Biographies in talk: a narrative-discursive research approach

Taylor, Stephanie and Littleton, Karen (2006). Biographies in talk: a narrative-discursive research approach. Qualitative Sociology Review, 2(1) pp. 22–38.



This paper demonstrates the contribution a synthetic narrative-discursive approach can make to understanding biographical work within a research interview. Our focus is on biographical work as part of the ongoing, interactive process through which identities are taken up. This is of particular interest for people who, for example, are entering a new career and can be seen as 'novices' in the sense that they are constructing and claiming a new identity. Following a discussion of the theoretical and methodological background in narrative, discourse analytic and discursive work in social psychology (e.g. Bruner, 1990; Edley, 2001; Potter and Wetherell, 1987; Wetherell, 1998), the paper presents an analysis of biographical talk from an interview study with postgraduate Art and Design students. Our interest is in their identity work, including biographical work, as novices in their fields. The analysis illustrates the approach and the key analytic concepts of, first, shared discursive resources, such as interpretative repertoires (e.g. Edley 2001) and canonical narratives (e.g. Bruner 1991), and, secondly, troubled identities (e.g. Wetherell and Edley, 1998; Taylor 2005a) . It shows how speakers' biographical accounts are shaped and constrained by the meanings which prevail within the larger society. For our participants, these include established understandings of the nature and origins of an artistic or creative identity, and the biographical trajectory associated with it. The particular focus of our approach is on how, in a speaker's reflexive work to construct a biographical narrative, the versions produced in previous tellings become a constraint and a source of continuity.

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