Researching Lives Through Time – Timescapes Initiative Launch

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The Timescapes project was launched on 31st January 2008, and the event included an afternoon seminar on ‘Researching Lives Through Time’. Keynote speakers at that seminar were Barbara Adam, Jenny Hockey, and Paul Thompson. The  Timescapes Working Paper 1 presents these talks.

The first contribution in this collection was by Barbara Adam, who has been at the forefront of developments in theorizing time and enabling social researchers to see the world through a different lens. Her paper outlines what might be involved when a timescapes perspective is taken seriously in social theory and methodology. It sets out some of the time-based challenges and identifies temporality and futurity as two of the major difficulties researchers of the longitudinal Timescapes study are likely to encounter in their efforts to integrate social time into their approach.

We then move on from time to consider the related idea of generation. Jenny Hockey has been an important figure in highlighting the life course as a mode of working for empirical researchers. Her paper asks how the relationship between continuity and change might be understood during the analysis of qualitative data. Drawing on arguments which suggest that, for westerners, change is something that happens to continuity, it highlights the importance of exploring interviewees’ narrative strategies. This pproach not only sheds light on the status of empirical data – but also reveals the ways in which identities may be claimed through the assertion of temporal or cross generational continuities and differences.

Finally, Paul Thompson – a noted pioneer in oral history – considers the issue of life stories. His paper starts from the fundamental interweaving of individual lives and social change that the celebrated sociologist C. Wright Mills saw as ‘the shank of social study’. It looks at how this interweaving can be explored through social research using life stories. While drawing attention to difficulties such as the complexity of memory and different forms of narrative analysis, the paper shows the strength of the life story method in uncovering hidden voices, hidden spheres and hidden connections in the shaping of social change.