Tearing Down the Self: Alternative Life Histories

Jeff Ferrell, Northern Arizona University

The writing of life history remains a valuable undertaking within the broader practice of qualitative inquiry. However, a variety of recent development in qualitative methodology and cultural theory suggest alternatives to the traditional conceptualization of life history writing as a researcher's factual, comprehensive accounting of a research sobject's life course and sense of self. Such alternative conceptualizations of life history research and writing include life histories crafted as non-linear, fragmented fictions regarding self and identity; life histories that develop from the researcher's own auto-ethnographic history, and that intertwine this history with the life histories of research subjects; life histories that emerge out of those social situations and cultural spaces occuped by individuals and groups; and life histories that are submerged or reconstructed within subcultural dynamics, and within the immediacy of lived experience. Together, these alternative conceptualizations imply that successful life histories may well tear down notions of individual and self as much as they construct and confirm them.

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Updated 05/20/2006