A Sad Story? Time, Interpretation and Feeling in Biographical Methods

Thomson, Rachel; Owens, Rachael; Redman, Peter and Webb, Rebecca (2023). A Sad Story? Time, Interpretation and Feeling in Biographical Methods. Child Care in Practice, 29(3) pp. 260–277.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13575279.2022.2153105


What do we do with emotion in biographical research: is it an end in itself, a symptom to be explained, a thread to be pulled? This paper presents an experiment in methodology within a field of biographical methods that involved revisiting a single qualitative interview after the elapse of thirty years. The interview with 22 year old Stacey was troubling at the time it was generated (as captured in fieldnotes and interview transcript) and was still troubling when these documents were reprised. Naming sadness as an emotion at play in the material took teamwork and emotionally engaged methods of analysis and interpretation. Working with psychoanalytically informed theories we show how a curiosity about emotion and a willingness to follow feelings can help connect individual stories to collective histories. The paper presents group based analyses and writing methods as a way of tracing the psychic logics of story through scenic material (what we call ‘emotional bombshells’). We consider the difference that time might make to an analysis, considering the possibility that more time might produce more perspective through allowing the original context to be rendered (more) visible. We also suggest that clock time can be transcended when considering unconscious processes and experiences that resist narrative. Recontextualising research materials can enrich meaning and further realise the value of qualitative interviews that always contain more to be heard, resituated in new times and relationships. This is not simply an exercise in nostalgia but is offered as a method in its own right, reanimation as a route to the generation of new intergenerational knowledge of a thick present in which past, present and future co-exist.

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