‘I'd rather you ask me because I/I/I don't really know, you know’: The Dilemma of (Auto)Biographical Interviewing in Biographical Research


As social researchers, we are expected to be methodical in our approach to researching social life. We ground ourselves in reading about the experience of other researchers. When I set upon my PhD, I thought I was prepared. I set out to examine the life (hi)stories of women who had grown up in a children's Home in Belfast during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Much of the research in the field of care looks at young people in care and care leavers, and the biographical approach has never been used to look at the experiences of adult care leavers from Northern Ireland. In my study, I used the (auto)biographical interview, and I asked my 12 participants to tell me their life story. The title of this case is a response I had from one of my participants when I asked her to tell me her life story. This case is a story of the particular challenges I encountered using this biographical method of investigation. But it is also a lesson, to be cautious about taking advice from theory at face value and sticking to the rules. First, I introduce how I theorised the method, followed by what is ‘supposed’ to happen when using the biographical approach and then I share what ‘actually’ happened.

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