Gaining a perspective on choice and fate: revisiting critical moments

Holland, Janet and Thomson, Rachel (2009). Gaining a perspective on choice and fate: revisiting critical moments. European Societies, 11(3) pp. 451–469.



The idea of epiphanies, turning points and critical biographical moments is a central analytic category of life history research in general, and of youth studies in particular. In this paper we explore how we have engaged with ideas of 'fatefulness' (Giddens 1991) and biographical 'choice' in a longitudinal qualitative study of young people's transitions to adulthood, tracing the employment of theoretical and analytical devices through time to assess their usefulness in this context. We attempted to operationalise Giddens' idea of the fateful moment in relation to biographical data asking how the analysis of a formal narrative device (critical moments, turning points) might play a part in mapping and theorising the configuration of structural conditions, individual responses, timing and chance. We reviewed earlier analyses, and the changes of interpretation brought about by the accumulation of biographical data through time, recognising the provisional nature of interpretation in longitudinal research and analysis. The process of revisiting and revising our deliberations over the meaning and significance of the critical moments within biographical narratives confirms the interpretative value of focussing on these narrative forms, yet suggests that late modern theoretical frameworks with their emphasis on reflexivity may have a limited contribution to make to understanding the configuration of biography and history. We suggest that this makes a theoretical and methodological contribution to biographical and narrative approaches to the study of young people's lives, transitions to adulthood and trajectories.

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