Doing Collective Biography

Doing Collective Biography

Inspired by Frigga Haug's strategy of memory work, and working with her PhD students and colleagues from around the world, Bronwyn developed collective biography as an exciting methodology for enabling social scientists to work beyond the theory/practice and subject/object divides, and to see how discourse works on them and through them. Collective biography is a research strategy that works with memory, and with the virtual body that memory evokes. Memory is not treated here as fixed or real; there is, as Bergson points out, no drawer in the brain that stores a veridical past. The memories are of virtual rather than actual events, and each time they are accessed they are re-made in their virtual intensities. Collective biography is a set of research practices that engages in a movement away from individualized, liberal-humanist versions of the subject, toward a poststructural conception of the subject—a subject-in-relation, in-process. 

This book gathers together papers written out of six different collective biography workshops exploring topics such as subjectivity, reflexivity, power, children's reading of fiction, and women at work in neoliberal organizations. It sets out how to do collective biography and explores some of the complexities and difficulties of writing collectively.

Of this book Elizabeth St Pierre wrote: "At last a book that not only describes what collective biography is but also explains how to use it... The book describes how to set up collective biography workshops in which participants examine how discursive structures and power relations have both enabled and limited the conditions of possibility for their lived experience. Focusing on a more complicated reflexivity than is usually described in social science research, collective biography, inspired by Frigga Haugand refined by Davies, will no doubt be used increasingly by researchers interested in the production of subjects in a postmodern world.”

Since the publication of this book, Bronwyn has had invitations from around the world – including Czech Republic, U.K., Ireland, Sweden, New Zealand, and Canada – to teach this methodology. She has written collaborative collective biography papers and books with scholars in many of these countries.

Doing Collective Biography, edited by Bronwyn Davies and Susanne Gannon, was published by Open University Press in the UK in 2006.

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23 April 2015


Collective Biography, Memory Work, Collaborative Writing