P07
Biography and the ethnographic interview

Convenors:
James Staples (Brunel University)
Chair:
James Staples, Isak Niehaus
Location:
Lecture Theatre LT5
Start time:
15 April, 2010 at 14:30
Session slots:
1

Short abstract:

Life stories address concerns beyond the individual whose life is studied in ways that are both grounded and accessible. This panel invites papers from those who have used interviews with key informants to construct biographical accounts.

Long abstract:

Life stories have long been recognised as a potentially effective medium for communicating a whole variety of lived experiences. Done well, such accounts enable concerns that stretch well beyond the individual whose life is studied - such as common experiences of AIDS in South Africa, the transition from socialism in Tanzania, or of leprosy in India - to be addressed in ways that are both grounded and accessible. In-depth interviews, often conducted over a lengthy period of time through intimate relationships with key informants also serve to challenge the findings of more straightforward case studies, which, by contrast, often follow particular, conventionalised narrative structures. Case studies can tell us a great deal about what is acceptable or otherwise in a particular social context, but they often tell us very little about the actual experiences of the people they set out to describe. More nuanced biographical accounts, by contrast, draw out that which is often counter-intuitive, and - read against a broader ethnographic grounding - tell us something more generalisable too. This panel invites papers from those who have used interviews with key informants to construct biographical accounts. In particular we wish to consider how such an approach can transcend conventional ethnographic accounts; the difficulties that might be encountered in using interviews to construct biographies; and whether they might provide ways of exploring other aspects of the ethnographic encounter, such as the relationship between the anthropologist and his or her field collaborators.