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Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Oral History and Life History  

Julien Pomarède

This chapter explores oral history and life history, which can be defined as the methods used to analyse the way actors narrate their past experiences. In oral history, the material is collected by an external observer and is mainly used to focus on delimited past sequences. Life history involves an examination of self-written accounts, such as autobiographies (memoirs), letters, or diaries. It serves the biographical objective of reconstituting individual or collective trajectories. Oral and life history can, therefore, be useful for analysing typical trajectories (the story of a member of a larger group), extraordinary experiences (or ‘deviant cases‘), and actors’ knowledge (relevant to their professional situation). The chapter focuses on key epistemological issues regarding the challenges, opportunities, and limits of using oral and life history as a research method.