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Using Biographical Methods in Social Research by Barbara Merrill, Linden West

Using Biographical Methods in Social Research



Using Biographical Methods in Social Research by Barbara Merrill, Linden West

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 as well as reflections on the personal experience of doing research. Barbara Merrill and Linden West consider important questions about who and what research is for and what makes it valid, alongside the practical business of interviewing, transcribing, 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 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, health care and education.


'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 PopadiukBiography

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 McCormackBritish 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 DiazForum: 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 IIIQualitative Research

About the Author

Dr Barbara Merrill is a Reader in the Center for Lifelong Learning having joined the former Department of Continuing Education in 1991 as a project development officer and then researcher. Before coming to Warwick she worked as a secondary teacher and advisory teacher for the Coventry LEA and a project officer at the Community Education Development Center. Currently she is the Academic Coordinator for the 2+2 Social Studies program, University Coordinator for the Community Enterprise and Development Foundation Degree and Director of the Center's undergraduate teaching program. She teaches undergraduate modules, supervises dissertation students and undertakes research. Dr Linden West is a Reader in Education and Co-Director of the Centre for International Studies of Diversity and Participation (CISDP). He was formerly Principal Lecturer in the Department of Post-Compulsory Education at Canterbury Christ Church, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Kent and a Principal Research Fellow at the University of East London and a researcher in adult education at the University of Keele. He has worked in further education, for the Workers Educational Association, in Local Authority adult education, for the Open University and as a broadcaster. Linden is a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce and is also a qualified psychoanalytic psychotherapist, registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). He is an Honorary Member of the Standing Conference of Researchers and Teachers in the Education of Adults as well as Coordinator of European Society for Research on the Education of Adults Life History and Biographical Research Network. He has been a Visiting Professor at various European universities and has taught in Poland, Denmark, Italy, Spain, France and many other countries. He has published widely and his writing has been translated into Portuguese, Spanish, Polish, French and Italian.

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Book Info

Publication date

18th May 2009


Barbara Merrill, Linden West

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SAGE Publications Inc


224 pages


Social research & statistics



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