Is autobiography good research?

April 2, 1999

Is telling stories about your own life a useful sociological research tool?

In a BSA conference paper, sisters Sara and Sue Scott explore how maternal aspirations can be passed on to daughters.

Their paper details their rise out of working/lower middle-class childhoods into careers as university lecturers. "We are the products of our mother's project - of her efforts to fit us for upward mobility and as equals to men," they write. The Scotts suggest that their rise may be typical of what has happened to some women in the late 20th century.

"We grew up with a storyteller for a mother, a teller of tales about the gender and class transformations that have shaped the 20th century. We both 'tell' ourselves through stories, most particularly as part of a process of engagement and separation in relation to 'family', 'class' and 'gender'."

But, the Scotts note, there has been a backlash against life stories in the 1990s. "There are too many, they all sound the same, they are too shrill, they cannot all be true. Feminists are partly responsible for encouraging the production of stories as revelation and confession: child abuse, anorexia, domestic violence. The silence has been repeatedly broken and some complain the resulting cacophony is deafening..."

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