LIFE STORIES: GUIDELINES FOR ANALYSIS AND COMPREHENSION
We take life stories as an instrument which, in its composition and analysis, mobilises various aspects that are important in understanding a specific reality.
The analysis of life stories, once narratives on a particular aspect have been created and compiled, constitutes a crucial stage in understanding the subject of the study.
It is worth establishing some guidelines and questions to guide the analysis. That encourages a systematic approach and makes comparison possible, to spot coincidences between and particular features in the various stories narrated, as well as involving different researchers in their interpretation. All that lends rigour to the process.
The study does not start from any predetermined hypotheses, so it is not looking to verify or test a hypothesis, rather to find a plausible interpretation.
Nor is it a question of making generalisations but observing some features which, by virtue of their recurring or isolated nature, offer keys to comprehension.
Life-story analysis is qualitative and narrative. It involves successive readings and different levels of description and interpretation, where the analysis framework is provided by the contributions of Kerbrat-Orecchioni (2005) in the field of discourse analysis and Pavlenko (2007) in autobiographical narratives
We try to shed light on what makes sense to the author (the particular) and place that in a much broader context (that of the research and the whole data sample) to achieve a new understanding.
We carry out an analysis based on diverse questions:
TEXT STRUCTURE. We look at and take note of the layout and structure of the text guided by the following questions:
What kind, or kinds, of representation has the person who has created their life story chosen (textual, images, icons, etc.)?
Does the story have a title?
What is the dominant type of discourse in the text? Is it eminently narrative, descriptive? Does it include argumentative passages?
How is the text organised according to the type of paragraphs? Does it have an opening and closing paragraph?
Are there features such as capitals, commas, bold, italics, etc.?
Which language is it written in? Just one or various? Can any changes be detected in the code?
THEMATIC DIMENSIONS. In the first readings we examine the thematic dimensions chosen by the story’s author.
What thematic dimensions appear in the text? The space, time and people used to mobilise the repertoire of languages usually constitute the core dimensions of linguistic life stories.
What emphasis does the person writing the story give to each of them?
What are the core themes and what word constellations are created round these?
At the same time we analyse the way that the person narrates their experiences, observing features such as the following:
- use of personal pronouns and impersonal structures that show the position the subject adopts in relation to what is narrated (use of I or the impersonal character of the story);
- use of verb tenses;
- use and type of connectors, time markers, both deictic and anaphoric, time sequencers (before, now, etc.) which indicate an evolution and change in the life of the subjects;
- use of modals (should, could be that...) which soften the factual character of the story.