RN3 - Biographical Perspectives on European Societies

RN Coordinator:

Maggie O’Neill, Durham University, UK



The European Sociological Association’s call for papers for Prague August 2015 highlights the profound challenges that the social sciences, and sociology in particular, are facing in current times and the need for the sociological imagination as a tool to accomplish important sociological research, analysis and policy impact.

RN03 Biographical Perspectives on European Societies responds to this call by examining: i) the relationship between the theoretical and methodological basis of biographical research including innovative and performative methods; ii) the empirical exploration of  everyday lives -  how lived lives are connected to history and culture; and iii) the ethical and practical application of biographical research. 

What are the contemporary experiences across Europe and beyond? How might individual stories and experiences connect to issues of differences, inequalities, democracy and social justice?   What does the biographical sociological imagination look like? 

The Prague conference sessions will offer a rich platform for sharing understanding, experience and the creative application of the biographical sociological imagination. 

1. General session [Chair: Maggie O’Neill]

Papers for this session are invited on any aspect relating to Biographical Perspectives on European Societies.


2. The Process of Transformation in East European Countries in the Everyday Experiences of their Ordinary Citizens. [Chair: Kaja Kaźmierska, Katarzyna Waniek, Lodz, Poland]

We invite papers that analyze and discuss the process of political, economic, social and cultural transformations in East European countries after 1989 in individual biographical perspective. The focus should be on biographical experiences of ordinary people and their ways of reconstructing and understanding of the dynamic of the transition process that might be observed in such empirical data as autobiographical narrative interviews, oral histories, written memories and written autobiographies. 


3. Marginality and Social Exclusion in Biographical Research. [Chair: Agnieszka Golczyńska-Grondas, University of Lodz, Poland and Johanna Björkenheim, University of Helsinki, Finland]

Biographical methods in Sociology are closely linked to the analyses of biographical experiences of groups and individuals located at the margins of mainstream society. Biographical studies of marginality and social exclusion not only stimulate the development of sociological knowledge and imagination, but they are undoubtedly a very important source of data for those who design methods of social intervention. Therefore we would like to invite our colleagues to reflect on:

  • the experience of marginality within the framework of modern democratic societies, especially the biographical “consequences” of social inequalities for social groups and individuals who face displacement within the social structure or are subjected to enduring social exclusion (e.g. life course, coping strategies, identities of the marginalized);
  • the institutional management of social inequalities and social exclusion as depicted in the biographies of service users and helping professionals;
  • interlinks and relationships between the “marginalized” social worlds and mainstream society, in particular the social worlds of helping institutions (public social welfare institutions, nongovernmental organisations, etc.).


4. Online/Virtual Biographies [Chair: Robert Miller, Queens University Belfast]

The first decades of the 21st century have seen profound transformations of societies through digital media.  One effect of these new means of communication and contact is that people routinely project or augment their identity digitally and, in more extreme cases, one’s virtual identities need not necessarily correspond to one’s corporeal identity and can become divorced from it or deliberately masked. 

The papers for this session will consider the effects of the digital revolution upon biographical identity, considering issues like:

  • constructing and maintaining online/virtual biographies, including the use of social media, both personal (e.g., Facebook) and professional (e.g., LinkedIn);
  • the social effects of technological advances in human/computer interaction (e.g., driven by strong commercial imperatives in the gaming and computing industries, the crossover into general usage of medical advances in digital sensory input and new ways of controlling computers);
  • the ‘blurring’ or interaction between one’s ‘real’ physical self and one’s online projections of self;
  • online ‘biographical crime’, such as identity theft or masquerading as an ‘innocent’ for purposes of sexual predation;
  • or whatever people want to talk about in this rapidly-evolving area.


 5. Research Ethics in Biographical Research [Chair:  Ina Alber, Institute of the Leibniz Association, Marburg, Germany]

Focusing on research ethics in digital environments such as social media and facebook we invite papers    that address the following questions: what are the challenges and possibilities for the ethics of doing biographical research in current times? Do we apply the same research ethics in digital environments as we do “offline”? Can we apply the traditional research ethics in biographical research also in times of modern internet usage? How public or private are sources like Facebook or Twitter? Is anonymity still possible in the digital era?


6. Biographies of Performativity, Healing and Belonging [Chair: Jane Arnfield, University of Northumbria, UK]

 The last and current century have experienced genocide on an unprecedented scale. Humanity has been forced to acknowledge and accept that the phrase ‘Never again’ is  redundant and demands to be redefined. It is important to acknoweldge ways of seeing and hearing stories and biographies of all aspects of human crisis and catastrophe andto bear witness to new means of communication in the telling, re telling and distribution of these testimonials. As civilised societies our sense of memorial, living memories and creating global capacity for global healing can serve to foster a need for nations of justice.  The papers for this session will consider the effects of human catastrophe on a domestic and global scale and the effects upon biographical identities, considering issues like:

  • Construction of memorials of catastrophe
  • The social effects of technological advances in museum/human interaction
  • The investigation and transition points of biography from the real to the representation of the real through arts practice and performative  biographical research methodologies
  • Transformation of original testimonials and biographies from social political and economic situations and the changes experienced by individuals and groups


 7. Sporting Biographie [Chair: Emma Poulton, Durham University, UK]

Bookstore shelves are brimming with the autobiographies and biographies – official or unofficial – of famous athletes, coaches and sports media personnel, demonstrating the popular interest in the life stories of those involved in elite sport and also how they serve as vehicles for self and social exploration, as well as self-promotion.  Sport-related websites, blogs, and film biopics provide further sites for the public consumption of biographical expression. Yet you do not have to be involved in elite sport to have a story to tell.

Biographical/narrative research can help us make sense of what has been and what is happening in the lives of sports participants, performers and also fans, as well as their sporting sub-cultures and communities. These life stories can provide rich insights into the dynamic interplay of individuals and history, their identities, their inner and outer worlds, and their public and private self.

Abstracts are welcome  for papers using narrative / biographical research methods or ‘storied research’ to explore and explain the life stories of sport participants, performers, or fans.


8. Creative Applications of Biographical Research: telling ordinary stories of everyday lives [Chair: Baiba Bela,  Latvia  Universityand Maggie O’Neill, Durham University, UK]

It is almost three decades since Ken Plummer’s Documents of Life and his statement that “a major theme haunts this book. It is a longing for social science to take more seriously its humanistic foundations and to foster styles of thinking that encourage the creative, interpretive story telling of lives...” This session examines the theoretical, creative, interpretive story telling of  everyday lives and welcomes papers that share biographical/narrative research including arts, visual and performative biographies  that might focus upon: gender and sexualities; how people overcome difficult obstacles and  inequalities; make their neighbourhood a better place; and engage in passions and pursuits (in contrast to the so called Big Man biographies.)


9. Biographical perspectives on cultural diversity [ Chair: Lyudmila Nurse, Oxford XXI , UK and Elena Zdravomyslova, European University of St. Petersburg, the Russian Federation]

The issues of cultural contact between local and migrant communities have been recently addressed in a series of publications that were based on findings from “bottom-up” biographical perspectives, namely: Aarelaid-Tart, A and Bennich-Björkman, L. (eds.) (2012). Baltic Biographies at Historical Crossroads, London and New York: Routledge; Miller, R. with Day, G. (eds) 2012 The Evolution of European Identities Biographical Approaches, Palgrave Macmillan; and Turk, J.D. and Mrozowicki, A. (eds) 2013 Realist Biography and European policy, Leuven University Press. Whilst cultural hybridization is not a new phenomenon, “the pace of mixing accelerates and its scope widens in the wake of major cultural changes, such as new technologies that enable new forms of intellectual contact” (Pieterse, 2007). This recent but uneven dynamic is assymetrical not only in global relations, but also from a generational perspective.

The session welcomes papers which demonstrate the use of narrative/biographical and visual methods to explore a range of factors which depict European individuals’ sense of belonging – be they indigenous or one of a growing number of cultural minorities or with immigration heritage – in the increasingly culturally diverse communities of European societies, both in urban and rural contexts. This sessionaims to explore the interaction between the cultures of local and immigrant communities,  the effect of ethnic and minority cultures upon their national and European counterparts, and the  biographical strategies local and  immigrant populations use to adjust to their new cultural realities, specifically taking into account the inter-generational dimensions of such affiliations and strategies.


10. Meet the Authors

Come and meet with the authors of three new books from ESA RN03 and discuss issues of theory,   methodology and the biographical imagination.

Advances in Biographical Methods: Creative Applications Maggie O’Neill, Brian Roberts and Andrew Sparkes (eds), 2014, Palgrave.

Realist Biography and European Policy. An Innovative Approach to European Policy Studies Jeffrey David Turk and Adam Mrozovicki (eds),  2013, Leuven University Press.

Looking back, everyday life in Real Socialism feels so strange. The impact of state socialism on lives and biographical identities of Poles and East Germans born at the end of World War II  (eds).Kaja. Kaźmierska and Fritz Schütze , 2015


11. Special session title

Joint Session RN03 with RN 34 [Sociology of Religion] on Biography, Religion and Social Differences and Inequalities. [Chair Heidemarie Winkel, Technische Universitat, Dresden, Institute For Soziologie and Kaja Kazmierska, University of Lodz, Poland.]

Biographical research is crucial to understand the effects of growing inequalities as well as the new shapes of discrimination and social difference in the social field of religion. Religion has become a relevant indicator of exclusion on a personal level. Religious belonging can shape the life course - across disruptions or as part of critical experiences, and it forms the individual self-understanding. Thus we invite papers that focus on the relation between biography, social experiences of difference and/or inequality and religion from various perspectives.


Notes for authors

Authors are invited to submit their abstract either to the general session or any specific session. Please submit only to one session. After abstract evaluation, coordinators will have the chance to transfer papers between sessions where applicable.

Abstracts should not exceed 250 words. Each paper session will have the duration of 1.5 hours. Normally sessions will include 4 papers.

Abstracts must be submitted online to the submission platform, see below. Abstracts sent by email cannot be accepted. Abstracts will be peer-reviewed and selected for presentation by the Research Network; the letter of notification will be sent by the conference software system in early April 2015.

Abstract submission deadline (extended):                                                                                                     15th February 2015

Abstract submission platform:                                                                                         www.esa12thconference.eu

If you have further questions on the conference, please visit the conference website. For further information on the Research Network, please visit www.europeansociology.org.