... Merrill and West paint a vivid portrait explaining the difficulties, the challenges, and the diligence required to be a professional in this field. The authors are to be commended for an extremely well-written manuscript with a clearly articulated message. This book will undeniably contribute positively and significantly to the ongoing academic discourse regarding the validity of biographical methods in qualitative research.

Gregory S Gomez III
Qualitative Research

Excellent additional reading for students

Mrs denise Burke Mac Giolla Ri
Department of Humanities, Athlone Institute of Technology
April 20, 2016

Useful supplement to narrative research approaches.

Dr Liz Yeomans
Public Relations and Communications, Leeds Metro Univ.
September 16, 2014

This a very helpful text which is accessible and offers ways to think about integrating personal story into research.

Dr Sonya Sharma
Criminology and Sociology, Kingston University
April 10, 2014

the book is very good for enabling students to understand the significance of the personal story in terms of qualitative research. Due to methodology being explored and appraised the text is supplemental reading, however, this would be a really useful text for post graduate students who are undertaking research using personal stories to elicit themes

Ms Karen Sneddon
Nursing and Midwifery, Sheffield Hallam University
January 22, 2014

A superb book which makes accessible to a wide readership the conttext and methodologies of narrative and auto/biographical research. Written in a style which is non nonsence with clear examples of some of the theories and approaches being discussed.

Mr Aidan Gillespie
Department of Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
March 26, 2013

This book provides a good overview of biographical methods and data analysis. I recommend it fo rmy students working om subjects based on this methodological approach

Professor Linda Andersen
Department of Psychology and Education, Roskilde University
August 22, 2012

I enjoyed this book and it provides an very useful introduction to biographical methods, and to key debates in using biographical methods in research. Only a small number of students doing the undergraduate research course in education will want to use biographical approaches and I will steer those students specifically in the direction of this book.

Dr Carol Taylor
Education , Sheffield Hallam University
June 7, 2012

A very good text and will be used recommended as essential reading for students adopting a Biographical approach for their dissertation module.

Professor Paul Fenton
Higher Education Programme, Oasis College London
February 18, 2012

A very readable textbook. Unpicks methods for students in accessible way which is encouraging rather than daunting.

Mrs Fiona Major
School of Health, University of Northampton
January 20, 2012

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter One

Chapter Two

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